Audience Dialogue

Participative Marketing for Local Radio, Chapter 7
Funding from listeners: sections 3-4

7.3 Subscribers

If your area has an efficient postal system, and your listeners tend not to move house much, another way of getting funding from them is by encouraging subscribers. This model seems to work best for stations with older audiences (e.g. over 30).

To get subscribers, you broadcast announcements like this:

"Have you thought about becoming a subscriber to Radio Rhubarb? It only costs 50 dollars a year - and only 30 dollars if you're unemployed. When you subscribe, our newsletter will be mailed to you every month and you get a membership card that will give you 10% discounts on purchases from some local businesses. You'll be eligible to make musical requests. And of course you have the satisfaction that you're helping this station to survive. If you'd like more details please ring us now on 98-765..."

Other inducements to subscribers can include:

There are endless other possibilities, but the ideal offer is one that costs the station very little, but that the subscriber will value greatly. You also need to think carefully about making some benefits available only to subscribers, this may discourage non-subscribers from listening to the station. In Papua New Guinea, for example, if only subscribers could make musical requests, a station would have very few listeners.

If you're going to have subscribers, you also need to spend some time keeping track of them: sending out membership cards, receipts, annual reminders, and so on. Clerical work is needed: if you have several thousand subscribers, you may need a full time staff member (or a group of volunteers) to do this work.

To maximize your income, specially in a poorer country, you may need to allow for subscribers to pay more often than yearly - perhaps quarterly. However, I suggest avoiding monthly payments, because of all the clerical work needed to keep track of these.

How much should you charge for subscribing? To take an example from Australia: the annual subscription to a community radio station is usually between one and two hours' income for the average listener. If the rate is set too low, you might actually lose money on subscribers. But if the rate is too high, very few people will subscribe.


Some service industries (such as airlines, performing arts, and hotels) have outputs that are perishable. For example, all seats that are empty when the aircraft takes off represent some income that is lost forever. Therefore, these industries often have elaborate ways of selling essentially the same thing at a wide range of prices.

This concept can also be applied to radio subscribers. Instead of having a single price for everybody, you can have a graduated set of prices. A cheaper rate for unemployed people, and a higher rate for those who want special privileges: perhaps the right to make a musical request at a specific time on a specific day. (If you let too many listeners do this, it would be chaotic.)

However much you charge for subscriptions, you should also make it clear that subscribers are welcome to make donations as well.

7.4 Special events

Another way of making money from your listeners is to organize a special event. These can include open days, entertainments, special fairs, and tours.

Open days

Regular listeners are always curious about what happens behind the scenes at their favourite radio station. So you could announce an open day: charge listeners a small amount to visit you and see the station in action.

You might want to try this on a small scale, the first time you do it. Sometimes open days can be embarrassingly over-successful, specially if you have thousands of visitors and a tiny office. To limit the number of visitors, you could broadcast details of the open day only at off-peak times, such as late at night.

If you can persuade people to visit your station, they will have a much more detailed mental image of it, and (as long as their experience at the open day was a good one) visitors are likely to become faithful listeners. Thus an open day is as much an audience-building as a money-raising event.


These can be concerts (if your station mostly broadcasts music) or discussions (if it's mostly a talk station). By mounting one of these, you will get both admission fees and a program to broadcast. However, there should be an incentive for people to come in person, rather than listening to the broadcast. Thus the broadcast could delayed, or made into a number of short episodes.

Special fairs

Consider the type of people who listen to your station. What interests might they have in common? If you broadcast a lot of rock music from the 1970s and 80s, perhaps your listeners would like a sale where they can buy, sell, and exchange their old LPs. If you have a very popular gardening program, you could organize a garden sale each spring, and promote it on air for months ahead.

Events of this type (which seem to work best when held at a weekend, for a whole day) tend to attract people who don't listen to your station, but are interested in selling or buying the type of product the sale is focusing on. Now you have a chance to win them as listeners - so put on an OB at the venue while the sale is taking place. You may need to hire a suitably large space

This provides funding by charging a fee for stallholders and a smaller fee for visitors. To attract more people, and gain some community respect, you could donate a good proportion of the profit to an appropriate local charity or good cause. Even if you don't make a lot of money, you're likely to win some new listeners. You could bring in more revenue, or cut costs, by enlisting some of your advertisers as sponsors.

I've called this category "special fair" because a general fair, where anything can be bought or sold, is not unique enough to attract a lot of visitors and prospective listeners.

If your station is one that attracts a huge variety of people, with many different interests (probably because it has many different programs) you could attract a wide variety of different types of people by having a different theme for your special fair every time you hold it. People remember unusual events for a long time - so some of this year's fair visitors will become next year's subscribers.

Tours for listeners

I once had a secretary who spent her spare time organizing visits to Melbourne (700 kilometres away) to see major theatrical shows. She'd hire a bus, make group bookings with a hotel and the theatre, and then find a busload of people who were interested in spending a weekend in Melbourne and seeing the latest show. Because of the bulk discounts she could get, and the competitive prices she could therefore offer, she raised a lot of money for the charity World Vision. This could work very well for a radio station, because it could be promoted on air - and even made into a documentary program.

All of these special events need to be regularly promoted on air in the week leading up to them. And if you choose a type of event that you can broadcast, you'll be achieving two things at once: making some money, and creating a program.

Some of these events can take a huge amount of time to organize. It's probably best to appoint a subcommittee of volunteers to take care of all the organizing - or to plan the event in conjunction with another organization. Much depends on the energies of the people involved, so if you let them come up with their own ideas, they are more likely to make a success of it.

Continuous fund-raising

If your building is suitable, you could invite listeners to come at any time. Some stations have their own caf├ęs, where listeners are welcome. Others have continuous sales of tapes, CDs, LPs, and second-hand books. Listeners donate recordings and books they no longer want, and the station sells them. The continuous stream of visitors that this creates (helped along by occasional broadcast announcements) will help to increase your audience. Those who donated the items will feel good, because they are helping the stations - and the buyers will be happy because they are getting a bargain.


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