WASHINGTON -- One of the lessons CUNA learned in launching its "Home & Family Finance" radio program is station managers are more likely to respond to requests for air time if they come from a local credit union rather than a big name, Washington-based trade group.
This is according to Mark Wolff, executive director of the radio program and senior vice president of communications at CUNA. In September 2006, the association launched the weekly show on 30 stations around the country through Radio America, a 20-year old network with more than 500 affiliated stations.
Since its debut, the program, which airs on Sundays at 3:00 p.m. EST, has expanded to 40 stations and recently partnered with the American Forces Network to bring the program to military personnel outside the continental United States, including bases in Europe, the Middle East and the Pacific.
"We found that local credit unions can make the initial contact with a radio station with better results than CUNA doing it," Wolff said. "Radio personnel are more likely to respond to the local credit union. We've adjusted our marketing efforts to involve them."
Still, the national program is accomplishing what it was set out to do: to use CUNA's personal finance resources to promote financial education and help strengthen the credit union brand.
Wolff is quick to point out that the show "is not an infomercial for credit unions." A wide range of speakers have spoken on everything from cashier check fraud to pre-nuptial agreements. But if listeners get new exposure to credit unions, that's fine too.
"We're trying to strengthen the bond of trust people have with credit unions for money matters," Wolff said.
Radio America airs the program in several key markets including Washington, Albany, Boston, Memphis, and St. Louis. The majority of the stations, however, are heard in smaller communities that are not ranked by Arbitron, the media firm that measures radio audiences, Wolff said. The CUNA program's total listening audience for all 40 stations is more than six million.
"We found that some stations dropped us due to format changes [such as] going from talk to music," Wolff said. "We lose some but we gain some. For a show that airs on the weekends, it's doing pretty good. One of our goals was to get into the D.C. market and to members of Congress and we've been able to do that."
Indeed, the Federal News Radio with its federal employee audience, airs CUNA's program on Mondays.
To accommodate those who like to download shows and listen later, CUNA and Radio America began podcasting the Home & Family Finance show through iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo, and other popular podcast library sites last fall, as well as on Radio America (www.radioamerica.org) and CUNA's own Web sites (www.cuna.org).
The program is hosted by Paul Berry, a broadcast journalist with more than 30 years of experience. The expansion of the program onto the American Forces Networks brings Berry full circle. He first received broadcast training with the American Forces Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (of which AFN is a subsidiary), while stationed in Vietnam.
"We made a quantum leap forward through the partnership with the American Forces Network," Wolff said. "If you go around military bases, you'll see that [military personnel] are being preyed upon by predatory lending. They've very vulnerable. Many of these young enlisted folks need basic financial education. We like to think we're helping an audience that can use it."
The funding for radio airtime is typically not cheap. To help pay for the costs, CO-OP Financial Services and national sponsors VISA, WesCorp, and Cabot Creamery Cooperative have stepped up to pay for the weekly program. Wolff would not say how much it costs to produce and air the radio lineup.
Still, experts from all walks of life are carving time out of their busy schedules to speak on the program. Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who recently introduced the Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights (H.R. 5244), was on in February. Top officials from the IRS and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency have spoken on the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program and fraud, respectively. Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America, spoke in late February on consumer debt and savings and NCUA Board Member Gigi Hyland stopped in to discuss financial consumer hotlines. Wolff said he would like to have more policymakers on the show.
It takes about 10 days to produce a show, said Marta Trinkl, the radio program's producer. CUNA's Center for Personal Finance staffers are a key resource for finding show topics. Once a guest is lined up, the show is taped at Radio America's headquarters in Arlington, Va. Typically, two shows are taped back to back. Wolff said because of Trinkl and Berry's expertise, rarely do they have to redo a taping.
For now, there are no plans to take the show live and receive call-in questions. However, during the last five minutes of the current format, Berry will read e-mailed questions for the guest speakers to respond to.
"About a year ago, we did a show on love and money," Wolff said. The show focused on "blending the two money personalities and adjusting to working as a couple. One woman talked about pre-nuptial agreements and economical ways to have a wedding."
To reach an even wider audience, in September 2007, CUNA started producing its "Home & Family Money Minute," where quick money tips are dropped into popular weekday programs such as during the Michael Reagan talk show. Some of the higher-profile weekday programs have listening audiences that top the four million mark, Wolff said.
More live feeds similar to those that will take place at this year's Governmental Affairs Conference, the Texas and Ohio Credit Union leagues' annual meetings, and WesCorp's Future Forum are also planned. Credit unions are being encouraged to put a link to the program on their Web sites. More than 800 credit unions subscribe to CUNA's magazine, Home & Family Finance Resource Center, Wolff noted.
"In the first year, we wanted to get the show up and running and flowing smoothly from week to week," Wolff said. "Our biggest challenge was it proved to be harder to expand into more communities. We found a number of leads that just didn't pan out."
That hasn't deterred the program's mission, Wolff emphasized.
"We found that if we involved more credit unions, it might work out more. Our goal now is to expand listenership."