Mike Hurley

Mike Hurley

Three years ago, one of the UK’s top voice artists died suddenly. It wasn’t just a sad loss for his family and the Voice Over world, but Mike was also an amazingly talented writer and evangelist for good radio advertising. Somewhere in the vaults of Capital Radio Nottingham/ Trent FM is a splendid video of a presentation Mike did for clients of the station. His eyes sparkle with passion as he talks about how to make radio advertising WORK.

In the voice over booth we got some of the best out takes. His sharp wit taking over when his voice tripped on some over-written agency sows ear. Or an explosion when he got a take wrong. Some Voices will give you a glance when they finish a read and you KNOW that they think they’ve not done it as well as they could.. but they hope it’s good enough for the producer. Mike wouldn’t do that. He’d immediately volunteer to give a better take. He wanted to give his best…. Even for the voice fee of a £14.90 local radio script.

I remember spending time with Mike at Radio Aire in Leeds. He used to visit Yorkshire TV next door and then pop in to a) see if there was anything we needed voicing b) wait to pick his son Mikey up from school and c) just pass the time chatting animatedly about radio, what was good, what was bad and what needed putting right. I considered Mike as a good friend.

There’s some more about Mike here…

And a video of a TV documentary about his work…. “Voiceover Man – Voice Over Artiste Documentary, Confessions of a Vocal Prostitute”


See if you can spot the duvet in the studio! When Mike was doing sessions down the ISDN Line he would put the duvet over his head to create the sound proofing.

I can’t believe it’s nearly 3 and a half years since he passed away. I can still hear his voice.

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How to say road numbers in commercials

There’s a fascinating debate going on about how to say road numbers in Radio Commercials. Did I say fascinating? What some people may not realise is there is thought put into these things. How do you say a road number or a phone number to help it stick in the mind?

Have a look at Emma Clarke’s blog for more insights 🙂


The A1236 somewhere near a phone box... remember them?

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Writing to Time

If you have a go at writing your own radio commercial, it’s very tempting to try and cram as much information into it as possible. But with Radio, less IS more. And if you have a limited duration you need to decide what is the KEY importand message you want to get across. Radio is not like press. You can’t cram more in by reducing the font size!
It seems to be one of the hardest things for a new writer to grasp. But its very important that you do not overwrite your radio commercial. If you listen to some of the bad radio commercials on radio stations perhaps half of them sound bad because too many words are crammed into the commercial.

Word Counting

An average talking pace is around 2.5 – 3 words per second. If you are running a single voice, thirty second, announcement style commercial that has more than 90 words it’s over written and you need to cut out some words. But this number is also influenced by the number of voiced you use, and how they interact, it’s influenced by leaving space for Sound Effects, by the pace of music and tone of voice. Only use the word count as a guide. There is no substitute for using a stopwatch.

Short Commercials

The hardest commercials to write to time are often the shortest ones… Ten second commercials. In a 40 or 50 second commercial the voices have time to pace themselves, and perhaps pick up time on certain sections. In a 10 second commercial there is little flexibility, you have to be spot on. Clients have said to me “Can’t you just read it faster?” Yes you can, but your message will sound garbled, rushed and you are not showing consideration to the listener. How would you like it if a door to door salesman launched into verbal machine gun fire as soon as you opened the door to him? Respect the listener.

Use A Stopwatch

Nothing beats reading out loud with a stopwatch!

The only way to truely get the timing on a commercial is to read it out with a stopwatch. Yes, outloud! Not under your breath. And you should read it with the music if you have music on you commercial… and leave time and space for sound effects, acting and dialogue. With practice you will be able to spot if a script is over written just by looking at the script. If your writer overwrites ask him if the script will fit in the allotted time. If your script is overwritten it will not sound as good as a script given space and time. Underwriting can also be a problem, but at least music and sound can fill the spaces in most scripts. The use of silence or pauses can also be very effective (not huge silences, as there are technical and programming issues with these). Soon a writer will be able to look at a script and know it’s over written!

Add A Word – Remove A Word

Also it is important to remember that if you add words to the script you need to take them out. Similarly if you take words or sentences out your writer will have to rework the script. It’s about creativity, clear communication and balance.

Exact Timings

You are probably wondering why your commercial has to be exactly written and produced to 10 second units (In some countries like Kenya 5 or 15 second units). These days many radio stations are networked, usually overnight. This means the same programme could be going out on several transmitters, so ad breaks have to be balanced. If you are running three minutes of commercials on transmitter A you have to run three minutes on transmitter B. Also the standards and costings are based on set second units. If a client books a 30 second slot, but runs 33 seconds of copy, they are stealing 10% from the radio station.

Using Different Durations

In the U.K. the Average commercial is around 40 seconds but most radio stations quote the airtime shedule based on 30 second spots, because of this 30 seconds has become thought of by many people as the standard duration: but some great ideas are ruined trying to shoehorn them into 30 seconds. In the USA, most commercials are 60 seconds with a few 30’s dotted around, but you listen to some minute long commercials where the idea has to be padded with useless waffle.
30 seconds may be fine. But your offer might need an above average creative treatment to sell it. The ad should be as long as it needs to be to do the job. Stick to one message per commercial, and instead of one cluttered long ad, have two or three shorter, simpler ads. I personally find my best work has come out at around 40 seconds, then it can be ruined because the airtime has been pre-booked as 30 second slots and I’ve had to remove 10 seconds of material.
Research shows that longer ads have better listener recall. Creative content can make your ads more memorable, and it is easier to write creatively to longer timelengths. Longer ads also give more time for branding, and are able to establish characters and situations. Longer ads also mean less ads per break, which means less clutter, more recall. (For more on using different durations and the benefits of longer commercials visit the RAB website).

Allow your writer to be creative with your timelengths. What is wrong with three 10 second ads every other spot in the break, or a 40 second at the start of an ad break with a 10 second reminder at the end. Or a different commercial playing morning, noon and night? Or a short ad directing people to a fixed, longer length spot at some point in the day (“listen out at 5.15 today for our late availability holiday offers / details of our used car of the week”). Your Sales Exec will be able to show you how you can use short ads tactically with longer ones to build O.T.H. (Opportunities To Hear).

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