Is “Local” a Radio Advantage?

We’re “local.”

That’s one of the prime benefits we always tell ourselves Radio will have vis a vis audio competitors like Satellite Radio.

But what, exactly, is the value of “local”?

A radio station is not a sports franchise. Being local does not in and of itself confer audience loyalty. A sports franchise is named after the market – there’s generally only one per sport per market. Rooting for the “home team” is easy. But how do you root for the “home team” radio station when there are 30 home teams competing for your attention every day?

It seems to me that “local” is an advantage only insofar as it generates comfort which yields habit. And nothing is tougher to break than a habit.

But really, how many “local” stations achieve the status of “habit”? In any market you can count them on one hand. Audiences are notoriously fickle and always welcome a more satisfying alternative unless their habits and the preferences which drive those habits are much better served by the incumbent station. More often than not, these “habits” are driven by personalities, usually long-time radio “friends” which can’t be duplicated by a new competitor.

Stations which are primarily music are, by definition, less “local” since music, not “local content,” is the emphasis, and if you can buy it in the iTunes store, it’s not “local.”

That means it’s very possible for a “local” station to be vulnerable to Satellite or other non-local competitors offering a like product which just happens not to originate from around the corner.

If simply being “from here” were an advantage, there’d be no network TV – every market could do it better with “local” content.

In the final analysis the quality of the content will win out, regardless of whether or not it’s “local.” Unless the “local” station is a habit, especially a personality-driven habit.

Our industry would be mistaken to assume that simply because we are “local” that necessarily counts as a competitive advantage.

What do you think listeners are telling you when they vote the number one morning show in your market a non-local guy named Stern?

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