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The Nebulous Advantage of “Local”

The Radio trades harp on what they perceive as a key Radio advantage over other technologies: That Radio is “local.”

But unless you’re talking specifically about a news station, is this an advantage in every or even most cases?

What does it mean to be “local”?

If, by “local,” we mean a station that is finely tuned to the tastes of the local market, then local is unquestionably a plus. But there are precious few radio stations in any local market which fit this definition (check the playlists market to market and note that similarities far outnumber differences). And if, you say, this is because tastes are so similar from one market to the next, then that severely limits the advantages of “local,” doesn’t it?

Besides, by “local” I think many of these industry writers are not talking about “local tastes,” they’re talking about local people, local address, chit chat about local events, local news, etc.

A radio station is considerably different from a local sports franchise. Your heroes rarely populate the airstaff of your local station they way they populate the playing field of the local ball club. Listeners do not root for the “local team” when that team wears a radio logo.

For proof of this, look to those stations which have tried to position themselves as “local” against cyberjocked alternatives. Rarely – if ever – does that claim connect.

I do think that “local” stations have an advantage over similiar stations that are, let’s say, from the market next door. But alternative audio sources and syndicated programming are location-free. If you’re not from “here” or “there,” then you’re from “everywhere.” And “local” is not an advantage to “everywhere.”

Further, how do you interpret the “local” advantage when you face Delilah? Or Rush Limbaugh? Or Paul Harvey? Or Howard Stern? To be sure, top-notch syndicated talent isn’t better than all local talent, but one would expect it’s better than most. Isn’t that how that talent earns syndication in the first place?

There’s a difference between being “local” and being “habitual.” Most of Radio’s perceived “local” advantage is, I would argue, simply habit.

There’s nothing wrong with habit. It’s a perfectly good advantage.

But don’t mis-label it as “local” or you will delude yourself into thinking that more local people, more local content, more local news, and more local discussion is what will make your station stronger relative to new competition – in and out of Radio.

And that would lead us down a very wrong path.

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