In radio's early days, newspapers often bought bulk air time (to the point of building their own stations) in an effort to extend their brands locally. It's an idea that was recently revived by the Southwest News-Herald, a Chicago community newspaper with a weekly circulation of 100,000.
To boost its presence in the Chicago market and to drive more people to its Web site, the News-Herald launched its own morning show on WJJG 1530 AM in the Chicago suburb of Elmhurst.
Initially paid for by the newspaper but now fully advertiser-supported, "Mornings with Ray Hanania," hosted by its star political columnist, runs Monday–Friday from 8 to 9:30 a.m.
The decision to buy air time at WJJG on a daily basis — at about $150–$200, based on current markets rates — may seem an unusual step for a community newspaper, especially during the prime (and expensive) morning drive slot.
Ray Hanania in the WJJG 1530 AM Radio studios in suburban Berkeley, Ill. However, given the ongoing problems being experienced by the newspaper industry in general, the move made good marketing sense for the News-Herald.
"Radio is the one medium that fits easily into people's schedules," Hanania said. "By putting ourselves into their cars as they drive to work, we make ourselves a part of their daily lives. This motivates them to read our newspaper and come to our website, and that helps our advertising sales."
Journalists — or at least those who bill themselves as such — are a dime-a-dozen on U.S. talk radio. However, Ray Hanania has a few attributes that make him unique.
First, he is a bona fide newspaperman with decades of experience covering Chicago, including for the daily Sun-Times. Second, "I am one of the few Arab-Americans hosting a morning show in the entire country," he told Radio World. "That said, my wife is Jewish and Republican, while I am Palestinian-Christian and Democrat, so I know a lot about cultural and political gaps. Don't tell her, though. She thinks I'm Puerto Rican."
In fact, Hanania is the "Palestinian" part of the Israeli-Palestinians Comedy Tour, a cross-cultural troupe that promotes Mideast peace by getting people to laugh at the situation.
"As a Palestinian peace activist, I use humor to help Palestinian, Jewish, Arab and Israeli audiences recognize the humanity that exists behind the tragic headlines we face in the Middle East conflict."
Although Hanania does like to inject humor into his morning show, his shows deal with serious political issues, and attract high-profile guests like Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and Sen. Dick Durbin.
"The thing I like about radio is how much easier it is for me to get to politicians," he said. "If I called a senator on behalf of my newspaper, they put me over to the PR guy. But if I'm calling for the WJJG morning show heard in Chicago, the senator himself wants to talk to me."
Maximizing the Reach
"Mornings with Ray Hanania" is heard live on WJJG and streamed via www.radiochicagoland.com, Hanania's site. Selected segments are also made available as podcasts at www.wjjgam1530.com, and aired on Hanania's weekly cable show (because the radio shows are always videotaped) on Comcast and AT&T Friday nights in Chicago.
"We have a Facebook group built upon the radio show and my own Web site, http://www.radiochicagoland.com, that grew to 140 members after our first three weeks on air," he said. "Add the tie-in to my columns online at www.swnewsherald.com, and we have quite a powerful multimedia structure where each element reinforces and feeds all the others."
Hanania said he receives 15 to 20 calls and lots of e-mails per show, which makes him bullish about his show's performance and its benefits to the Southwest News-Herald.
"We are certainly seeing a lot more traffic to our newspaper Web site," he told Radio World. "Based on my previous experience in radio, I think this show is doing well."
As for the future: Hanania said that his newspaper is committed to support air time in WJJG's morning slot "for the long haul," and he looks forward to expanding his show's presence onto 10 to 15 stations regionally.
"One day, by using the Internet as a distribution backbone, I could see syndicating it nationwide, allowing listeners to phone in using 800-numbers," Hanania said.
"Radio is really proving itself as a viable medium for promoting newspapers — which is what this venture is all about — and I can see big things coming from this."