Linux Ads Hit The Airwaves

by Paul Arnote (parnote)

Back in September of this year, something phenomenal happened. Linux finally got some advertising airtime on the radio waves. And not just at 3 A.M. when no one but night owls and insomniacs are listening. Oh, no! These ads ran during the weekly Kim Komando radio show — at least, in one of the radio markets that airs her broadcast.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Ms. Komando, she is an unrelenting supporter of Microsoft products. To her, Microsoft is not the evil empire that many view it as; rather, she views Microsoft as the harbinger of all that is great in the world of computers.

So there, among the ads for registry cleaners, anti-virus software, and all the other necessary add-ons that Windows users must purchase just to get any resemblence of stability and security, was a different message. A message that computer users DO have a choice. A message that, to many, sounds too good to be true: a FREE operating system, free of viruses, malware, spyware, and all the other computing headaches that afflict the most widely used OS on the planet. And, an OS where the vast majority of the software is also FREE.

Surely, it just can't be true! Where's the catch?! Did someone mention something about swamp land? Nobody these days just gives away anything that is … well, worth anything.

Ken Starks, author of the "Blog Of Helios," a Linux advocacy blog, came up with the ads and funded the airing of the radio spots. He started his effort back in 2006. Then, he was approaced by "George" (not his real name), a professional voice talent who offered to do the voice-over for the commercials — pro bono. Without charge. For free. For the same price as Linux.

Even more astounding, and in the spirit of FOSS, George has given over the rights to the recorded tracks to Starks. And Starks has made the raw audio tracks freely available under the Creative Commons Attribute-ShareAlike 3.0 license — with no attribution necessary! There is a 30 second spot, and a longer, 60 second spot. According to the "Blog Of Helios," you are free to cut, splice, and lay tracks under them as you wish and see fit. In fact, links to download the ads are at the end of this article.

The Results

The ads did, indeed, run for two weeks on KLBJ AM 590 in Austin, Texas. Original plans were for the ads to run for a month, but budget restraints would not allow that to occur. Over the two week time span that the radio ads ran, the ads played 100 times. The 30 second ads ran during the week, and the 60 second spots ran exclusively during the Kim Komando show — once an hour for the three hour duration of her radio broadcast.

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises was that there was not an increase in web traffic, as had been anticipated. Rather, people chose to call and talk. Most who visited the web site simply jumped to the "contact us" page to get the phone number so they could call on the telephone.

All total, 179 phone calls, 63 emails, and 4 personal visits resulted from the ads. Starks breaks the inquiries down into three categories: "cautious and curious, interested but skeptical, and those who should never be allowed to touch a computer without professional on-site guidance." He goes deeper into the results on his blog in the follow-up article, which is actually quite humorous — especially when describing the latter group of respondants to the ad.

Starks calls his "grand experiment" a failure, at least monetarily. He expects the radio ads to net him less than one-half of what it cost him to run the ads. He chalks it up to various factors: some bad decisions in cutting the 30 second ad, spacing and timing of the ads through the week, etc.

Nonetheless, it is a start — there is always a starting point. Perhaps this is just the first salvo fired. Just maybe, more Linux advocates will pool their resources around the country — and around the world — and get more air time for these Linux ads, and to help more people find out about Linux. Afterall, hope does spring eternal.