“Live and Local”? I Don’t Think So

liveandlocalIt has been suggested that the new story for radio should be one of the oldest stories for radio: “We’re live and local.”

This strikes me as perplexing for many reasons, not the least of which is that so much of radio is neither live nor local. Yet that doesn’t make it less popular or effective.

Consider each part of the phrase in turn:


Is Saturday Night Live less effective or popular because it’s viewable via DVR at a later time? Or because it’s viewable via highlight clips online, which is how most people see it and certainly the reason it has swelled in popularity?

Do listeners even know when you are “live” and when you are not?

Have you ever heard listeners complain that “I wish you were more ‘live'”?

Are Public Radio podcasts among the most popular in the iTunes store because they’re “live”?

Are listeners sampling iTunes Radio and Spotify and Pandora because they’re “live”?


Yesterday I talked to a woman who had replaced a good portion of her radio listening with Pandora. It was not because she couldn’t grasp the notion of “live and local,” it was because she wanted to listen to the radio for music, not for commercials and not for chit chat. In our zeal to tell a story we should make certain it’s one that connects with consumers, not just with each other.

“Local” is too often nothing more than an address from a listener’s perspective. How often do you hear listeners complain that they wish your radio station was more “local”?

I think the primary value proposition of “local” is to the sales team, which is busy building relationships in the local market – the same local market where Pandora’s local sellers are trying to build the same relationships, by the way.

Unless you’re a News/Talk, Sports, or Public Radio station, what “local” value are you possibly conveying which beats the value proposition listeners are coming to you for – music and entertainment – neither of which need be “local” to be compelling.

Finally, the ultimate local is the personal – an address of me. It’s hard to argue for local relevance when other products and services are more narrowly targeted to the end-user than radio tends to be.

An Alternative

Instead of retreating to convenient cliches that sound good on earnings calls and in conference halls where everybody can nod along, how about an alternative rooted in what consumers want instead of what the managers want:

What if we retire “live and local” in favor of “unique and compelling”?

Do listeners want “unique”? Do they want “compelling”? You bet they do. Can you sell that? You bet you can.

Is it tough to create? Yes. Like all successful popular entertainment it represents blood, sweat, tears, and a modicum of risk.

Does it explain the success of radio’s most successful assets? Yes, I think it does.

Try this: “The goal of our radio brand is to be unique and compelling.” That’s our new story, assuming we live up to it.

Whether we feature content near or far, recorded or live.

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  • johnford

    As far as the “woman who had replaced a good portion of her radio listening with Pandora. It was not because she couldn’t grasp the notion of “live and local,” it was because she wanted to listen to the radio for music, not for commercials and not for chit,” one thing to keep in mind….

    As you well know in a focus group the first thing the focus groupers will tell you is that they “want less talk more music,” and the next phrase they’ll tell you that they just love “morning show x.” Morning show x is full of talk and it’s the highest rated daypart you/they have. so… what they say and what they mean are quite often two completely different things. definition of terms.

    But your point is well taken. the real question is how do we get unique and compelling? The Pandora jukebox runs out of unique and compelling pretty quick for me. Great talent talking about things and unique observations about their community and the community you live in is pretty damn sticky. Hyperlocal/microlocal…. whatever you want to call it. Be entertaining! Does anyone remember how to teach these skills? To paraphrase John Prine “Blow up the jukebox, and find ‘jesus’ on your own.”

  • I wasn’t making a global point with my story about my friend, John, just a specific one – and that was her specific point to explain her specific behavior.
    Pandora’s unique and compelling asset is its ability to deliver a commercial-light feed of music according to your tastes with a built in degree of discovery, and to do it more famously than anybody else. That makes every mix both unique and compelling.
    Thanks for the comments, John!

  • jterhar

    One problem is the number of commercials, compared to satellite, pandora/spotify, NPR, personal playlist/podcasts. The other part is that the station needs a face in the community who will show up at Rotary, church, schools, festivals…everywhere. The John Tesh content may be fairly compelling but you won’t find him showing up at the Sylacauga, AL high school football games. AM stations need a long term, consistent presence in the community. It’s the only thing the voice tracked Clear Channel flamethrower can’t do.

  • Having a local face is not the same as pitching “local” to your consumers. You can do one without the other.
    Further, I would argue, being able to shake the hand of a personality is not necessarily going to accrue to a station’s listenership. It depends on the scale of the effort and what that effort is. The days when radio stations could count on “presence” in the community to compel listenership are long over. Now it’s about “value” – not simply showing up.
    Thank you for the comment!!

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