Tag Archives: Localism

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.”

Smartphones

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.

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More is Less

In 1994, Dan O’Day was holding one of his famous “PD Grad Schools” in Dallas, Texas. One of the speakers he invited that day – and whose presentation was recorded by “Radio’s Best Friend” Art Vuolo – was a young Randy Michaels. Dan O’Day still sells this video, now on DVD, and labels it “The best radio video ever.” I would agree.

The video is titled “Positioning Your Radio Station by Randy Michaels.”  It addresses the explosion of new FM radio stations after the first round of radio deregulation brought us Docket 80-90. Then the LMA (Local Marketing Agreement) was born. Randy tells the audience:

“This was a fundamental change for the radio business. Just as TV was a fundamental change, duopoly fundamentally changed the radio business. This moved the radio business from being a franchise to being a commodity. McDonalds was once a franchise. Today burger fast-food restaurants are a commodity and we all know how that’s working for the ‘Golden Arches.’”

On May 24, 2004 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) held a “Broadcast Localism Hearing” in Rapid City, South Dakota. The president, general manager and co-owner of KLQP-FM licensed to Madison, Minnesota (population 1, 767) Maynard Meyer addressed the commission. He told them (I’ve edited his comments. The full text can be found here.):

“Localism in radio is not dead, but it is in dire need of resuscitation in many areas. I have been involved in the radio business in announcing, sales, engineering and management for about 36 years, all of my experience is in communities of 5,000 people or less. We personally live in the communities we serve so we know the ‘issues,’ we work to address them in our programming and have been doing so for the past 21 years. “

“A few years ago, many stations operated this way, but much of that has changed for a variety of reasons. I think the beginning of the end of local broadcast service started in the 1980s when the Federal Communications Commission approved Docket 80-90.”

Mr. Meyer went on to explain to the FCC how many communities that “on paper” had a local radio station actually found that the transmitter was being fed from another location tens of miles away. Mr. Meyer went on to say:

“I don’t think this is the best way to promote local radio service. From what I have seen through my personal experience, as soon as a hometown studio is closed and relocated, the local service is relocated as well.”

Now put another decade plus on the calendar and we find that the FCC has decided that adding even more FM radio stations would fix this problem of local radio service that operates in the public “interest, convenience and/or necessity” by issuing FM licenses for FM translators and Low Power FM radio stations.

The most recent BROADCAST STATION TOTALS AS OF MARCH 31, 2015 issued by the FCC shows that there are 4,702 AM commercial radio stations, 6,659 FM commercial radio stations and 4,081 FM educational radio stations on the air. But wait; there are also 6,312 FM translators & boosters on the air; plus, another 1,029 Low Power FM radio stations. That’s 22,873 radio stations! And they now compete with SiriusXM satellite radio and streaming audio from Pandora, Spotify, Radio Tunes etc.

If Randy was thinking back in 1994 “being a media company today is a really tough business” he was seeing just the tip of the broadcast iceberg.

Randy’s prescription that day in Dallas was as prescient then as it is today; maybe even more so. He told the audience of program directors:

“In a crowded media environment radio needs to super-serve its local community. Be everywhere, all the time. Miss a day, miss a lot. Radio’s BEST when it’s personal.”

“What’s your station’s impact rating? Great radio stations are listener-focused.”

“If you’re smart enough to win in today’s radio, you’re smart enough to have done something legitimate with your life. This is work. This is a real job. It’s the merger of art and science and you’ve got to have both.”

I’m encouraged by my students who have big ideas about the future of radio and a desire to serve the communities they will be moving to and living in. I’m encouraged by some great radio broadcasters getting back into the business who are bringing back the fundamentals of great radio while extending that sense of purpose to the digital component that must be a part of today’s media company.

The pendulum is swinging back and it can’t get back here soon enough.

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