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Radio’s secret weapon is not “Local”

The head of a major Radio group on the threat of Satellite Radio:

“At the end of the day, people want to hear what’s going on in their local market. People are emotionally involved with local radio.”

With all due respect to one of my valued clients, I must disagree – in part.

If you’re a News/Talk or All-News station, then sure people want to hear what’s going on in their local market. But even my own research indicates that, outside of weather, sports, and traffic, it’s the NATIONAL or TABLOID-type news which really sparks the interest of the audience, not the LOCAL stuff. And neither National nor Tabloid news is “local.”

If you’re an entertainment or music station, however, I fail to see how being “local” adds any value whatsoever to the entertainment or music package. Yes, it could add “habit,” but habit and value are not the same. And habit can be undone by technology, time, and new options. For proof, just ask your teenager how important their “local” music station is in the spectrum of his or her listening options. And ask yourself whether you’d rather watch David Letterman at 11:30 or whatever “local” comic your local TV affiliate would like to put up against Dave.

The obligation of a “local” station is to build a brand which can stand toe-to-toe with the best that can be offered by any other medium in any other fashion. That means investing resources, not cutting them. It means name talent, not no-name ones. It means connected with technology, not fighting it. It means being the next cool thing, not the medium that brought you Fibber McGee. It means having a fresh story worth telling and telling it over and over.

The future may or may not be bright, but as an industry we must ditch the shades.

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