What Is Localism?

117I read with interest what the new Radio Board Chair of the National Association of Broadcasters, Randy Gravley, had to say in a Radio World interview about what he saw as the issues of concern for the United States radio broadcast industry.

The Most Pressing Radio Business Challenges

On the top of Randy’s list is the rise in streaming services. He feels for radio to be competitive it needs to be on as many platforms as possible but also needs to be delivering content not available elsewhere. It goes back to a real dedication to localism.

What IS Localism, Anyway?

I thought I would go to the flagship radio station owned by Tri-State Communications Inc. based in Jasper, GA to find out. Randy is the president and CEO of Tri-State Communications Inc.

The “Home” page says WJLA 101.1 FM is your source for up-to-date news, sports and community announcements. There was no mention about the radio station being available on any platform other than over-the-air. Likewise, the “About” page tells us that they can be heard in 18-counties in the tri-state area of Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina. It also says: “Our signal, which remains constant (unlike AM radio stations that lower the power at sunset and sunrise), reaches our target audience of those thirty years old and older.”

I’m sure all AM broadcasters will appreciate that kind of talk. NOT.

The closest thing I could find to “localism” was that WLJA has a “dedicated, award winning staff with over 150 years of combined broadcast experience” and that they “cover all of the local news from our listening area.”

Local News

So, I went next to the “NEWS” page, which features a drop-down menu of “Local, Sports, Music.”

I started with the Local News and saw that the city of Woodstock was having an eclipse viewing gathering. NOTE: I’m reading this local news on August 31st about an event that already happened on August 21st between 1 and 4pm. I also learned that I could tour the new Northside Hospital Cherokee on Saturday, April 22nd from 10am to 2pm.

Is this an example of localism done right?

Local Sports

The “Sports” page did give me the high school football schedule, but other than a list of sponsors, nothing else.

Local Music

The “Music” page was a list of the “Top 30 Gospel Request Time Songs for 2016, 2015, 2014 and 2013.” But it appears these songs are the favorites from a national database not one compiled locally by the radio station.

There was no mention of any local gospel or country groups or any information about where this type of music might be enjoyed locally in live venues.

Local Sales

It was time now to see how the radio station sold itself to local advertisers.

In big red type is said “Home to over 38,000 listeners at any given moment!*” That sounded impressive, but there was that “*” at the end of the statement. The asterisk qualified that claim with the following information: “*As rated by ARBITRON 2007 county by county coverage in Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina.”

OK, there are some immediate problems with that qualifier. First, it’s 2017 not ten years ago. Second, Arbitron has been gone since September 2013 when it was purchased by Nielsen and re-branded as Nielsen Audio. Other data is sourced as of 2008.

All of these things were found on the radio station’s “Sales” page.

Everything was station focused and not advertiser focused. (Or listener focused)

The sales information didn’t scream “localism” to me. It also offered no information about advertising opportunities via streaming.

In fact, I can’t find on any page anything about being able to hear WLJA 101.1 FM over the internet or via any of the platforms that Randy says are now so critical for radio broadcasters.

Apologies to Randy Gravley

When I started to write today’s blog, I never intended for it to come off looking like a “hit job” on the newly elected Radio Board Chairman. So, I want to apologize to Randy for how negative this article became.

But he’s not alone.

And that’s radio’s BIG problem.

We know what the issues are. We talk the talk, but when it comes to walking the talk, well that’s not happening.

Welcome to radio’s “Kodak Moment.”


77% of all adults in America today say they own a smartphone. That number was only 35% six years ago.

But if you’re looking for the smartphone’s impact on the future, 92% of 18 to 29 year olds today own a smartphone.

Suffice it to say, if your business model doesn’t work on a smartphone, ‘fuhgeddaboudit.’

The NEW Localism

I think the new localism is whatever a person wants, when they want it. Localism no longer means a geographical area. Localism means shared interests.

When a radio station or other mass medium markets itself as being “something for everyone,” it really is saying it’s nothing for nobody.

The future of mass media is reaching the smallest possible viable audience to earn a decent R.O.I. (Return On Investment)

Welcome to the Communications Revolution

What we are seeing in mass mediated communications is a revolution. Like the other worldwide revolutions (Agricultural, Industrial) the impact of this information-driven economic revolution will be enormous.

Unlike the world’s revolutions of the past, this one will explode with exponential speed.

You can see it happening with artificial intelligence (think Alexa or Siri), robotics, self-driving vehicles etc.

Traditional Radio Faces Grim Future

And on August 30, 2017 came a study by Larry S. Miller, Director of the Steinhardt Music Business Program at New York University that says radio is faced with a paradigm shift. He outlines why radio must adapt to the rise of digital.

I know that the NAB and Nielsen have already come out with their side of the story regarding this report by Mr. Miller.

But maybe instead of throwing stones, we should stop living in our own glass houses.

Radio CANNOT survive doing things the way they’ve always done them.

If technology doesn’t seem like magic

It’s probably obsolete.


Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales

24 responses to “What Is Localism?

  1. Dick, after reading this IMPORTANT “Wake Up Call” to all broadcasters (tv, radio), I play my pre-recirded ‘soundrop’ of “Large Audience Applause”!!
    I had the pleasure of producing 18 ‘Hourlong Radio Shiws of Country Music” from my studio in Ardmore, OK. it runs on http://www.earsradio1.com. in addition to many other ‘hosts’, each providing their brand (or passion) ‘country music’. By Country, I din’t necessarily mean “Nashville”, it’s ‘Country’ as in ‘national’ styles. I used the slogan “Round the clock, Round the world”. All Music, no commercials, no local information’. Streaming on Any Device connected to internet. I use my iPhone as a “personal hotspot nationwide, ritual/metro.
    I use a ‘second iPhone'(old iPhone5) connected via Bluetooth & Listen to
    EarsRadio1.com, the same way as I listened to AM Transister Radio back in Laurel, MS back in the ’50s & ’60s.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Right on the money Dick! So many people give lip service to the new technology but then refuse to spend any money on it! I find many stations web sites are terribly out of date, or contain such little information that they are useless!!! I don’t know about you, but this 67 year old retired radio guy uses Google when he wants to know something. Often Google will lead me to a radio web site if I want to know about a station or somebody on the air there, and it’s incredible how little info they really contain. Get with it folks….your web site is many times the first introduction somebody has to your station. If it’s useless, what does it say about your commitment???

    Then let’s talk about internet streams. Some guy who was searching for a way to save his job, came up with the claim that streaming his station on the internet would save it, and since then, that claim has become the mantra of every radio station. But have you listened to most streams? Programming gets clipped off to play internet only commercials that are at a totally different level than the programming, you may hear a Father’s Day commercial in September, sometimes the same commercials will run 2 or 3 times in the same break, sometimes something will prevent programming from returning and the commercials will keep running, and sometimes the stream will be down for minutes, hours, or even days! How the hell is this going to save anything??? Even worse, companies have given over the selling and inserting of spots on their streams to 3rd parties, giving up any and all control of their content! I know for a fact that this has cost stations money as that 3rd party inserted spots into a program that the client had told the station they didn’t want to be a part of. When told they had no control over what went into the stream, the client pulled all their spots from the station. Good bye NY Lottery!

    And my last comment about localism is that to me, being local doesn’t mean having a local host talk about the same content than Rush Limbaugh talks about. Being in your studio isn’t the qualifier for being local! Content you cant get somewhere else. Every town or city, big or small, IMHO has enough topics from the school board, to city government, to high school sports, to local restaurants, to the local music scene, to you name it, for a radio station to talk about. Throw in state politics and concentration on local weather and traffic, and you have localism and content that people want and can’t get anywhere else! Leave talking about a Trump to Hannity and a Rush!

    Why are these concepts so hard to grasp by people running radio?


    Liked by 1 person

    • Brilliant Frank!

      I could not agree with all you wrote more.

      How much of this do you think will be discussed at The Radio Show this coming week in Austin, TX?

      How many panels will confront the real realities of how radio stations are being run?

      Yet, we know that these are the very elements of programming content that are critical to being viable in the 21st Century.

      Thank You for giving NYC perspective on this subject. -DT

      Liked by 1 person

      • If I had to guess Dick, I’d say little to none. The people who are a part of these panels are never the people on the front lines who know the reality of the situation. It’s like taking a radio or tv class with someone who only has book knowledge. Frankly, I’m very unimpressed by the new breed of programmer, who has a head full of great theories, but no sense of history or how things really operate. Can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve been involved in over the years that are followed up by people shaking their collective heads because those leading the meeting are so out of touch with the real world! Even when they ask the front line people for suggestions, nothing ever comes of them, so why bother. Perhaps it’s because I have years of working for and with the best of the best, but back then some of these folks would be hard pressed to get an intern position!

        A long time ago, when trying to record Speaking of Sports from his home, something happened at the radio network and interrupted Howard Cosell as he was about to make a point, totally screwing up his recording. Not the most patient individual, Howard demanded to know what happened. The engineer working with him blamed routing in master control and Howard spoke these words of wisdom, “But why? It’s Radio. It’s so simple. It’s not a television spectacular!” Perhaps those in charge today need to remember that.

        Frank “old fart” D’Elia

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Rick Peters

    Localism has become a cliche. You are right, localism is in reality reflecting the wants and needs of the listener. That is usually, first and foremost of an local nature. Impart important and wanted content of a personal nature to a listener and you are locally oriented, especially if it’s in the “mass conciousness” of the audience. Reflect what is important to the listeners and the community, and you are local.

    As to the “new media” implications; first and foremost we must stop thinking of ourselves as radio. We are broadcasters, using any mass media to get out content distributed. This is obviously streaming (we simulcast 100% commercials and all), podcasting, and regular old FM transmission. We create curated content, and then disseminate it as best we can. As an advertising method with #1 reach, we have a distinct advantage over single distribution providers. That “article” was a biased hit piece paid for by streaming and royalty interests. But, it does give us an opportunity to hone our own message and double check our commitment to our partisans. Nothing wrong with that. We must as an industry do better, while telling our story. Now, I’m gonna go look at all my websites and see if they can stand the scrutiny.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rick, if any of these articles cause us to do anything at all, it should be to look at ourselves more closely and see if what we’re doing can stand the scrutiny.

      I also agree with your opinion that we must stop thinking of ourselves a “radio” and as “broadcasters of curated content.”

      I always get a little itchy when people say we need to save AM radio as if it can provide a type of programming not able to be provided through any other means.

      AM was a form of mass distribution that Edwin Howard Armstrong said could be improved upon via FM. Digital is just another upgrade.

      Don’t confuse the delivery “pipeline” with what goes through it.

      Thanks for contributing to the discussion. -DT

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Rick M Singel

    Randy Gravely: do as I say, don’t do as I do. Spoken like a politician. Secondly, WLW is a HUGE presence in Cincinnati. And I always thought it was odd that their website is pathetic, out of date and devoid of information. But now I see that this is a common thing. They are not alone. It doesn’t seem like an overwhelming task to remove a host’s name after they have been fired, rather than leaving it up for a long time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rick, my article was an attempt to open up the needed discussion about the radio industry and the internet.

      You are so very right in noting that Randy Gravley’s website is not alone. Radio stations websites big & small are similarly afflicted with neglect.

      Thanks for stopping by the blog. -DT


  5. James Heckel

    There will always be a place for radio, but there will be a continuing shakeout as fewer listeners will be spread over too many stations. Broadcast stations will be, to quote Bilbo Baggins, “Like butter scraped over too much bread.” And I have to say that the subscription radio service Sirius is the elephant in the room in this discussion, the most serious (pun intended) threat to all broadcast radio but more specifically FM radio, as Sirius’ commercial free music format choices make the small expense seem well worthwhile. But AM, yes AM radio, not only should survive this shakeout but will do so by continuing to provide what AM radio does best: broadcasting local radio of real value every day to local listeners-traffic and weather and local news and, especially in times of trouble, information that can come from nowhere else. When natural disasters occur AM is where you can go for vital, even life saving information. When Sandy hit the east coast in 2012 and the power was out and charge-dependent e-devices were useless, where did people go for that vital information? To the car in the driveway and the local AM news station. I believe it is FM radio which is in the greatest danger of evaporation from the radio landscape, given the realities on our 21st century ground.


    • I know many folks were tuned into NJ101.5 during Sandy (FM Radio) James. In NYC, you had the all news giants 1010WINS and 880WCBS and they did an incredible job. I listened to 1010WINS via their stream during Sandy. I was living in Kentucky.

      But what we are seeing is that more and more AM stations are moving their programming over to an FM signal. WTOP in Washington shows what a difference it can make to demographics, ratings and revenue when you make this switch.

      More worrisome is that some countries in Europe are not only turning off their AM stations but also their FM stations in favor of digital radio broadcasting.

      The real problem for broadcasters is they can survive if people only tune in when there are emergencies. Broadcast radio needs to have a viable audience that they can monetize to stay in business.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and stopping by the blog. -DT


      • Maverick

        BTW: Some AM stations are now heard on their sister FM’s HD2/3 channels. And HD channels are starting to show up in the ratings (due to the AM stations and unique programming like KROQ’s ‘Roq of the 80’s format in LA). I never listen to (for an example) 1070 KNX on AM any longer. I listen to it on 97.1 AMP Radio’s HD channel.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Let’s hope that catches on. -DT


  6. If you want the real “tell” in your story go to RAB.com. Nearly everything is “me, me, me” – throwing every “fact” it can at the reader with nary a word spoken about the “benefit” received by advertisers or consumers.

    I wrote this July, 3, 2012: “As you go through the 6 radio industry web sites, count how many times you see anything ‘local’ on a home page…” – http://www.audiographics.com/agd/070312-1.htm

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hal Widsten

    Considering that Houston does not have a traditional all-news station, Radio people there have been doing a terrific job. Streaming doesn’t do much for people who have 3 feet of water in their homes. Lot of cell service out due to no backup power at cell towers. Good old AM and FM coming through when needed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Radio is awesome in emergencies! Always has been and hopefully always will be.

      The real problem is that radio can not survive living off emergencies. It needs to be viable 24/7 365 days a year.

      Thanks for stopping by the blog Hal. -DT


  8. Maverick

    I stated to see the impact of people listening to the iHeart and TuneIn radio apps back when I was programming Star 102.3 in Eugene, Oregon. I started getting calls (yes, actual calls) on the request lines and messages from people listening from up and down the west coast saying they are listening and love the station. Then one day I got a call from a lady who was stuck on the San Diego Freeway in Irvine, CA saying that she was stuck in traffic (duh) and was really enjoying Star 102.3. She went on to say that (and this is not a talk back about the following stations) both KIIS FM and AMP radio were boring, always talking about Kim Kardashian’s butt ( a term I now use a lot when referring to many on the DJs on the air today), with way too many commercials.
    She said that she discovered Star 102.3 via the iHeart app connected to her car. “As I was checking out stations, it seemed like everyone was playing Ryan Seacrest, then I stumbled onto your show.” Of course I put that on the air!
    So I e.mailed her back after my show with a few questions like:
    1) I talk about local stuff. Is that OK with you?
    Her reply? The stuff you’re talking about resonates. Local or not.
    2) What about traffic reports?
    She said (and I had to laugh), It’s LA. There’s no escaping traffic. She also said that her GPS in her car always tells her there’s traffic on route.

    With that (and others who had written to us) it told me in part that people are still active listeners, and it’s really about content.
    I imagine back in the golden age of radio, people would listen to Jack Benny talk about living and working in Hollywood, but with content that was relatable to most who were listening.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a great story! I think you nailed it. People not only like compelling content but they like relatable personalities that they feel are talking to them about things of interest to them.

      Keep up the great work! And stop by the blog anytime. -DT


  9. Jay Clark

    I read with enthusiasm, both your blog and the many responses. I totally agree with most of what is here. Technology, whether we like it or not, has changed what traditional broadcasters call local and the definition continues to change by the minute. We need to be everywhere our listeners are, and we have to pay attention to keeping our streams, websites etc. informative and up to date. Remember we are judged by the job we do with this, every day, hour, minute. A person who goes to a station’s website and finds what they want will come back, if they don’t find what they are looking for they are gone to a place that will give them what they need. The same goes for a stations stream, music or talk. Frank D’Elia worked for me at WABC and his words ring true as they did those many years ago. It’s always been hard to convince ownership that they need to spend money on what they see as not their core product. The Major players, out of competitive necessity, have started doing a good job with this, and I will give David Field special credit for what he has accomplished with his stations in this area. Boston is what I think reflects a good example of how local audio should sound in a major market. (Shame on WLW if they do not. See Rick’s comment above.) Ownership, in particular in smaller markets, however have a hard time coming up with the dollars to afford personnel and/or equipment to keep all these balls in the air. I have empathy for this situation, but also know that the people who don’t keep up, will fall by the wayside. It’s a tough balancing act! Questions like, how long will this new stuff take to break even, show a profit, do I need more sales people, or an IT person, or a web writer, who will oversee them. Good questions all, but to not acknowledge the future and plan for it, is foolhardy.

    I’ve always been a product guy first, and always tried to serve the community. The magic of audio to me is one to one communication, which means giving people WHAT THEY WANT and now, when and were they want it.

    For those of you who are hard bottom line individuals, think of what happens 5 years down the line when those 19 year olds, who grew up on cell phones not radios, are 24, or 10 years when they are 29. No magic pill is going to bring them back, in numbers that count, to a medium they sort of listened to with mom and dad in the car, Your product has to be available, where they live. Make the product good, interesting and relative and they will listen, but only if they can find it. (I could get into marketing here but lets save that for another discussion.) Local audio, that speaks to people’s interests, has and always will be the way to go. My suggestion; take the time to understand the differences in each delivery system, spend what you need for equipment, licensing, training, (Much can be done with volunteers.) develop great meaningful programing and get your feet wet in the future. The dollars will follow.

    I know I am speaking to the choir but had to get this off my chest. To all who have responded to Dicks blog, bravo and thanks. J.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great Article Dick!
    We have been going full force on this very thing for several years with very good results.
    We are a small station in a small market, and I think that is an advantage many times, we can stay hyper local. Our website is updated EVERY day, multiple times per day in fact. Why? Because we have become the local newspaper (not that the local paper likes that much, but they only come our once a week) Our community counts on us to be up to date on local news, we dont post national news, they can get that somewhere else but if they want to know who died, what house burnt down and when the Chili Supper is they come to us! Not only online but on the air, plus we have thousands who subscribe to our daily “local news delivered newsletter” All this makes money!
    We do the things no one else will do. We even broadcast a Soccer game last week! Last year for Halloween we worked with a local school to produce scary radio dramas that we aired, it was such a hit we are doing it again. We air the Memorial Day and Veterans Day services LIVE from the courthouse square. We air the local obituary report, community calendar and yes, even Swap and Shop. Because people love it, not because its “cool”. Political forums, interviews with the mayor, being at the county fair, and on and on are vital to our success. Ive often said owning the local radio station is like running for political office all the time!
    Its all about being relevant to our community and for them to KNOW who we are are what we do each day, We need to be the GLUE that holds the community together.
    I loved your comment about being broadcasters and content producers. Many years ago we felt that if you arent on a smartphone you are dead. We have AM and an FM translator and they are great but use of our stream via our APP has grown exponentially especially during local events. We also podcast these local events so people can listen on demand. You have to be everywhere and easy to get to when your needed.
    All of this makes money and we have seen our revenues rise for the last 10 years.
    It does take a LOT of work, and it never ends. We are blessed our small staff has a love for this town, and a love for this little old radio station thats now been around for 60 years.

    Liked by 1 person

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