Maraca Media-John O'Mara

Freelance copywriter and blogger, shakin' and rockin' it

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Radio ads: Why they didn’t work for you (and what you can do about it)

Radio advertising works, when you do it right! So what went wrong and why didn’t you get the desired results?

It seems easy. The marketing rep convinces you to try radio because you’ll be reaching thousands of potential customers, and once those people hear YOUR message…get ready for a business boost!

Or not.

Why didn’t it work? You wonder if the station scheduled your ads in lousy time slots. Maybe they didn’t run them at all! Relax. They did. The problem, more often than not, is a poorly-crafted message, so read on for a list of campaign killers.


You put your print ad or flyer on the radio and the script you approved was heavy on information and light on persuasion. Your name, location, hours, website, “Like us on Facebook” and (no, no, no!!!) your phone number.

Which opening line do you find more appealing?

A) “It’s the Spring Fling event at Susie’s Weight Loss Centre.”

And I should care because?????

B) “You can lose 20 pounds by Christmas.” (Followed by introducing Susie, how she can make that happen and why you should give her business a try).

Way better! Address a problem and solve it.


Further to my point above, as the great radio advertising guru Dan O’Day says, the opening line is the commercial for the commercial.

“Hi, it’s Steve Jones from Wasaga Beach Toyota.”


Listeners have much stronger bullshit detectors these days. It’s not the ’70s anymore with a limited choice of radio and TV stations. We all know Steve is going to spend the next 25 seconds bragging about his dealership and the best selection, best prices of the year, the lowest finance rates…


Steve will hit us with the usual cliches and “ad speak.” We expect those and have no interest in the rest of ad.

I’ve long had a theory that car dealers don’t speak to the radio audience, they advertise to each other. The guy down the street has the best (see list above)? We’ve got the best and if we yell like a Monster Truck ad, the customers will choose us!


Listen to this ’90s gem from the suburbs of Philly. Prepare to be amazed.

Told ya!

What a gloriously awful mix of hard sell and hype! Yes, that was real and from what I can gather, Gary Barbera’s #1 Dodgeland frequently tortured folks in beautiful Roxborough with messages like that. Oh, and they were charged with upping the monthly payments without telling those customers who had bad credit, went through a divorce or whatever else that didn’t matter at that crazy car dealership.

Those in Radioland don’t enjoy being yelled at in the raunchy, over-the-top manner of Dodgeland. They tune out because they’re waiting for the next song, or the weather forecast.


I’ve been in radio nearly 30 years and witnessed this routine many times. Rep makes the sale. Books it, schedules the spots. As for the copy?

“What do you want to say in your ad?”


“Here’s the email of our writer, send him some copy points.”

You don’t have time to come up with ideas so you recycle the same crap advertisers have used for decades. Maybe you suggest an opening line.

“How about, The leaves are falling and so are the prices at…”


Before we continue, how about some advertising fun from George Carlin?


It’s not your fault. Think about what sets your business apart. Tell the rep or writer what customers like about your business or services. Share your success stories.

You’re not selling flooring. You’re giving customers a more beautiful living room and allowing them to take greater pride in their home. Or increasing the resale value. Play that up!



  1. Talk directly to the listener. As Dan O’Day says, enter a conversation they’re already having. Heating bill too high? They need a more energy-efficient furnace.
  2. Spark their imagination. Radio is, after all, theatre of the mind. Roy Williams, The Wizard of Ads, has made clients (and himself) rich by painting pictures with his words. Sound effects, music and production tricks are fine but what you say, and how you say it, will make the difference.
  3. Avoid filling your spots with Yellow Pages info or social media links. No one is going to “Like” you on Facebook until they’ve had a good experience with your products and services.

The fact is, the creative departments at many radio stations are staffed with non writers. People who graduated from broadcasting programs to become radio personalities or producers. Sure, copywriting was likely part of their training but it wasn’t why they chose radio as a career.

They took a job in creative as an entry point in the business. Or the company went through the dreaded “restructuring” process and jobs were combined. Copywriting became an extra chore for that aspiring morning show host.

I am a writer. I don’t retype copy info, I analyze it. What would I, as the consumer, find appealing?

It sure isn’t their claim of being “conveniently located.” Again, what the heck does that mean? What if I’m at the other end of town, or in another town?


I’ve been to many seminars, including those of Dan O’Day and Roy Williams, and the result is a combination of my unique style with O’Day’s “make the cash register ring” philosophy and the imaginative, storytelling approach of The Wizard of Ads.

I can help your business, or become a freelance addition to your creative team. Feel free to send me an email:







Three discs from the Maraca Collection: Chapter Four

Welcome back to another trio of compact discs from my dusty racks…gotta clean the condo soon, Mom is coming over for Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday…where I found them, and why I purchased them.

I just finished listening to Eddie Trunk’s show on Sirius/XM Volume. He loves CDs and takes offence when music journalists and fans claim the format is dead…and do so while pointing to the over-hyped vinyl resurgence.

Agree with you Eddie. Compact discs are much easier to handle and last longer. The small size of the cases meant smaller covers, harder to read liner notes and sometimes folded posters, and those full size extras were the features that made us long for vinyl.

Just not the scratches, warps and skipping.

My previous choices have been rather eclectic. Today, when I closed my eyes and ran my fingers along the CD cases, I ended up with three rock and roll albums.

Batting first…

Silent Radar by The Watchmen (1998)

When the Winnipeg alternative rockers released this record, I was living in Owen Sound, Ontario. For non-Canadian readers, Owen Sound is 100 miles north of Toronto and, at the time, did not have a rock radio station.

The region was radio deadsville, nothing but soft rock, country and oldies.

It wasn’t until several years later that I heard the single, Stereo, on Sirius/XM. Loved it, and found Silent Radar at Randy’s Records in downtown Owen Sound. If I recall, Randy didn’t put price stickers on his products. You’d have to hold it up and wait for him to say…

“Asking $7 for that one.”


MTV Unplugged by KISS (1996)

As I’ve written in previous blog posts, I’ve never really cared for unplugged albums. I’m a rocker. To quote KISS, I love it loud…and played on electric guitars.

So why did I grab this disc at Randy’s Records?

Maybe it was the reuniting of the four original members for tracks 18-21. Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons on all songs, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss on 2,000 Man, Beth, Nothing to Lose and Rock & Roll All Nite.

Most diehard KISS fans prefer the ’70s version of the band with Gene, Paul, Ace and Peter. I also enjoyed their ’80s non-makeup period. There were some great songs on Lick It Up, Animalize and Hot In The Shade.

I haven’t listened to this album in ages but I’m betting Stanley’s vocals sounded much better than they do today. If you’ve seen recent Youtube concert videos of KISS, Paul’s voice seems to be shot and he croaks through the hits.

As Stanley said recently, “If you want me to sound like I did on KISS Alive II, listen to KISS Alive II.”

Good luck on the “farewell” tour, you’re going to need it. Drink plenty of herbal tea.

The Best of Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks (1990)

While The Hawk and his band (featuring young Canadians like Robbie Robertson who went on to become “The Band”) gave us some fine rockin’ tunes, the reason I purchased this on Amazon was…


In the late ’60s, the CRTC mandated that Canadian radio stations had to play at least 30 percent homegrown talent. The MAPL system (Music, Artist, Performance or Lyrics by a Canadian, had to have two of’ ’em to qualify) that program directors came to love so much.


Hawkins hailed from Arkansas but moved to Canada in the late ’50s.

My program director let me get away with 25 percent Can-Con since Johnny Maraca’s Rock and Roll Riot (originally Roots of Rock and Roll) ran after 7 pm on a Sunday.

So, Ronnie Hawkins and Jack Scott helped me hit 25 percent, along with early Guess Who and the jump blues albums by Colin James.

That’s it for this edition. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon.


Three discs from the Maraca Collection: Chapter Three

Welcome back to another trip through the hundreds of compact discs I’ve amassed over the past 30 years or so. Where I found them, why I purchased them.

Here’s another eclectic trio (you’d be expecting that by now if you had checked out chapters one and two).

The Original Rumble by Link Wray (1990)

I discovered Link Wray, the inventor of the power chord, through two sources. Pulp Fiction, which featured a couple of Wray’s guitar instrumentals on the soundtrack, and my good friend, that drumming mad man (and like me, ad man) Sean Anderson.

Sean and his band, The Black Holes, often played The Rumble during their sets. Guitarist Tom Hilborn would rip through that one, as well as the Ace of Spades.

Mr. Anderson burned a copy of the 23-track disc for me, and I was able to play just about every track on my old radio show, Johnny Maraca’s Rock and Roll Riot.

I’ve also become Facebook friends with two of Wray’s daughters, Belinda and Beth, who work tirelessly to keep their father’s legacy alive. Check out the great 2017 documentary, Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World (Wray was half Shawnee).

Touch by Sarah McLachlan (1988)

McLachlan is a gifted singer/songwriter but the tune that made me a fan was one Sarah didn’t write, Dear God.

She covered XTC’s atheist song on The Rarities collection, addressing the big man in the sky with tremendous passion and emotion. Can’t believe in you, and I believed her.

So, I worked back from there, to McLachlan’s earlier LPs Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, Solace and Sarah’s debut, Touch. Vox was the single and remains one my favourite tracks by the Halifax-born artist, though I’d say Fumbling Towards Ecstasy is her best record.

Back then I was employed at CFOS and Mix 106 in Owen Sound and the record companies allowed our music director to place staff Christmas orders at reduced prices. So I likely got this one for half price. One of the perks of working in radio, the other being plenty of free food from local eateries (hugely appreciated since radio doesn’t pay so great).

And from the sweet Sarah we move on to…

Hellbilly Deluxe by Rob Zombie (1998)

During my Owen Sound days I was a railing bird at the Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre, cheering on our local Junior A hockey team, The Attack. My tennis buddy, Gary Morrison, and I bought tickets but chose to stand at the top of the section. Better view, I think.

The Attack warmups were always accompanied by songs chosen by the team and since the players were 16 to 20 years old, that meant current rock. Likely more hip hop these days but I moved to Wasaga Beach in 2007.

When they hit the ice and the menacing sound of Rob Zombie’s Dragula shook the arena speakers I thought, “Wow, what is that?” Off to Music World I went to purchase Hellbilly Deluxe.

It was Zombie’s first solo album after splitting from White Zombie. It had 13 tracks…of course! Superbeast, Living Dead Girl, Meet the Creeper!

My radio show was cancelled in January of 2018 which means I won’t get to create my annual Halloween edition this year. Dammit. Since the program ran on an adult contemporary/soft rock station I resisted the temptation to throw in Dragula.

Too heavy for folks used to hearing Adele and Ed Sheehan…though I did sneak in Rob Zombie’s Halloween (She Gets So Mean) from a collection called Halloween Hootenanny.

Hey, I didn’t call it the Rock and Roll Riot for nothing!

I shall return soon with another chapter. Thanks for reading.




Three discs from the Maraca collection: Chapter Two

Welcome back to the ongoing journey through my dusty CD collection. For any younger readers, a compact disc is a piece of plastic that contains up to 20 songs and, get this, you need a special player to listen to it.

Truth be told, I haven’t inserted a disc into my Toshiba combination CD/DVD/video cassette machine for months and months. I mostly listen to satellite and commercial radio. Stern is on as I type this.

Today’s collection is rather eclectic. Even though I hosted a show devoted to ’50s and ’60s rock and roll, the band I’ve seen most often in concert is Iron Maiden. My first show, back in ’81, was Motorhead, with Anvil opening.


A Tribute to the King, by various artists (2002)

I purchased this one at Rasputin Records in San Francisco. Four levels of CDs, vinyl and movies and a full-time elevator operator to take you up or down. Very cool store.

Capitol Records released this collection after the success of Elvis: 30 #1 Hits. I have that album as well.

During my radio reign as Johnny Maraca, host of the Rock and Roll Riot, I was always felt that as great song was a great song no matter who performed it. It’s a tribute to songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller that it’s hard to screw up Jailhouse Rock.

And, on A Tribute to the King, Jailhouse Rock is covered by one of the greatest song stylists ever…he says so and I agree…Jerry Lee Lewis. The Killer can make anything sound great.

Other choices on the disc: Hound Dog by John Lennon, Suspicous Minds by Fine Young Cannibals, and Willie Nelson duetting with Leon Russell on Heartbreak Hotel.

The Better Life by 3 Doors Down (2000)

Mock me if you will. Okay, not that much. Cut it out.

Entertainment Weekly gave the album a B- and said it was “power rock by the numbers.”

Rolling Stone said 3 Doors Down played “slick, heroic Neo-grunge for the Clear Channel era, where all regions melted into one long Nickelback impression.”

Many of us had forgotten about those Mississippi rockers until they played Trump’s inauguration. They were famous again. Or infamous, and held up as proof that the new president couldn’t attract A or even C level talent.


The Better Life sold 6 million copies. I loved the lead single, Kryptonite and kinda liked the follow up, Loser. The rest of album was so-so, and I had paid full price at Music World for it. Subsequent 3 Doors Down releases failed to excite me. Here Without You received plenty of airplay but…pretty bland.

Naked Songs by Rickie Lee Jones (1995)

Remember Johnny the metal maniac from a few paragraphs above? In 1984, I worked as an intern at the Canadian music trade publication, The Record. Editor David Farrell asked for a list of my Top 10 albums of the year, to be included among the submissions of countless industry folks.

My list had LPs by Iron Maiden, the Scorpions, Rainbow and Van Halen and was topped by…

Magazine, by Rickie Lee Jones.  So, nine rock albums and at number one, a disc by an artist who combines pop, jazz, R&B and other genres.

Naked Songs was subtitled, Live and Acoustic. I doubt I’ve played it more than a few times because I’ve never been a fan of unplugged records. I might have enjoyed Eric Clapton’s acoustic take on Layla had it been a brand-new song or a deep cut.

Compared to the Derek & the Domino’s rockin’ version with Duane Allman’s classic riffs?

Uh uh.

Well, that’s it for this chapter. See you next time when I dust off three more CDs from the racks.



Three discs from the Maraca collection: Chapter One

A year ago, I started a lease on a 2018 Mazda 3 and, on one of my morning drives, I thought I’d give the Sirius/XM app a rest and plug in a CD.

And then…

Oh yeah, it doesn’t have a compact disc player. Many new cars don’t. The music format that was supposed to kill off vinyl records is now about as popular as vinyl was in the late ’80s.

Over the years I’ve purchased hundreds of CDs that have filled several racks. I spend more time dusting them than spinning them and I live alone. I’m no slob but I don’t dust as often as I should.

So, what I’ve decided to do is close my eyes, run my fingers along the discs and pick three at random. No cheating. Whatever my digits land on is what will end up in this blog. Where and why I purchased said albums or collections.

Batting leadoff…


I pretty much missed the punk explosion of the late ’70s. Wasn’t into it. Guess I actually liked the so-called bloated mainstream bands that The Sex Pistols sneered at…Pink Floyd, Yes, Fleetwood Mac.

Sorry Johnny Rotten, this Johnny begged to differ. When The Clash and Van Halen taunted each other at the US Festival in ’83 I sided with Diamond Dave and his drunken rants.

Anyway, the great Social D!

Typically, an artist has used an eponymous title for their debut album. This was actually Social Distortion’s third long player, and included The Story of My Life, Ball and Chain and a sizzling cover of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire. I played the latter many times on my radio show.

Not sure where I purchased this CD. It has a rough stickiness to the case which suggests it had a price sticker from a used record store. Perhaps BJ’s Records in Downton Barrie, or even back to my Owen Sound days and Randy’s Records.

Social D remains one of my favourite modern-day punk acts, and is often featured on Little Steven’s Underground Garage.


I’ve been buying Beatles albums since the mid-’70s. I was born in ’62 so I was kind of late to the party but caught up in a hurry. Started with the 1967-70 greatest hits double set and then came Sergeant Pepper, the White Album, Abbey Road…

And, as I said off the top, compact discs were supposed to mark the end of vinyl. Guess again!

But, like millions of other music fans I started to buy digital versions of my vinyl treasures so that meant CD copies of Sergeant Pepper and the rest. Cha-ching!

Having said all that, I didn’t add With the Beatles to my collection until a few years ago. As the host of Johnny Maraca’s Rock & Roll Riot radio show, I took great pride in featuring deeper cuts. Dozens of oldies shows play only the top 20 hits but how about the Fab Four cover of Money by Barrett Strong? Or It Won’t Be Long, or Hold Me Tight?

With the Beatles was another find from BJ’s in Barrie. Great store, especially if you’ve gotten back into vinyl.

LIVE IN LAS VEGAS by LOUIS PRIMA & KEELY SMITH (released 2005, recorded 1958)

Somewhere in the ’90s I discovered Nick Tosches’s Unsung Heroes of Rock and Roll at a library book sale. Likely paid a quarter for it.

That book became my go-to source for early rock and roll, and introduced me to the colourful character known as Louis Prima. Married five times. Started recording in the early ’40s but as Tosches wrote, “he went through record companies like they were candy.”

By the mid-’50s Prima and then wife Keely Smith were one of the most popular acts in Las Vegas, earning $10,000 a week at the Sahara Hotel.

Unfortunately, Live in Las Vegas does not include Jump Jive & Wail (covered by Brian Setzer of The Stray Cats), or Just a Jigolo. The latter was a hit for the aforementioned David Lee Roth, post Van Halen.

I have a feeling I purchased this album on Amazon. My show ran for nearly 10 years and I can’t even begin to estimate how much I’ve spent on CDs online. And it was even more costly when the show was reborn several years ago (thanks Rockin’ Rod) but without compensation for yours truly.

I did it because I loved it.

That’s it for now. I’ll randomly selected another three discs and take more trips down my musical memory lane.

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