Live and Local

live11 150pixGreg Diamond – ByrnesMedia

At the recent NAB/RAB Radio Show in Orlando the man originally behind Citadel, Larry Wilson, returned to the stage as head of his new company, L&L Broadcasting, to offer his thoughts on what needs to change in American radio. He believes strongly that the key to winning is a return to our medium’s greatest strength, which he even named the company after – “L&L” stands for ‘Live and Local’.

He’s been busy buying up radio stations around the country and then using those signals to go back to delivering high quality local content. He feels that voice-tracking will eventually go the way of the Dodo bird and lo and behold he’s been quite successful!

Also on the panel was the CEO of Connoisseur Media, Jeff Warshaw, who also sided with Wilson. “If our product sucks, will that continue? Radio may not be satisfying the people the way that it has been in prior years. We’re running tremendous numbers of commercials. The damage is self-inflicted. Are we willing to ask ourselves, ‘Are we doing a good enough job?’ If we put out crappy programming, we’re destined to be extinct. We must put out fantastic programming and be involved in the community.”

While 20 years of consolidation in the U.S. has dramatically altered the radio landscape in that country and moved the industry so far towards cost-cutting that the whole concept of ‘live and local’ will largely have to be relearned before implemented. On our side of the border regulators never offered us the opportunity at such levels of amalgamation, but that doesn’t mean we should be smug and ‘tut-tut’ our American friends because a large percentage of our own industry has also lost touch with the true concept of ‘live and local’.

In the latest edition of Broadcast Dialogue there’s a great article by Howard Christensen on Jon Pole’s MY Broadcasting group that reinforces that argument. In a decade the company has grown from one station in Renfrew, Ontario to well over a dozen in other small markets throughout the province. MY Broadcasting’s philosophy has always been to embed their stations in the market, while still streamlining elements that don’t have to be local. As such, they have a small staff to broadcast and sell to the community and do the necessary appearances gigs and remotes, etc., while still consolidating things like traffic, production, and accounting. They seem to have struck the correct balance between cost-sharing and effective broadcasting. Mr. Christensen ended his article with a quote from Jon Pole that sums up what MY Broadcasting is all about – “…still providing information and a service to our communities and going out and talking to a guy who owns a shoe store or a grocery store and figuring out how we can help them sell more. I like that our business model is simple.”

MY Broadcasting aren’t the only ones that have managed to thrive in smaller markets, Golden West have been small market experts for decades. However, there are still too many examples of not serving a community in a manner that’s effective long term for a station and an industry. That, by the way, is a concern in not just small, but medium and large markets, as well.

I’ve written numerous times on the importance of being ‘live and local’, but some things can’t be stressed enough. Here, then, are a few ways you can better reduce the ‘distance’ between your station and the community it serves.

Content

I’m not sure I completely agree that we’ll see the end of voice-tracking. It just makes too much sense in certain dayparts, but even if the person on the air isn’t actually in the market, at least have them sound like they are.

Set up a ‘content-pipeline’ for the people doing your VT work. Feed them information or direct them to online sources where they can find things to talk about that are of actual significance to the market. Perishable things like important news items, road closures, and other current events have far greater impact with the local listener than the normal pop-culture drivel heard everywhere. If you give a listener content that can’t be readily accessed everywhere, you will be more relevant to them and your bond with the audience will be stronger.

Observational prep is another excellent way to have your voice-trackers sound as though they live in-market. For the people that are there, dropping an email to a jock to let them know that a new grocery store opened at the corner of Main and First Streets will be appreciated by not only the announcer, but ultimately the listener.

Appearances

Back in my past life when I was still a jock I worked in some pretty small towns with some pretty small staffs. The thing is, though, we were all fairly young and new to the business (which is no different today in ‘starter markets’), so we lived and breathed our jobs and because there wasn’t a whole lot else to do we were always out at events, remotes, bars, whatever.

The point is you don’t need that many people to do the vital work of getting out into the community. You just need the right people. I’ve heard how young people have changed and aren’t as enthusiastic as in previous generations. I don’t really consider myself to be a “back in my day” kind of guy, but I suppose there is a kernel of truth in that sentiment. Nevertheless, the ‘go-getters’ are out there. It just might be a little harder to find them these days. In small markets, make sure you build relationships with instructors at broadcast schools to assist you in hiring the best new broadcasters. In medium markets, have a network of smaller market PD’s. In large markets, it’s important you know everyone!

Finally, use your limited resources wisely. You can’t be at everything or the on-air product will eventually suffer, but you can make appearances at those events where the station receives the greatest exposure. Sending someone to Mrs. McGillicuddy’s Bake Sale Extravaganza probably won’t do a whole lot to raise station exposure (and the jock will probably learn to hate you), but having an on-air employee at the annual fair is worth the time. Work your staff, but don’t wear them out.

Sales

While it’s true that announcers can be effective when out in the community, the station’s real foot soldiers are its sales people. Even if the market is so small that there is only one or two, they will still be the ones that wave the flag daily as per their job description.

In some cases, companies have done away with their local sales staff completely and handle orders over the phone. Instances of that are rare, though, but if you operate that way then at least have one salesperson assigned to visit the market monthly.

These are just 3 quick ways to maximize your ability to be “live and local.” ByrnesMedia has many other ways to assist in this crucial area. Drop us a line anytime toll-free at 1-866-332-1331.