What “Local” REALLY Means (and it’s not what you think)

“Local, local, local.”

It’s a constant refrain in the radio industry.  It’s usually expressed as one of our key advantages relative to media and advertising options which are not “local” and not active in the local community.

What what does “local” mean – really?

I have written about this before, and in this video I spell out why, in many ways, there is no such thing as “local” per se – “local” is really a state of mind.

Radio’s success has less to do with being located around the corner and more to do with being meaningful around the corner.  “Local” is a state of mind that has more to do with yourself, your family, and your neighborhood than the city where you just so happen to live.

“Local” is not a talking point or a handy cliche.  Watch this video to see what “local” really means.

The video is part of a live Q&A with Federated Media managers hosted by Federated’s James Derby (thanks to Federated and to James for a great conversation).


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  • Rob

    That’s a very interesting way to frame it. Well put.

    To take it a step beyond that, what is the duty of a terrestrial over-the-air broadcast organization (radio or tv) to the city of license and the “local” community, as intended by the FCC at the birth of broadcasting and upon the issuances of licenses to this very day? Recognizing that society and the modes of delivery of information have both evolved since then, but also recognizing that the ability to use the airwaves still bears the responsibility of promoting the common good, what functions can radio perform to go beyond where we are now (keeping our listeners feeling ok about themselves, their family, their neighborhood by providing traffic and weather, for example) to a higher level that invests in the local market or the local area (as perceived by any of our listeners)? Is there a social mandate (implied or otherwise) present in the permission granted by the FCC? Would radio be different if we took a few moments to pause and recognize that beyond just helping the listener feel good about himself/herself, we have a duty to better our society?

    This flies in the face of the standard-issue notions of streamlining as much as possible to bring monetary value to shareholders (or stability to the organization). This question suggests that broadcasting might be an investment in the strength of the fabric that holds our communities together. And, if such a mandate is present in the permission given to us by the FCC, it seems to suggest that if we can’t/won’t provide such a “community service”, then we fail to do so at the risk of our licenses, whether by revocation by the FCC or by financial failure at the hands of reductions in advertising/support.

    The big discussion of the moment is exactly what you have tackled: “what is local?” If we can agree on a definition, then we can justify what we’re doing as an industry, and we can feel that we’re doing our duty. I fear that if that’s as deep as we go, we’re ultimately giving ourselves permission to underachieve. I believe that our listening audience already recognizes that at some level. I believe that the ratings we’re seeing at present are our reward for settling. Harsh? Yes. Reality? That’s a topic of continued discussion.

    I believe that for broadcasters to remain viable, and more importantly relevant, we have to get out of our box and ask not just what we’d like the happy median to be, but also what we can *do* to make our communities, our regions, our local areas better. Meeting the status quo (which we’ve proven we’re pretty good at doing) might keep things from getting worse, but staying in stasis isn’t making anything better. Had radio recognized this decades ago, we might not be in the morass we’re in today. Or maybe not. But our failure as an industry (despite our successes in the immediacy of news and the evolution of technology) is that we seem to have stopped actually caring about our listeners & communities and instead we have settled for staying afloat.

    I believe that this runs parallel to what you’ve pointed out in the video clip. And once we’ve found a meaning for “local”, we need to determine why “local” matters. Please keep chasing this!

  • Dave Mason

    Rob, you couldn’t be more correct in some aspects.  The fact that the FCC has begun to show a 180 degree purpose from it’s original intent is as clear as the current state of “local” radio.  There are many items that the FCC has ignored, the establishment of a “city of license” is only one.  The fact that a given station licensed to Podunk can serve it’s much larger co-located market has been a reality for years.  The fact that the “interference” that was once taboo is now accepted daily by the hundreds of HD signals obliterating the co-channel stations is reality.  The fact that the commission has become the apparent content watchdog as opposed to the agency that once created “order” among stations is very evident.  The fact that non-regulated content providers are fairly free to include what they want-while broadcasters are forced to conform to rules made in the 40’s is totally ridiculous, yet as plain as the nose on your face.  Local and content and compelling are things that Mark has preached for years to a number of companies that don’t want to hear it for the sake of revenue. 

    There’s one model to look at to see where the future of radio COULD be.  Name the content creator, provider and experience company that’s continually reinvented itself to fully obliterate all challengers.  They’ve survived a number of economic downturns and because of their investments in the product have been very successful in raising their prices.  It all starts with 2 ears.   Unregulated and as of yet unchallenged as the extreme champion of the “entertainment experience”. 

    Just remember the Fairbanks days of KVIL.  It wasn’t unusual for every other Dallas station to not even think of competing against KVIL in the promotions arena.   

    What needs to happen is for the FCC to do what it’s supposed to.  (Fat chance.)  Radio needs to invest in the product and the technology to present new ways to compel the listener and amaze the advertiser. 

    Mark needs to find an audience of decision makers who will actually see that 99% of what he says is right -and follow the model to success. 

  • Thanks for the input, guys!

  • Steve

    I’ve spent over thirty years using “local” to distinguish my stations from all the similar sounding music stations on the air.  Local is simply a subset of “relevant”, but it’s the one area that a focused station can exploit over those that choose to simply play the hits and talk about Dancing with the Stars (or whatever).  Nothing wrong with Dancing with the Stars when people care about it, but if we’re also talking about the local things that my listener is experiencing and doing it in an entertaining way, it’s a huge benefit.  If my station can respond to neighborhood needs, or community issues, we all benefit.  The goal is to make the stations synonymous with the community.  Sure, this can be done to a certain extent, from studios outside the area, but not nearly as well; it’s a heck of a lot easier when your jocks and staff are hanging out at Chamber mixers, chairing museum boards, MCing events, raising funds to save a school or rebuild a home, and just generally
    living among the listeners.  


  • Sounds right to me, Steve.

    My beef is with those who mistake their address for their advantage. “Local” by no means presumes “relevance.” In fact, stations would be better off focusing on the latter. It would make the former moot.
    Thanks for the note.

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