Radio terminology, aka radio jargon, is a language all unto itself — if you’re new to radio, don’t be surprised if you don’t understand the acronyms and vocabulary used by the industry. Whether you work for a radio station, a radio syndicator, or work at an advertising, marketing or public relations agency, you are going to hear a multitude of radio terms.
If you’re new to the industry, you may find yourself nodding in agreement, and feel like a “deer in the headlights.” Don’t worry; our brains are like sponges. The more we hear radio terminology, the more we’ll begin to sort out this radio jargon, and peer-to-peer conversations will make sense. Here’s our list of radio terms.
ABC — American Broadcasting Company.
Acapella — a song or jingle featuring voices without accompanying music.
Ad — short for advertisement.
Ad-Lib — when a live on-air DJ or show host concocts/invents/wings it when the programming experiences a technical difficulty, or a guest or co-host goes “off-script.”
Adjacencies — programs either immediately before or after a specific program, such as sports programming.
AFTRA — the acronym for the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists
AM — short for Amplitude Modulation, where the radio signal varies by amplitude (oscillation) of the radio wave. AM radio stations broadcast on frequencies of 530 to 1710 kHz.
Arbitron — the radio ratings company acquired by Nielsen in 2013. Nielsen now supplies both radio and television audience reports.
ASCAP — acronym for the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers who protects their members’ music copyrights, whether broadcast or in live performances.
Average quarter hour (AQH)— a term used by Nielsen to describe the average number of radio station listeners in a 15-minute time period.
Back Announce — when the DJ chats about the song that has just aired.
Back Time — a technique where the DJ and the programming director or other staff member calculate which song to play before a break or at the end of the show, so the song doesn’t end too soon or go over into the program break.
Barter/Contra Deal — a deal struck between a radio station where advertising is traded for food, concert or sports tickets, travel, hotel space, or other goods or services.
Bed — underlying audio that a DJ talks over, usually used when transitioning between tracks or introducing a song.
Broadcast Placement Report — a report showing the stations who receive and use an audio news release, sound bite line, PSA, or interview in a radio media tour or satellite media tour.
Broadcast Usage Update — a report that confirms the airing of audio news releases, sound bites, PSAs, or interviews from a radio media tour or satellite media tour.
Brokered Programming — time slots sold by a station to independent producers who create their own programming; the party who buys the time and produces the program to air; for example, a foreign language program on a mostly English language radio station.
Bumper Music — music/song before or after a commercial break.
Cans — short for headphones.
Cart — a storage system where radio spots, PSAs, and other announcements are stored and assigned a number for identification.
CBS — Columbia Broadcasting System.
CHR — contemporary hit radio format, formerly known as Top 40.
Com Prod (Commercial Production) — the department/studio area where radio spots and announcements are produced.
Cost Efficiency Factor (CEF) — the cost per thousand to reach 1,000 listeners with just one spot, compared to 1,000 listeners on another station with a similar demographic.
Cue Lights — the lights seen just outside the broadcast studio that signal red to stand by and green to indicate “live and on-air.”
Cume — abbreviation for cumulative audience, the number of households or persons listening to a particular radio station during a specific time period.
Churban — a hybrid radio format, comprised of CHR (contemporary hits) mixed with urban (hip hop and/or R&B).
Daypart — the different times of the day, for example — morning drive (usually 6 am to 10 am) or afternoon drive (typically 3 pm to 7 pm).
Dead Air — an unscheduled “silence” caused by equipment failure, server problems, or a host or DJ arriving late at the studio.
DMA — Designated Market Area, utilized in Nielsen reports. Each county in the U.S. is assigned to a specific DMA.
Donut — a short musical piece, that begins with singing, contains only music in the middle (usually for script to be read over it), and ends with singing.
Ethnic Radio — radio that broadcasts in a language other than English in the United States.
Final Broadcast Usage Report — a report that verifies running an audio news release, sound bite, PSA, radio media tour interviews or a satellite media tour interviews, and includes audience, frequency of runs, and station listenership metrics.
FM — abbreviation for Frequency Modulation; the radio signal is transmitted through changes in frequency. FM radio stations broadcast on frequencies from 88 to 108 MHz.
Format — the genre of music programming for each radio station; country, pop, adult contemporary, news/talk, and urban are format examples.
Format Clock — a specially-formatted clock that shows key programming elements including music, news breaks, commercial breaks, and weather.
Frequency — the number of times that a listener can hear an advertising spot with the assumption that hearing a message more frequently may entice the potential customer to purchase.
Frequency — the dial position of the radio station. Example: 100.3 FM
Gross Rating Points (GRPs) — a measurement of how well a station’s reach serves a client’s demographic market; a GRP is 1% of the market’s population.
Jingle — a custom-written short tune used for advertising and/or branding.
K — the first letter of a call sign for a radio station located in the U.S., generally west of the Mississippi.
Link — a short blurb about what’s coming up next.
Log — a written record of what airs at a radio station each day, including the music played, the commercials aired, and the engineering log that shows the transmitter status.
Major market — the top 25 cities in the U.S. by population
Mixdown — a mix of multiple music tracks, carefully blended to be not too loud and not too soft.
NAB — the National Association of Broadcasters, a trade association comprised of radio and television broadcasters.
NBC — National Broadcasting Company.
NCS — Nielsen Coverage Study, used in both radio and television ratings.
Nielsen Company, LLC — the company that provides radio and television listenership and viewership audience reports.
On the Beach — slang for being unemployed.
Over Running — a situation where the song or the DJ runs longer than the planned end time.
Payola — an illegal practice of paying a station to air a song during regular programming without the station’s disclosure that the song was sponsored content.
P.D. — the Program Director, the person who oversees the sound and music selection which helps differentiate the station from other stations in the market.
Playlist — a formalized list of songs aired on a particular day or week.
Pre-Record — recording an audio segment before broadcasting it on air.
Production Studio — like Com Prod, the department/studio area where radio spots and announcements are produced.
Promo — an abbreviated form for promotional announcement, a type of advertising to publicize an event or personal appearance.
PSA — Public Service Announcements run at no charge for a non-profit organization for the wellbeing of a community, like a “Don’t Drink and Drive” campaign.
RAB — Radio Advertising Bureau.
Radio Frequency — the dial position or frequency on which a radio station is broadcast, such as 97.1 FM or 960 AM. (Same as Frequency, above)
Ramp — the introduction/instrumental opening to a song.
Ratings — the ranking of a station calculated as a percentage of people who listen.
Remote — a live broadcast outside of the station’s studio, usually at a client’s location or at a special event.
Segue — the smooth transition from one song to another or transition from one program to another.
Sign-On and Sign-Off — a formalized announcement that a radio station is “officially” on the air, giving their call letters and frequency; the same procedure is repeated at the end of the broadcast day with a “sign-off” message. If a station broadcasts 24/7, they do not sign-on and sign-off.
Sound Bite — a snippet or short audio clip of an interview that can be used for news or promotional purposes.
Sound Effects — Pre-recorded sounds to create special effects in a radio spot or promotional announcement — sounds such as frogs croaking, sirens or a baby crying.
Spot — a radio (or television) commercial.
Sweeper — a jingle to help brand the radio station and played between two songs.
Syndicated — programming produced by an independent producer or a network for sale or barter to radio stations.
Syndicator — an independent company that produces and distributes programming for sale or barter to radio stations.
Talk radio — a radio format, moderated by a DJ, where listeners call in to talk about the topic of the day.
Targeting (aka Target Audience Demographic) — the process of selecting radio stations by their listening audiences to reach a specific demographic group.
Total Number of Stations and Network Affiliates Airing — the total number of individual stations who broadcast a program or story. For a cluster (a group of stations within a single market), airing on one station counts as one; if the broadcast is aired on a sister station, this counts as two.
Total Number of Airings — the sum of airings for a news or feature story, or a radio commercial.
Total Listenership — the total audience that heard a message derived by adding AQH (Average Quarter-Hour persons) for every network and station that broadcast a story.
TX — abbreviation for transmission.
Voiceover — a narrative spoken by an unseen person to accompany video programming, a news clip or a commercial.
W — the first letter of the call sign for a radio station in the United States, generally east of the Mississippi.
X — the first letter of the call sign for a radio station broadcasting from Mexico