I have rediscovered my first love: radio

I have rediscovered my first love: radio

All kinds of radio.

As a 5 or 6-year-old, I would build wooden radios with dials and switches, string connecting all of that to cardboard headphones.  I imagined that I was listening to stations all over the world.  Later, I bought a Hallicrafters ham radio receiver from Sears and got my Novice armature radio license during high school.  Headphones (real ones) donned and head under covers, I spent countless hours listening to distant AM broadcast and shortwave radio stations as well as other ham radio operators.  It was magical.      

High school was also when I discovered another kind of radio: Top 40 music radio.  My favorite station was WKIX in Raleigh, NC.  “Wow!  How cool would it be to be a DJ like those guys,” rhetorically asked EVERYONE who did or did not ever actually become one. 

Ultimately, I did become one…for better or worse.  Not sure which.  I did it all.  Everything from a weekender at my local hometown radio station in North Carolina to on-air stints in minor, medium and major markets to station manager.   

Then I left radio behind for a career in advertising.  Working with some very smart people in Utah and Arizona, over time, I was fortunate enough to become creative director of a Phoenix-area ad agency for most of 10 years.  After retiring (being retired) from advertising, I set up my little voice over business.

The Lure and Hope of Local

And now…full circle with my rediscovery of my love for radio, specifically small-market radio, where I started.  Oh, I’m not in the business now; however, I’ve started to listen again, just like when I was a kid.

We’ve all seen them: antennas in cow pastures and unseen on mountain tops, often in small block buildings with minimal staffs.   That’s Local radio.  For me, the concept of real local radio is like slipping into a comfortable old pair of tennis shoes that somehow got shoved to the back of the closet. 

Regrettably, small market radio is not what it used to be.  Perhaps financial realities and technological competition have made that so.  The good news is that Rush Limbaugh and other national and local talkers have helped local AM radio in America be at least somewhat viable.

But what about local, small market FM stations? 

The small market in which I currently live has four or five “local” stations, one of which is an AM station.  As I listen to FM stations here throughout most of the day, based on their programming, they could be located in Anytown, USA.  Except for station IDs and occasional mentions of call letters or however they identify themselves, one could be listening to someone’s continuous MP3 playlist.

The point is that many local FM stations have forgotten to be local.

Clearly, the game for many major market FMs is music and more music.  Fewer commercial breaks with more songs in a row.  Right or wrong, the big-market stations do this for better ratings.  The concept: better ratings mean that many time buyers and agencies will look at those ratings and buy a station based solely on that.   

Okay, it’s fine and good for major market stations to play the ratings game.  However, small market, local stations depend on direct connections with home-market residents and advertisers to survive and prosper, not ratings. Small market radio stations must be completely immersed in the communities they serve.

Small market newspapers (hard copy and online) get that.  In fact, that’s one reason small-market, local papers are riding out the decline in hard-copy readership better than many big-market papers.  They understand the importance of “LOCAL” in content.

To sum this up, if your local FM station sounds like a jukebox that could be located in Anytown, USA, with almost no local connections, it might be time to rethink your strategy.

A final thought: it’s easy for me to sit here with no day-to-day pressure or obligation and write about what a local FM station should do.  I’m just trying to say that maybe a little investment in “local” could be the kick start you’re looking for.

And that’s our notion about that.


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