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Does “Local” Radio Rule?

Recently I wrote a piece arguing that music-based Radio is in the “audio entertainment” business, not the “Radio” business – and that fact has big implications for our strategic planning in the future and, in fact, the health and wealth we are likely to have – or not.

In this type of business, the advantage goes to the national player, not the local one, because when all songs are the same you don’t need to be around the corner to play them. And talent – in the form of name brand talent – will differentiate one station from the next, and that’s more easily established at a national level (look no further than TV for proof of this).

The biggest complaint I’ve gotten from folks in the industry is that I’m wrong because Radio’s biggest advantage is that – unlike Satellite or streaming or iPods or whatever – Radio is LOCAL.

Now let’s think about that.

Not from the advertiser’s perspective but from the listener’s.

What, exactly, is the advantage to the listener of a LOCAL radio station? Well, you might say, it’s the local connection that only local talent and a local station can provide. This is what binds listeners inextricably to our stations.

Okay, well, if it’s so advantageous, how come we in Radio are going out of our way to cyber-jock our stations, creating voices that aren’t really there or creating local personalities who actually live in far-off markets?

If, in fact, the ILLUSION of “local” is really what we and our listeners really value, and if, in fact, technology is the key to creating that illusion, then where is Radio’s advantage? What’s to keep Satellite or Streaming or any other dawning technology from “localizing” their programming through technology? They’re already doing this for local information services – can local-sounding jocks be far behind?

Whether or not you’re ready to face it, the future will bring us more diverse and easier to access audio entertainment options where the music is as good as, better than, or at least more customizable and PERSONALIZABLE than your local radio options. And technology will bring us the ability to make anything “sound” local.

If you really, truly think the audience will stick with you because you’re “local”, then go ask some iPod users why they stopped listening to Radio. Go ask some Satellite subscribers why they PAY to listen to what’s available not only for free, but LOCALLY for free.

Then, if you still believe “local” rules, I strongly suggest you get into the print business and publish some classifieds and coupons.

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