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Think Local

January 21, 2020

In a previous blog post, I waxed on about how living in a small college town has changed my perceptions of radio usage. Our medium has long touted itself as being local, focusing on its community and the ability to deliver people to advertisers. At face value this is true. But is local radio practicing what the industry preaches?

I am painfully aware that budgets for small market radio are prohibitive. I am also cognizant of the fact that large radio groups think that economies of scale create better listening experiences.

There are two sides to this coin.

In my town, the mega groups pipe in just about all their programming. It is professional and slick but devoid of any local content. I know the argument here. By using this system we (meaning they) can provide a level of talent unavailable in a market this size. That track holds true when you are talking tent pole personalities like Rush Limbaugh or Bobby Bones. But how many of those larger-than-life personalities are there? Enough to fill every prime day part in every format?

Not even close.

The other big local group here is much more nimble. While they do voice track – especially on weekends – they have live people in the market who could respond to a locally important situation. Paul Jacobs has talked about radio’s inability to respond to local emergencies on weekends because no one is actually at the station. The engineer is running a six-station cluster off his smartphone.

The word “local” has expanded its meaning over the years. Today’s definition has big city hipsters Instagramming the hell out of farm-to-table finds, while grocery shoppers will pay $5.99 for locally sourced arugula they can pick up for two bucks at Aldi. Why, even my local bookstore has a section (OK, a table) for local authors.

Why isn’t radio touting itself as a local product? More so, why isn’t radio taking advantage of being “in the moment” every single day with its community?

A couple of years ago there was a large wildfire in the national forest near me. The more “local” local group in my market was talking about it every day. Likely because their live and local people were seeing the smoky haze out of their windows. This group organized drives to collect water and other items the fire fighters needed. I saw this group all over town. Do you think that kind of real, community involvement enhanced each station’s brand?

This is the same group that spends the entire week at the county fair. Right next to the tractors. Nostrils thick with cow manure. They are involved; they get it. And do you know where this investment pays off?

In revenue.

As an industry we are forgetting our roots and thinking globally rather than acting locally (might make a good bumper sticker …).

Is there a solution? For large, geographically diverse markets the answer is – maybe. What appeals to those on the east side is meaningless to those on the west. However, even big cities have a vibe that everyone can relate to. Capture that! For smaller, more homogenous markets, the answer is much simpler: Be genuine. Slick and well-polished may dazzle the home office and sound great on the radio. But real, genuine emotion and community involvement creates a bond that goes beyond the medium.

-Steve Allan, Programming Research Consultant