July 23, 2019
I live in a small, college town. With apologies to John Mellencamp, I was not born and raised in a small town. I lived – and programmed – in major markets. So, it has been an interesting transition listening to radio in this smaller market.
The dial is controlled by two big companies, but their approach could not be more different. As a listener, I find it fascinating.
One of the companies provides programming that – for the most part – originates from outside the market. It is slick, very “major market” sounding, and totally out of touch with what is going on in my backyard.
The other company is live-and-local a good percentage of the time. They are often “living in the moment.” They are also visible in the community on a regular basis. I actually find myself tuning in to them because I “think” I’ll hear something about my newly adopted hometown. That doesn’t always happen but they have created that expectation within me.
As a product of major market radio, I tend to be a tad on the cynical side. Community involvement in markets like Washington, DC or Boston can get lost in the noise of a million passers-by. But here, in small-to-medium market America, radio has a much louder voice.
Like the local newspaper, it provides value to the public. Sure, I can go on-line and stream my songs of choice or read about the news of the day, but I do not get that local connection.
Case in point. There are three colleges here. All graduated on the same weekend. That means there was an influx of thousands of additional people clogging the streets and restaurants and hotels. One of the local radio groups was talking about the latest celebrity crisis while the other was focused on the major changes happening in the market. Changes that affect people’s lives. Changes that people are talking about.
Read the trades and you’ll hear from pundits, consultants, and corporate big wigs about how important it is that radio be local. They say this is one of our competitive advantages.
But are we? If you listen to the radio stations in your hometown – do they sound like you? Do they sound like they are there, involved, and “in the moment”?
The digital tsunami has led radio to think bigger. Maybe instead of swinging for the fences we should be playing small ball.
-Steve Allan, Programming Research Consultant