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Guidelines to Writing/Editing Public Service Announcements

Guidelines to Writing/Editing Public Service Announcements (PSAs)
July, 2009

What is a PSA?

  • Public Service Announcements (PSAs) are written descriptions of upcoming events (such as plays, art exhibitions, concerts and fairs) that are sponsored primarily by nonprofit organizations in our community.
  • PSAs are read on-air by our announcers or prerecorded for broadcast as a service to these organizations and our listeners.
  • These announcements are required by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to be made by all TV and radio stations, whether commercial or noncommercial but at WTJU they are considered a vital part of our Mission to our listeners.
  • The FCC oversees compliance by stations in the following areas:
    • Number of PSAs aired hourly
    • Presentation of PSAs by announcers: e.g. announcers may not mock or alter content to suit announcer
    • Content of PSAs, if aired on a “noncommercial” radio or TV station
    • Logging of PSAs on a quarterly basis for the “Public Files” (The last two are the responsibility of the PSA writers in conjunction with office personnel)

What are the criteria for accepting a PSA?

WTJU receives as many as 75 draft PSAs, Press Releases, Activity Calendars and Bulletin Board Posters every week. We do not air all PSAs that arrive. Here are hints to determine viability of a PSA:
  • …it originates with a 501(c)(3) organization, i.e. a “nonprofit” as opposed to “commercial” entity);
  • …it originates from an organization or business not 501(c)(3) designated, but meets at least one of the following criteria:
    • The sponsoring group is a “neighborhood group”.
    • The sponsoring organization or business does not benefit financially from the event. For example, if the event is held at a place of business, the business must have closed its operations before the event starts; or
    • If the event is a benefit, the benefiting organization must receive all profits from the event (after venue has covered “expenses”).
  • Is a University department, organization, or other entity that falls under the umbrella of the University of Virginia's 501(c) (3) classification (there are a few on-Grounds businesses that do not fall under U.Va.’s nonprofit status. Note that WTJU does not air PSAs for University or local school classes.

How do you determine whether it’s a 501(c)(3) organization?

  • Its nonprofit status is stated on the PSA or press release;
  • It falls within the category of organizations generally recognized as 501(c)(3):
    • Churches;
    • Most arts organizations (but not all); and
    • Federal, state, local government, public schools and some private schools;
    • If you are not sure, call or email the sender and ask;
    • If the PSA comes from a nonprofit venue, but the event is not sponsored by the nonprofit, it is NOT a PSA though these types of events may be announced in our concert calendars or in a list of other events that includes other venues, For example:
      • A CD, book or art signing by an artist at the Prism, Live Arts or other nonprofit venues or events IS NOT a nonprofit event (no matter how poorly the artist is paid!) Announcing a CD release party is an advertisement and therefore forbidden by the FCC on noncommercial radio stations (i.e. WTJU); and
      • A performance by a for-profit theater group renting Live Arts is not a nonprofit event even though Live Arts is a nonprofit organization.

How do you handle PSAs?

  • Determine whether information has been received already by WTJU in another form or in duplicate. Sometimes we receive them by mail, fax AND email and sometimes receive the same PSA from several individuals.
  • Determine whether one of your fellow PSA writers is working on it.
  • Determine whether the announcement has been received in time to reasonably air it.
  • Determine if you will be able to complete assigned PSAs within a given week. If not, choose PSAs to be aired using the following prioritized list from highest to lowest:
    • Events, Clubs, Organizations and Departments of U.Va.;
    • Charlottesville / Albemarle;
    • Central Virginia;
    • Staunton, Waynesboro, Richmond, Roanoke;
    • Northern Virginia, District of Columbia, Tidewater Virginia;
    • Other
  • Within the above parameters, musical performances of interest to our audience are a higher priority than other events.

How do you write a PSA?

  • PSAs may arrive “ready-made” according to our format (see submission guidelines on our website: http://wtju.net/cache.rb/submit_psa). If there are errors, errors of omission, or PSAs arrive as Press Releases, you must rewrite them prior to adding them to the list of available announcements.
  • If the information provided is incomplete the PSA should not be added unless you are able to confirm the proper information. It is recommended that you call or email the source to obtain the correct information.
  • The length of a PSA should be as short as possible yet provide enough information for a listener to decide whether it’s of interest.
  • DO NOT list the price of an event. This is our policy, not FCC policy
  • In some circumstances, the “contact” phone number for an event is that of a “for profit” sponsor. You cannot use that number. Please call the sponsor and ask for an individual’s phone # to be included instead.
  • You MUST read the PSA aloud before submitting the final version: frequently there are words, phrases or other information that can be difficult to read aloud and writers should change texts to improve reading.
  • If there are names or words that are difficult to pronounce and the individual or organization has not included a pronunciation guide, please email or call the phone # listed on PSA and ask for the proper pronunciation: then write it phonetically next to the original and in parenthesis. You may look up words (other than proper names) at any of the many “dictionary” sites online that include audio pronunciation such as http://dictionary.reference.com
  • If there is an art “opening” and the works will be displayed for a period of time past that date it must be written in two versions so that the announcers can read the announcements without glitch after the opening has occurred. Example:
    • “Paintings by Pieter Brueghel, the Elder will be on display at Second Street Gallery from January 5th through February 5th. An opening for the artist will be held on January 5th from 3:00 to 6:00 pm.” The kill date on this version is 1/5/09.
    • Then create a second version of the PSA with a start/kill date of 1/6/08-2/5/09. “Paintings by Pieter Brueghel, the Elder will be on display at Second Street Gallery through February 5th.”
    • For theater (or other) events with multiple dates these can be both difficult to write and even harder to read so that listeners don’t get confused. Remember to...“tell simple stories” for PSAs; complicated stories belong on posters. If the information can be summarized easily, do so (e.g. “Performances will begin at 7:30 PM on April 22nd through the 24th and at 2 PM on April 25th.”)
    • If the information cannot be summarized easily, then insert a placeholder and ask the listener to call the information number (e.g. “There will be performances throughout the month of May. Please call (434) 123-1234 for specific dates and times.”)
    • All phone numbers must include the area code. Our signal reaches listeners in multiple area codes and PSAs should be useful to all who hear them.
    • If there is an email address or URL in the announcement, it can be included in the PSA if it’s a simple address.
      • Example of simple URL: npr.com
      • Example of complex URL: npr.com/radioshows/cartalk/~99
    • If it is complex or long, put the email address or URL at the bottom of the PSA card and change the sentence to some variation of the following: “if you would like the website address of Second Street Gallery, call me at (434) 924-3959.”
    • It is not necessary to add the www. portion of an address!

How do you get the PSAs from WTJU?

  • WTJU receives about 95% of our PSAs by email. Chuck Taylor or Gayle Poirier forwards the PSAs to a PSA listserve (as we receive them). Note: The few that we receive on paper are arranged per direction from the PSA Director (Bob Campbell at the time of this writing).
  • Each PSA writer has a regular “day range” (this is dependent upon how many writers we have): This means that you are responsible for PSAs received on a particular day.
  • Once received you begin working on them.

How do you prepare the material for on-air use?

  • PSAs may be written anywhere. Most writers find it convenient to write them at home on their own computers.
  • You will send all of your PSAs to the PSA listserve plus a copy to Gayle Poirier (gmp4e@virginia.edu): It is critical to let each PSA writer know which PSAs you’re working on to avoid duplication.
  • Gotchas:
    • Some organizations resend the same PSA every week until their event is past so be careful not to make duplicate versions.
    • Sometimes DIFFERENT people will send variations of the same PSA.
  • PSA Content
    • Note: Length should be kept to a minimum and be easily readable. Type should be 14 pt. for readability (we will discontinue print versions at the end of August, 2009).
    • Who
    • What the event is
    • Where the event is (and directions if necessary: do not use commercial businesses as landmarks)
    • When (Date & Time) the event occurs
    • Phone number with area code of the event Contact Person (# will be included in the PSA but a name is not required)
    • Pronunciation guidelines to difficult words or names
    • Date when announcement should begin airing/end airing.
    • Information on whether it’s a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization"
    • (Optional) Contact name (for office use)
    • (Optional) Email contact
    • (Optional) Website/URL
    • Your initials (so that we can identify the writer if there are changes needed).
  • Policies:
    • WTJU reserves the right to edit all announcements for content, length, and format;
    • Calls to action for specific products, businesses or commercial services are not allowed, nor are endorsements;
    • Any announcement that does not meet the proscribed deadline may be discarded;
    • Direct fund-raising appeals or solicitation for volunteers to solicit funds for organizations are not allowed per the FCC;
    • "Till Further Notice" (TFN): WTJU requires that organizations renew this every three months therefore no PSA should have a Kill date longer than three months away.
    • WTJU also accepts audio PSAs but we request that organization always send a text version too. Audio PSAs should also be logged in the PSA log;
    • Announcements for fee-based class offerings do not qualify as PSAs and fee-based workshops do not qualify as PSAs unless associated with an event;
    • Announcements for restricted admission events, i.e. "this event for students only", are ineligible;
  • Preserve each PSA in a file on your computer until the Kill Date (date/time event is no longer valid).
    • If the PSA is lost or if information on it changes or is in error (all frequent occurrences), you can quickly reproduce the PSA.
    • To SAVE the PSA, always use “SAVE AS” (use the name of the organization or event).

PSA Writer Submission Template

  • Submit your weekly PSAs in an Excel file (it is recommended that all files be saved as Excel 1997-03 files so that everyone can read them).
  • When you set up your Excel template at home it will have the following categories in this order from the left to right (examples are ALL from the same PSA): There is a template attached for your use/reference
    • “Log-in” date (or start date if in the future)
    • Sponsoring Organization
    • “Log As” (very brief name/descriptor) ex. Trees
    • Kill Date: Last active date of event (Cutoff time for announcing is two hours before the event (if local).
    • Writer (3 initials): Provided so that we can identify writer in case the office has questions concerning the PSA
    • Description ex. The Natural History of Trees
    • Category ex. Outdoors
    • Kill Time (10 a.m. written as 1000; 10:00 p.m. written 2200; etc.)
    • Content (the complete PSA content, unformatted, all in one cell)
  • Categories:
    • “Music” Musical events. (printed on WHITE through Aug ’09)
    • “Arts & Books” Gallery openings, Museum events, and Library events. (Printed on HOT PINK through Aug ’09)
    • “Events” PSAs that do not fit other specialty categories including speeches or talks. (Printed on GOLD through Aug ’09)
    • “Outdoors” Wildflower walks, Ivy Creek events, Historical Society Tours, Garden Tours, etc. (Printed on TAN through Aug ’09)
    • “Get Help” Where to call or go if you need help: Aids Awareness, Sexual Assault Resources, Alcohol assistance, Library courses, etc. (Printed on ORANGE through Aug ’09)
    • “Give Help” If you want to help others: Volunteer for Meals on Wheels, etc. (Printed on SAGE GREEN through Aug ’09)
    • “Plays” Theater and performance events (includes classic dance events).(Printed on BLUE through Aug ’08)

Original document by Ralph Dieckmann and Chuck Taylor
This revision: 2009-07-09 by Chuck Taylor & Gayle Poirier

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The opinions expressed by announcers or guests on WTJU are not necessarily the opinions of WTJU or the University of Virginia.