What happens when a
radio station in a small market becomes a music jukebox? The
population suffers, and eventually, so will the owner.
in White Stone, Va., created a sister website that covers local news
and events; see www.middlenecknews.com/events.
(Click to Enlarge)
While actual ratings
may not be relevant to advertisers in small communities, results are
vital. Commercials must motivate listeners to show up in stores or to
order services from contractors and suppliers.
For decades, radio
has been the reliable source for everything local in a community.
While it may seem odd to big-city folks to hear obituaries read
on-air alongside scores from a high school basketball game, this is
music to my ears.
Give me the lunch
menu at the elementary school or tell me the name of the kid down the
block who won the town hot dog eating contest, and I will present the
owner with a gold star for understanding the mission. Inform me of a
breaking weather condition — like a dangerous flash flood or
lightning strikes — and I will guarantee you a place in the hearts
of local listeners.
Anybody can create a
music jukebox; nearly everyone I know does this daily. And yet,
what’s happened to so many small-market stations? They sound just
like their large-market counterparts — song after song, with that
decidedly non-local, perfect-sounding voice track that doesn’t even
have the occasional regional accent.
Before you send me
an email about how expensive it is to operate a small-market radio
station, please reflect on what got you into broadcasting in the
beginning of your career. Likely, you wanted to have an impact on
listeners by telling them something they didn’t know or by
THEM A CHANCE
So how does a
small-market operator provide local community service today without
Hire smart. Hire
Give a chance to
young people who are more interested in the experience than the
salary. Hire part-timers who want to work in radio because it’s so
much more fun than their other job. As an owner, if you have the
ability, do on-air work yourself. Cut a promotional deal with the
local newspaper or a hyper-local website to do some of your on-air
news for you, concentrating on highly listened day parts, like
mornings and afternoons during the week and mid-days on Saturday and
Sundays. If possible, sell (or give) local shows to community groups
or religious organizations on the early morning weekends; they can
put their own folks on the air to talk about local issues, play local
artists or discuss zoning.
PLAY TO OUR STRENGTHS
On the revenue side,
consider selling a direct mail piece two to four times a year in
conjunction with a solid three-month radio schedule. Contrary to what
the media tell you, don’t believe that direct mail in small markets
is dead. If the offer is a good one, a direct mail piece can move
consumers to action. If you’re not convinced, add a local coupon
page to your website, then heavily promote it on-air.
What happens when a
small-market owner has more than one station? Obviously, there will
be more than one format, so the local, local, local approach can be
the same and may even render some savings by utilizing the same staff
over several stations.
Another note of
encouragement to small-market operators: If a large, out-of-town
company owns a competing station, they are highly unlikely to embrace
this local strategy. It’s not the accepted wisdom anymore, and
those who advocate greater “body count” are perceived as being
out of touch with corporate reality.
Don’t let anyone
tell you that radio in small markets is dead and new media alone
rule. Only broadcasting efficiently reaches a mass, non-fragmented
audience with high-impact messaging. Local small-market radio is
where it’s at today, and where it will be tomorrow, if we play to
author is president of Lapidus Media. Email email@example.com.