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The Great Austin, Texas Linux Radio Advertising Campaign

Back in the early 90s, I spent four hours of my mornings co-hosting a local AM radio talk show in Austin, Texas. Truth be told, I fell into the job. I most certainly wasn’t looking for a job in talk radio, or any job for that matter, but from the first day, the host and I clicked perfectly. She was the “straight man” in our duo. Her explosive laughter pegged the needles constantly.

VU meterWe were an AM show but there was also an FM show going on at the same time in the next room, with a wall of plate glass window separating the AM and the FM folks. Often, we would cut up and the audience had no idea that the FM guy was silently doing outlandish things for the AM folks entertainment. We’re gonna leave it at “outlandish.” Sometimes, it went just a tad bit farther than that.

Did I mention that this job was the best job I’ve ever worked? Well, it was. Unfortunately for everyone involved, it all came to an end when the host of our show became quite ill. “All good things” and all of that, right?

One of the conversations I remember most at the station did not happen behind the mic. It happened in the break room/kitchen. The top of the hour news gave us time to use the bathroom and get our caffeine delivery systems updated. Bill, the station’s advertising manager, was pouring his coffee when I came in. He had been working in television advertising for decades but had only begun to sell radio ads a couple of years earlier. Still, he outsold everyone on the staff month after month.

Of course we were going to talk shop in the break room. I asked him what his secret was. Bill was nothing short of a legend in the advertising sales business and if I were to ask that question to anyone, Bill would be the perfect choice.

“Secret?” he asked. “There’s no secret to selling ads. Especially when selling and writing TV advertising for the male 25 to 54 demographic. Just use any or all of the three magic ingredients and you will produce a sale and a successful commercial.”

It got so quiet I could hear the clock ticking on the farthest wall from us. Finally I blinked.

“So,” I asked, “what are those ingredients?”

Bill smiled because he knew that I recognized the tactic, in advertising anyway. The first one to talk after the pitch is the loser. He blew across his coffee then sipped before answering.

“If you are selling TV ads and ad time for that male demographic, they are babies, boobies and pouty lips.”

He patted my shoulder as he and his coffee went back to his office. I had 88 seconds before the light came on, so I grabbed my coffee and went back to work. Did I mention that job was the best job I’ve ever had? Yeah, I probably did. Probably.

So, fast forward from 1992 to September 19th, 2015. Diane and I were watching the last episode of the mini-series “Tut” when I got up to get something to drink. Upon my return, there he was, and then there she was. And then there another she…another he… Holy cow, it was a baby bombardment! We were under a barrage of babeage. The commercial went from one baby doing cute stuff to another baby doing other cute stuff to the last baby smiling cutely at the first two babies doing cute stuff.

I must admit my disappointment. In this ad the babies were never-ending, but nowhere were there the aforementioned boobies or pouty lips. I know, because I was looking for them specifically. But holy freakin’ cow, were there babies! Every frame, every flicker, every second, there were babies sent to do the bidding of…wait for it…

Windows 10 ad…Microsoft Windows 10. The message? Why all the babies? Because…

“These kids will grow up with Windows 10.”

It’s looking like Windows is not being prepped to evolve for these kids. It isn’t going to evolve using the normal release numbers or titles…Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, 8.1, 10. Windows is going to stay at this final iteration “for the kids.” Why those kids? Those kids will be shelling out the money for a subscription model that Microsoft will be deploying soon.

Well, you know what? Good for them. They will finally have a solid code base to incrementally make better, more stable and an absolute unchanging target for hackers and other bad guys. Heck, let’s give them credit for something. Two out of three ain’t bad. Good luck to you Microsoft. May our babies grow up needing to remember passwords. Sheesh, touting a cloud service to manage your passwords. That’s dumber than a shovel-struck mule. And facial recognition/iris scanning? If you are counting on that for a password, for Pete’s sake, don’t use the software the major banks are using.

Other than that though, personally I think this is a good business model for Redmond. No, really. No sarcasm here. Microsoft might just be able to pull the nose up from their multi-year flatline stock prices.

But all of that being said, I will finally get to my point, and yes, I do have one.

On October 20th, 2004, Ubuntu Linux became a reality and an absolute rock star in the Linux world. I rejoiced with millions of other Linux users. Finally, a brand name Linux was going to take its place in the market. A project with money and fame behind it. For decades, Linux was a ‘hobby” for software enthusiasts.

No one knew about Linux because Linux is free, as in cost. Why would anyone spend huge money to advertise a product when there would be no meaningful financial return on that investment? Ubuntu was, at least in my eyes; a glorious sunrise that would awaken the world to the legitimate presence of Linux. No more of this “one percent market share” baloney. Ubuntu would be the face and the unimaginably huge base for users who would propel Linux to mainstream awareness. Oh, what a glorious day that was, October 20th, 2004.

Sigh…we all know how that worked out, now don’t we.

I am not assigning blame. I’m not shaming and shaking a finger in anyone’s face. That’s a good way to lose a finger. I now know how hard advertising a product can be. The variables alone within any given market are too big and too many to take into account. I know firsthand how an advertised product can take months to get any financial response. I personally wrote and produced a commercial for Linux. I spent $1,200 to do so. Unfortunately, this was done in 2009 and I have since lost the mp3 for that commercial. If any of you know where a copy is, I would appreciate it. Here’s the written draft that was recorded and aired in Austin for two weeks:

“Your computer has problems? Wanna hear the industry’s solution? That’s right, your software isn’t working — so what do they suggest? Use more software to solve the problem. Listen to what you’re being told: they want you to purchase software so the software you already purchased will work!


The problem is we’ve come to think of this as being perfectly acceptable. So stop accepting! There’s been a solution all along, but you’ve rarely heard of it.

That’s right! You spent maybe hundreds maybe thousands of dollars over the years that you didn’t have to. It’s time for the secret to be told.

Thousands of businesses, universities and even Wall Street have been using Linux for years. What do they know that you don’t? Linux is free. It doesn’t need any virus protection and most of the software you’ll ever need comes free as well.

It’s as easy as clicking a mouse! That’s it. No more crashes, no more viruses, no more blue screens of death.

And get this: with Linux, you don’t have to reboot after installing new software. Linux runs on old hardware. No need to buy a new computer every time the industry decides to boost profits and release another buggy system.

So why are you still paying for the privilege of using your computer? There’s a better way: Linux.”

Response wasn’t great. We fielded just over 200 calls and most of them were people curious as to how they could “download and install” Linux on Windows. They didn’t realize that Linux is a operating system. Hell, most of the callers didn’t know what an operating system is. But it sounded good and they wanted to install it on their Windows XP computers and use it. Sigh.

We’ve visited this before, and not too long ago: My disappointment in Ubuntu’s failure to publicly advertise itself and it’s benefits. I also realize that spending that kind of money to advertise Linux would more than likely be a huge waste of resources. If my little sampling is even close to the mean, then Mark Shuttleworth had it figured out long before I ever wrote and produced our little commercial. I suppose that’s why he’s wealthy and I’m not.

Maybe if there’d been babies in the ad… Or pouty lips… Or…

But how do you do that on the radio?

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  1. eMBee eMBee September 22, 2015

    so that’s why they skipped from 8 to 10,
    windows 10, OS X, Linux 4, hmm, yeah, i see the problem!

    as for installing linux on windows, it’s not really a dumb question. people do not install windows. so they have no concept of booting an installer. i think the best way to get them to switch is to have a windows program that repartitions the drive to make space. copies a disk image onto the new partition, sets up a bootloader with dualboot, and then tells the user to reboot for one last time to activate the new system.

    greetings, eMBee.

  2. John Kerr John Kerr September 22, 2015

    It is not just Windows that the stores like to sell, it is all the after market stuff. If they did sell Linux based computers there would be precious little stuff to sell.

    Off we go to the marketplace, believing that the free enterprise system will let the best products rise, and that business will sell us the best product.

    It all works this way as long as the public continues to be a good little Dorothy and pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

  3. Mike Mike September 22, 2015

    > “Off we go to the marketplace, believing that the free enterprise system will let the best products rise, and that business will sell us the best product.”

    That’s the joke, isn’t it.

    Businesses will sell the cheapest possible product they can get away with, even if it is only long enough to get to the bank, or escape with their golden parachute. They regularly screw not only their customers, but any employees not among the executive elite.

    Proprietary software vendors like Microsoft are no exception.

  4. Dorothy the Canadian Anomaly Dorothy the Canadian Anomaly September 23, 2015

    Hi Ken,

    I just e-mailed you a copy of the mp3 of a taped ad that you had sent me when we were having a discussion about Windowslive. If it didn’t come through, let me know. If the e-mail I sent you looks odd, at the time of our discussion I was using a gmail account which is no longer open.

    Just sign me,

    Packrat 🙂

  5. Ken Starks Ken Starks September 23, 2015

    Hey you…thank you. I got the email this afternoon. Thank you. Boy those were the days, weren’t they.

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