A Radio Advertising Project

By Fr. Dan Kovalak


How does a new parish in a “virgin” area go about making itself known to the community? This question is one of the most important to be dealt with in any mission setting. Even in larger metropolitan areas, one need only go down the street and ask neighbors whether they have heard or know anything about the local Orthodox Church. The numerous negative responses show that we are not adequately revealing ourselves to others. This situation must, if we are concerned at all with Church Growth, be remedied.

For several years, our parish had done the routine advertising, a display advertisement on page two in the Saturday edition of the local paper. Why weren’t people knocking down the doors to see who we were? One answer should have been obvious. Our little ad was lost among about one hundred others. Further, in surveying our own parishioners, it was established that the only people who ever look at the “religious page” are already “religious”. What next?

We decided our advertising dollar might go further in an ad in the Yellow Pages. After all, people “let their fingers do the walking” for everything else; why not a church? We placed a display ad in the phone book. Several people called as a direct result of the ad. One person began coming regularly to the parish (and probably would have eventually converted to Orthodoxy if he had not moved out of our area and into one which had no Orthodox presence.) The phone book ad was, at least according to our standards, “successful”. It got people aware, got them to come, and showed the religious community that we meant business.

There was one predictable drawback of the phone book advertising. Notwithstanding the price (which for our area was $37. monthly), the drawback was an increased number of charity calls. (“I read your ad in the phone book and was wondering if you could help me out?”) The parish which has ample resources in these situations could really be of service to the community.


Our Growth Committee continued to meet weekly throughout the year, and to develop other means of “exposing” ourselves. We held community-oriented programs (on the Bible, contemporary issues, lives of Saints) and various other church-oriented programs. Results were discouraging but not hopeless. And then it hit us. Why not really try to reach into the homes of the unchurched in a very contemporary way, via the electronic media?

With this in mind, and continuing to develop our internal programs, we set out to examine the mass media markets which serve our local area. Television was what we had in mind initially but we have no local affiliate. And our advertising dollars would not be justified for an audience who would in no way travel to our parish. So radio appeared to be a viable alternative.

Media advertising is not something one “does” overnight. Each member of our Growth Committee read articles, books and various research studies which outlined the why’s and wherefore’s of the field. But all along, the thought which kept us going was, “This is the way to get us into homes in a manner that won’t be quickly overlooked.” We figured that people do not turn radio dials when commercials are on. They are a captive audience. We divided our subsequent meetings into an agenda aimed precisely at this radio project. It was fairly simple once we got into it.


Here are some suggestions for you if you’d like to try it:


One of the books which we read outlined the advantage of radio over television advertising. Radio allows the listener to imagine; to create images in his or her own mind. Television provides the images in itself. So first you must decide what you want to say and then adorn it in language and sound. This is a long process, but enjoyable.

We outlined some possible messages - about 50 at first, all about 30 seconds in duration. We would forget about them for a while and then come back to them later for prolonged discussion on content. Were they saying what we had intended to say? We had to remember that you can ’ t tuck a four-year theology course into 30 seconds. You can only attempt to create an impression, preferably a lasting one.

Once we were 75% comfortable with the wording, appropriate music for background was needed. We consulted an ex-professional (now an Orthodox priest) who was able to “gift wrap” the spots with music in a most professional manner.

As production proceeded, we found the musical impact of the spots was hampered because we were too wordy. Back to the drawing board! After weeks of editing meetings, the spots were ready to run.

Where would we run them? Who were we trying to reach? Well, EVERYONE. Or at least whomever we could with a limited budget.


Our initial, impulsive reaction was to go for the local number one station. But we thought additional research in this area was due.

You don’t have to try very hard to buy advertising time on a radio station. Their salespeople, once they know you’re interested, will come to you, gladly. They work on commission mostly. So all it took was a few phone calls and before the week was out we had radio salespeople knocking down the doors. (It was a good chance for them to learn who we were first!) Along with the salespeople came their knowledge, their expertise and a carload of ratings charts and demographic surveys. They even told us “secrets” about the “other stations” which, in their own way, influenced our decisions. And all it took was a few phone calls! (This is important to note. Often when such things are being contemplated, people sneer at the amount of “running around” they’d need to do. Don’t forget, it’s your money. You’re buying something. Demand to know to whom you’re selling.)

As it turned out, the number one station in the area was a contemporary country and western station. Somehow, we could not imagine our spots running next to Miller Beer and farm equipment ads. A certain amount of discretion is necessary. After all, we were advertising our Church!

Though cost was never our greatest concern, it is a consideration. Of course, each station offers a variety of rates. But when purchasing (or thinking about) time, try to negotiate. Prices are dependent upon audience. Obviously, the range of the station and population figure into this. The average cost for a 30-second spot in our area was about $9. (Does this surprise you as it did us?) Also, for non-profit organizations, many stations have a “buy-one-get-one-free offer”. The only problem with this offer is the one you get free may run at 3 a.m.! Time is also important in scheduling your spots. Do you want them on while people are driving to or from work? when the ladies are supposed to be taking a coffee break? when the top syndicated show is beginning (like Paul Harvey)? The information (all of it) provided by the salespeople figures into your general scheme of advertising.


If you advertise, you must be prepared to back up your claims. Your house must be in order to receive an influx of “customers”. Even if they don’t come, you must be prepared. This is a beneficial by-product of the project. You are forced to take a good hard look internally to make sure you are ready to receive visitors without making them feel uncomfortable.

When you schedule your ads, all parish systems must be running at “peak performance”. Services must be orderly, easy to follow and smooth. Ushers or greeters must have a plan for encountering new faces. Look at the church and grounds. Does the landscape need a facelift? Are there items in the church with “foreign” implications that would make a newcomer feel unwelcome?

Is everything clean? Just the thought of looking at your parish and its properties as an outsider is helpful.

When your spots are ready and your parish prepared, you next have to plan a schedule for airing the spots. How much do you have to spend? One spot every month will get you nowhere. Several spots during a concentrated period of time are more effective.

Get out your church calendar and see what’s happening. If nothing, then get the parish wheels turning and plan several things a few months down the road. Schedule them close together, involving as many parishioners and parish organizations as possible. Dinners, bazaars, Bible studies, church school projects, forums, lectures, slide and film presentations - you name it. It can be done. And you have the people in your own parish who can do it. Activate the forces!

But please, don’t plan everything on Sundays; This may be convenient for you, but think again of your audience. Either they’re not in the habit of doing anything on Sundays, or, if they are affiliated with other churches, they don’t want to drop that affiliation at this time. Show the community that you do things during the week. This will add necessary impact and continual exposure to your radio spots. There’s a lot of free advertising out there for these sorts of things.

Now all is in readiness and your spots can be used to the utmost. If you decide you can afford 30 spots, run 5 a day for 6 days (and perhaps get some non-profit freebies as well). “Put all your eggs in the basket and see what hatches.” You’ll be surprised at what happens.


At this writing, our Committee has concluded an extended period of aired spots etc. (augmented financially by a grant from the Department of Lay Ministries). What happened was this:

1) We looked inward and “cleaned house” to prepare for anyone new. This helped immensely and created a refreshing consciousness among our own people.

2) When the commercials aired, our people found themselves talking about their church to other people. “Yea, I go to that church I”

3) Comments from friends came from various avenues; even the Burger King: “I heard your ad on the radio.”

4) Three calls came to the parish office requesting information about the Church.

5) Parishioners became excited about the spots and offered to make donations toward future commercials.

6) A relationship with the station on which we advertised has opened up the possibility of a talk show this fall. (The salesperson also sent lilies for Easter!)

No, to this point, we haven’t had one new member or one convert to the parish as a direct result. But we are learning patience, too. If the word gets out through commercials that we’re here, that we exist, that we are not some strange cult, that we have something to say concerning contemporary issues, the project can be termed a success. And perhaps in other areas - like yours - it can be better than this! You won’t find out until you try. And trying doesn’t take much, especially now, since our spots are presently being “packaged” for syndication. This means that in a short time, your parish will be able to share the fruits of nearly two years of blood, sweat and tears in production time. Lots of luck!

For more information, you are welcome to contact:
Holy Cross Orthodox Church
1725 Blair St.
Williamsport, Pa. 17701
(717) 322-3020

Fr. Dan Kovalak is Pastor of the Holy Cross Orthodox Church in Williamsport, Pa.