Radio Results Blog

Advertising on Public Radio: What Maine Small Business Needs to Know

Posted by Larry Julius on Tue, Feb 17, 2015 @ 11:56 AM

Portland_Radio_Public_Radio_Advertising_MPBN_Small_BusinessWMEA-FM can be found at 90.1 on the Portland radio dial. Each week in southern Maine, 74,200 adults listen to this public radio station. It is possible for Maine small business owners to advertise to this audience, but they must be willing to adhere to very strict rules, which will be discussed in a moment.

WMEA is part of the Maine Public Broadcasting Network (MPBN), a chain of 7 public radio stations broadcasting an identical mix of local and national news; classical music; and a variety of entertainment programming.  WMEA and the rest of MPBN are the Maine outlet for national programming from NPR (Nation Public Radio); PRI (Public Radio International) and PRX (Public Radio Exchange). Besides WMEA, which serves southern Maine, other MPBN outlets are located in Camden, Waterville, Bangor, Presque Isle, Fort Kent, and Calais. One drawback for Maine small business owners wishing to advertise on WMEA is that they must pay to be on all 7 stations and cannot target the specific area of the state they would like to reach.

How WMEA and MPBN Generate Revenue

Commercial radio stations' primary source of revenue comes from the sale of commercials. WMEA and the stations of MPBN have several sources of income.  In 2014, the radio and TV stations of MPBN generated the bulk of its revenue in 5 ways:

  • Membership: $4.7 million or 36% of revenue
  • Contributions: $2.3-million or 18% of revenue
  • Underwriting (aka Advertising): $2.1-million  or 16% of revenue
  • State of Maine tax dollars:: $1.7-million or 13% of revenue
  • Federal tax dollars:: $1.6-million or 12% of revenue

The Do's and Don'ts of Advertising on WMEA and MPBN

The Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the activity of public radio stations, prohibits stations like WMEA from broadcasting announcements which "promote the sale of goods and services of for-profit entities in return for consideration paid to the station." In other words, WMEA cannot run commercials. But the FCC does "permit contributors of funds to the station to receive on-air acknowledgments."  These acknowledgments are often called "underwriting messages."

Underwriting messages can be effective forms of advertising if the business owner can hone its message to 12-15 words that can be read in 9-10 seconds.  According to the MPBN website, here is what can be included in the message:

  • Company Name (required by law) and location
  • Web site address and/or telephone number
  • Factual product features or description of services
  • Established slogans or mottos that otherwise conform to non-commercial guidelines

But more importantly, here is what cannot be included in an underwriting message:

  • Calls to action
  • Price or value information
  • Inducements to buy, sell, or lease
  • Comparatives and superlatives
  • Possessive pronouns
  • Jingles

Furthermore, only MPBN announcers can deliver a business's underwriting messages on WMEA. This is different than commercial radio stations where, if they so choose, a small business owner can deliver his or her own message.

Here are some well-crafted underwriting announcement heard on WMEA and MPBN. Notice how they incorporate the guidelines above.  Each message starts out with the "This program on MPBN is made possible by listener support and...

...Cross Jewelers offering more than two thousand ways to show your love.  Upstairs in downtown Portland and on-line at Cross Jewelers dot com."
...CSX, moving one ton of freight 423 miles on one gallon of fuel."
...Ally Bank, committed to straightforward banking, including customer service with a real human being 24/7."
...Coffee By Design, a Maine coffee company and artisan micro roastery, with three coffeehouse locations in Downtown Portland and one at the LLBean flagship store in Freeport, coffee by design dot com."
...Monsanto, committed to sustainable agriculture creating hybrid and biotech seeds designed to increase crop yields and conserve natural resources. Learn more at"
Advertising on WMEA and MPBN can make sense to fulfill some branding objectives of a Maine small business (see: Maine Small Business: Building Brand on Portland Radio).  But remember the limitations.
  • Public radio in Maine cannot be used to explain complex or lengthy business benefits
  • Public radio in Maine cannot be used to communicate sales and other promotions
  • Public radio in Maine can contain a phone number or a web address but not both
  • Public radio in Maine cannot be used to target a bussiness's primary trading area


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