January 31, 2013 / 12:05 PM / in 5 years

The perks-and hazards-of being a radio star

(Reuters) - Got financial smarts and the gift of gab? You may want to consider a side career as a money guru on the radio.

A radio show can help snag new business leads, say advisers with broadcasting gigs. It can also bring an end to running time-consuming financial seminars that often fail to generate enough client leads to make the tutorials worthwhile, they say. Some advisers even launch second businesses through their radio shows.

Talk radio has long been a way for advisers to impart wisdom about everything from stock market gyrations to retirement planning concerns - and, with luck, grab a few new clients. But the marketplace for financial shows is becoming more competitive and even saturated in some cases, said Dean Barber, a financial adviser in Lenexa, Kansas. Advisers need a plan to make their efforts pay off, said Barber, who has hosted “America’s Wealth Man­age­ment Show,” since 2003. The syndicated program is broadcast on 21 stations and soon will air on more than 60.

“You have to do something to set yourself apart,” he said. That often begins with preparation and a plan to follow up with people who will ultimately call for advice, Barber said.

NEW BEGINNINGS

For Peter D‘Arruda, it all started with buying a one-hour time slot on a small AM station in Southern Pines, North Carolina. He turned to radio in 2005 after a frustrating decade-plus of running seminars that often failed to connect him with clients who were serious about their finances.

“A lot of people were looking at seminars as a way of getting free food,” he said.

Radio, however, brought a crowd that wanted advice. Listeners began calling his office, and the callers often had larger portfolios than the clients he had typically managed, he said. Assets under management at his practice doubled within a year, he said.

Today, D‘Arruda, known on the air as “Coach Pete,” broadcasts “The Financial Safari” on 108 stations. What’s more, advisers pay as much as $3,000 monthly to “guest star” in shows he customizes for their markets.

GETTING STARTED

Don’t know where to begin? First-time radio presentations can be as simple as rattling off seminar material that advisers already know during a 30- to 60-minute segment. Prep time will likely increase to at least several hours per show, depending the length of the segment, as advisers start searching for new material. A successful show - one that attracts advertisers and brings in more cash than it costs to run - can require as many as 15 hours of prep, D‘Arruda said.

Before going live, advisers can record a few test runs on their computers using software such as Audacity (audacity.sourceforge.net/), a free online program, or Apple Inc's GarageBand. These can be practice segments, or they can be sent to stations that require an audition before booking.

Next, it’s time to start the booking process. Advisers can call a radio station’s sales team themselves or go through a broker who specializes in buying time. Brokers keep tabs on stations and their formats. They can be helpful, since they often have extensive contacts and radio business experience on behalf of advertisers. Advisers may not even notice their fees, since brokers can often snag better deals than advisers can on their own.

Expect your show to air at first on weekends, when time is more widely available. Some shows are live, while others are prerecorded. Hourly on-air price tags vary widely - from $100 to $6,000 - depending on the time slot and station’s popularity. Start at a small station and plan to make a commitment. Building an audience often requires at least 13 weeks, said Steve Cosio, owner of I Buy Time, a broker in Mansfield, Texas.

“Then, when you know your patter and routine, go to the big guys,” Cosio said.

Advisers need a plan to respond to a potential flood of listener calls. Barber works with advisers in different markets who pay him a fee to field the calls for listeners from their area.

REGULATORY HAZARDS

Becoming a voice to a large audience means added risks for advisers, even when they are not on the air. The risks include lawsuits and regulatory trouble.

In September the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed civil charges against San Diego-based radio host Ray Lucia, accusing him of “spreading misleading information” about an investment strategy he and his company recommended during a seminar for potential clients.

Industry regulations may also restrict what advisers can say on the air, say lawyers. Employers may even prohibit advisers from appearing on radio at all.

Many radio-savvy advisers protect themselves, in part, by not taking on-air calls from listeners. They say that helps them stay in control and avoid the potential to give advice that may not be appropriate for everyone. Advisers instead can fill the time with guest speakers, such as local accountants and lawyers, and tidbits of weekly financial news, among other topics, they say.

D‘Arruda also includes disclosures at the beginning and end of his show explaining, among other things, that the advice is generic and that all listeners have different financial situations.

The stakes on radio are a lot higher than at an in-person seminar, where perhaps just 30 people will hear something that may come out wrong, D‘Arruda said.

“You have to be careful because you can make a fool of yourself very easily,” he said.

Reporting By Suzanne Barlyn; Editing by Chelsea Emery and Douglas Royalty

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