Just to mess with the car salesman’s head, I threw out an obvious buying signal. “Does it come in silver?”

“Would you like one in silver?”

“Yes, I believe I would, but only if I can get it equipped exactly how I’d like.”

“I’m sure that won’t be problem. Follow me inside, and we’ll write it up.”

This is where it gets interesting. Once inside, he whipped out his Montblanc and slid a bid sheet out of his desk. Pen poised above it, he looked at me over the rims of his glasses. “Now, what would you like on it?”

“Oh, it’s what I don’t want on it that matters. I’d like it without a Radio of any kind.”
Chin up. Pen down. With an invisible question mark glowing above his head, he asked, “No Radio?”

“I’ll buy it only if I can get it without a Radio.”

“I’ll be right back.”

I could see laughter and a puzzled expression through the glass as the manager furtively glanced my way. Another salesperson overheard the conversation and said, “What is he, some kind of nut?” (Salespeople often talk louder than they know.) A few minutes later, my man returned.

“How about if we don’t charge you for the Radio?” He laid a duplicate window sticker in front of me and dramatically penned a thin blue line through the Radio’s description and price. “We’ll leave the Radio in it, not charge you for it, and you can just leave it turned off. How about it?”

“Nope. Someone riding with me would always turn it on.”

“We’ll have it disconnected.”

“Then everyone would think my new car was broken. Nope,” I said firmly, “I don’t want a Radio in it at all.”

“I’ll be right back.” And Mr. Montblanc barged down the hallway toward Parts & Service. A few minutes later, he came back, looking irritated. “I’m sorry, Mr. Rhoads, but the factory doesn’t manufacture any kind of cover plate to cover the hole left by a missing Radio. And they assure me that no other manufacturer supplies one. How can we work through this?”

If you’re ever really bored and looking for a cheap thrill, drop in to the nearest car dealer and try to buy a new car without a Radio. It simply cannot be done. You can buy a car without air conditioning, but you can’t buy one without a Radio. It’s standard equipment, because the public is no more likely to request a car without a Radio than they would a car without tires.

Ninety-one percent of all the cars on the road contain only one person. A car is a Radio on wheels.

Viacom/Infinity’s Mel Karmazin once told a group of analysts that Radio’s growth is tied to America’s increased traffic. Consumers stuck in cars are a captive audience. National advertisers buy Radio in the most highly populated cities, which also happen to have the biggest traffic problems. Big-city commuters spend vast amounts of time in their “Radios on wheels.” Commuting from my suburban home to my San Francisco office, I spend three hours a day in my car — sometimes on the cell phone or listening to CDs, but mostly listening to the Radio.

A car is a metal box in which brands are established and sales are made. You hold the keys to one of the most powerful marketing tools ever invented. A nation trapped in a “Radio on wheels” is a powerful selling opportunity. Now go sell it.

01/05/04  Radio Ink Magazine. By B. Eric Rhoads