ABCs of Audio PSAs

20 10 2011

Audio PSAs (public service announcements) are the nonprofit equivalent of commercials. They are either scripts you’ve written for radio announcers to read over the air, or audio recordings you’ve made for radio staff to play over the air.

The radio stations don’t charge you when they read or play your PSA. It’s free advertising for your program, event, or organization. Radio’s still popular, so it’s an opportunity for publicity that shouldn’t be ignored.

If you want to create a PSA, there are a few things to consider:

  • Radio stations need lead time to get the PSAs into the rotation. If your PSA is associated with a specific date—say you’re hosting a flu clinic on a certain Saturday—get the recording or script to the station three to six weeks prior to that date.
  • PSAs usually come in three lengths: 15 seconds, 30 seconds, and 60 seconds. Don’t limit your PSAs to one type, but offer versions in all three lengths if possible. After the announcer runs the paid ads and the music, any small clumps of seconds they have in between or left over go to PSAs.
  • Local groups approaching local stations with community activities have the best chance of getting their PSAs into the mix. Even if the PSA has no mention of local events, your pitch and the letter accompanying the PSA can tie it to a local angle, allowing you to use a more generic PSA that’s been professionally produced.
  • Assigning a person to make follow-up calls to the station a few days after delivery helps catch the attention of the decision-maker. Reiterate the importance of the PSA message and emphasize the local connection or need.
  • Record or script your PSA in multiple languages. Make sure these versions are culturally appropriate and not just translations. Choose the languages based on the demographics of your area.

The nuts and bolts

Let’s assume you don’t have the funds to hire outside help to record your PSA. You’ll need:

  • A computer
  • A quality microphone you can plug into your computer (via USB or 1/8” jack)
  • “Talent” with a clear and pleasant voice
  • A script
  • Sound editing software
  • Background music for an added touch
  • A stopwatch

You’ll need to find software that will capture your recording and allow you to edit that recording. Audacity is a free and popular software, and there are many other free programs available through the Internet.

Write the script, read it, and time it. You want it to be exactly :15, :30, and/or :60 seconds. Whomever you choose to be the “talent” (the person reading into the mic) will be the one you want to time, if possible. Each person reading it may read it at a different speed, so if you’re the writer but not the reader, timing yourself will get you close, but may not be accurate.

Once the recording is done, you will need to edit it as you see fit. The specifications (specs) that one PSA distributor gives for radio PSAs are:

  • Redbook Audio (this refers to the CD you use for distribution)
  • No lead-ins or countdowns (you don’t have to say anything leading up to the actual recording)
  • Each PSA should be a separate cut on CD master (make them separate files on the CD)
  • Audio to stay within specified lengths
  • Preferred order –  :60, :30, :20, :15, :10 (This distributor added in :20 and :10, which you may do if you like. You never know what length they need to fit in a space on their programs.)
  • No compression
  • 44.1 khz
  • 16 bit

If you plan on working at a local level to produce and distribute audio PSAs, it’s best to visit the local radio station(s) and ask for direction on how they like to receive their PSAs. Many times they’ll have a sheet printed up with all the information you’ll need. In addition to getting the specs, the visit will give you an opportunity to make your cause known to the station staff. Establishing a good relationship with them will get your PSAs played (or read) more often.

Scripts

We suggest you start out by writing a couple of paragraphs and see how much information you can include. Have someone read it while timing them. That will let you know if you need to edit out words or if you have room to add in information.

It’s easier, when writing the scripts, to start with the :60 and work your way down. That way, you start with the “fat” in the piece and can edit it out for each of the shorter versions.

SAMPLE: Flu’s Gonna Lose campaign

(Radio PSA Cover Letter—copy onto your letterhead)

(Date)

Dear (Public Service Director Name):

Influenza is an ancient disease that still circles the globe each year. We ask you to please have your announcers read frequently the enclosed PSAs. Here’s why:  Every year in the United States, on average:

5% to 20% of the population gets the flu;

More than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications; and

About 36,000 people die from flu.

Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications.

Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.

The single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccination each year.

(Your organization’s name) urges you to use your broadcasting power to alert your listeners to the need for influenza vaccination. You will save lives, prevent tragedy, and truly provide a public service!  Thank you.

Sincerely,

(Your name and org name)
Enclosures

(Include radio scripts on a separate sheet)

(Copy the PSA scripts onto your org’s letterhead)

Sample Radio Psa Script

FLU’S GONNA LOSE
Radio Public Service Announcement
(:60-:30-:15- seconds)

:60 SECOND SPOT

Live copy (announcer):

It’s flu season and everyone from newborns and schoolkids to parents and seniors is at risk.

Every year, up to 20 percent of the population gets the flu and more than 200,000 people in the United States end up in the hospital. About 36,000 people die each year from influenza.

There’s a lot you can do to stop the flu before it starts.

Just follow these simple steps to help you stay healthy this season:

Wash your hands, cover your coughs and sneezes, stay home if you’re sick, and check with your doctor about getting vaccinated.

For more information, visit w-w-w-dot-p-k-i-d-s-dot-o-r-g or call 1-877-557-5437. That’s w-w-w-dot-p-k-i-d-s-dot-o-r-g, or call 1-877-557-5437.

A public service message brought to you by (insert org name) and PKIDs’ Flu’s Gonna Lose campaign.

:30 SECOND SPOT

Live copy (announcer):

It’s flu season and everyone from newborns and schoolkids to parents and seniors is at risk.

Every year, up to 20 percent of the population gets the flu and more than 200,000 end up in the hospital, or die from influenza.

Prevent the spread of flu by washing your hands, covering your coughs and sneezes, staying home if you’re sick, and checking with your doctor about getting vaccinated.

For more information, visit w-w-w-dot-p-k-i-d-s-dot-o-r-g.

A public service message brought to you by (insert org name) and PKIDs’ Flu’s Gonna Lose campaign.

:15 SECOND SPOT

Live copy (announcer):

It’s flu season and we’re all at risk of infection.

Wash your hands, cover your coughs and sneezes, stay home if you’re sick and check with your doctor about getting vaccinated.

For more information, visit w-w-w-dot-p-k-i-d-s-dot-o-r-g.

A public service message brought to you by (insert org name) and PKIDs’ Flu’s Gonna Lose campaign.

***********

And that’s it! If you have some PSA scripts you’d be willing to share, please paste them into the comments.

Adapted from PKIDs’ Communications Made Easy program.


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