I know many people who come to this blog and post comments about the articles I write pine for radio to return to the way it was twenty years ago. They’re hoping that one day the big consolidators will move on to new business ventures and will sell their radio stations back to radio people who will run those stations correctly. Sadly, wishing for that to happen is like Waiting for Godot .
But that doesn’t mean there’s not a future for radio. One of my readers, a multi-decade broadcast manager, engineer and consultant wrote the perfect prescription for making radio healthy again. Today, I would like to share with your those thoughts.
It’s Not About Being Local
“Local” being the savior of radio is a canard and always has been. The beauty of social media is that it is a rich media experience that is personalized expressly for one person: you. Radio cannot hope to be so “local” that it can beat that.
Serve Your Tribe
The secret to radio’s survival is not localism but “tribalism.” Providing not just a service but an experience. An experience that joins numerous people together, regardless of geography. Hence the success of right-wing talk radio, the success of NPR (which is rarely less than 21 or 22 hours of national progamming out of every day on virtually every “member station”) and most informatively, the success of K-Love, which has near zero local content at all yet has grown a huge and profitable audience.
These outlets’ content has precious little to do with the local community, but they all share a powerful defining aspect: listeners self-identify as being proud to listen (and prouder to donate to) the outlet in question.
Commercial Radio’s Tribal Leadership Vacuum
Most commercial radio outlets have achieved this tribalism on the backs of longevity of a given host: KISS 108 has been top-rated in Boston for decades because that audience has tuned in to hear Matty Siegel every morning for over forty years. Rush Limbaugh had his legions of Ditto Heads for nearly as long.
And therein lies the rub. Most of those hosts are in their 70s or older…or dead…and the pipeline to replace them has been sealed off thanks to post-1996 consolidation. Non-commercial radio operators, like K-Love and NPR, have succeeded in finding a content/style niche but there’s only room for so many of those.
It All Comes Down to Your Talent — Growing & Retaining It
So, to put it another way: it’s not localism that’ll save radio; it’s talent. And radio has worked very hard to drive good talent out of the business.
“Talent hits a target no one else can hit.
Genius hits a target no one else can see.”