Is There a Doctor in the Car?

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The Physicians Radio Network, which since 1974 has been offering doctors “closed-circuit” radio broadcasts of current medical information, is adding a service that it believes will reach doctors where it can’t get them now: in their cars. And that’s important in auto-bound Southern California, PRN’s No. 2 market.

Physicians Radio Network Inc., based in Stamford, Conn., provides hourlong broadcasts of highly technical medical news, features and advertisements, primarily for pharmaceutical companies. The broadcast, which reaches 73,000 physicians in 38 markets, is repeated 24 times a day with general news, business and sports headlines injected at regular intervals.

PRN operates on what’s known as a “sideband” radio frequency. Sideband technology and Federal Communications Commission rules allow an existing radio station--in the case of PRN in Los Angeles, it’s KFAC-FM--to lease the excess capacity on its frequency band. Companies such as PRN can then target a specific audience because the broadcast frequency can be picked up only on a special one-channel receiver.


Until now, that receiver was a clock-radio-size model that could only be used at home, at the office or at the hospital. Beginning this week, however, the company will start distributing smaller, rechargeable units, along the lines of a Sony Walkman, that can be clipped to a car’s sun visor or even taken jogging with a pair of headphones. That’s something that PRN believes will fit neatly into the life styles of Los Angeles’ 8,000 listeners (with another 1,200 in San Diego).

PRN President Preston Williams estimates that a doctor spends at least 40 minutes a day in a car--and out of reach of the broadcast. “In Los Angeles, the vast majority of doctors are driving to and from their home to the hospital or office,” unlike those in PRN’s biggest market, New York, Williams said. “We can take that down-time and convert it to something they can put to good use.”

Because of the “narrowcasting” aspects of PRN and the repetitiveness of the broadcast, pharmaceutical companies and a growing number of consumer-oriented firms are willing to pay a premium to advertise. The single-market rate is $2 per listener, compared to conventional radio advertising, which is expressed in dollars per thousand listeners. And ad expenditures can reach more than $90,000 a month for network-wide exposure. “They’re getting a well-defined, no-waste, upscale market,” Williams said.

And in the case of a physician stuck in rush-hour traffic on a Southland freeway, they’re getting a captive market as well.