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What does “Being Local” mean, anyway?

It’s common to stress radio’s advantage as a “local” medium. 

But what does it mean to be a “local medium” when the consumer’s local weather comes from the When their local traffic comes from the or, in the not too distant future, from the screen in your car’s dashboard? When their local news comes from Google News or Twitter? When their local ads are everywhere they search online? When their local radio can be heard on mobile devices from any connected spot in the world? When their favorite songs weren’t local to begin with? 

What does “local” mean when everything local is available from everything which is not? 

And why do we keep proclaiming “local” as if anyone understands what we’re talking about or what’s in it for them? 

I think the term “local” dates to a time when communities could only be served by media which originated within them – the local newspaper, TV, or radio. Today, communities continue to have local pride, interest, and concern, but their means of expressing and sharing in those things are no longer limited to the media which so happen to be around the corner. 

Twitter is “local” if the tweet is about your son’s baseball team. E-vite is local if the event you’re invited to is a few blocks away. Facebook is “local” if your circle of friends happen to live near you. 

In fact, “local” is the old-fashioned term for what we today call “community.” “Local” was once defined by the idea that you didn’t need to drive for hours or get on a plane to get there. Because there was already here. “Local” was close to home. 

But today, “communities” are not bounded by the geography of your Arbitron report. They are bounded by interest and connection irrespective of their spot on the map. 

There are communities of gossip fans and horror fans and Rush Limbaugh fans and knitting fans and technology has granted them all new, simple, and extremely effective ways to meet, communicate, and stay connected. If an advertiser can benefit in their highly targeted presence, so much the better. But what does this have to do with “local”? 

Indeed, the ultimate “local” is the personal. When I can get my ideal mix of news or music, then why should I settle for your middle-of-the-road-version? When “local” begins at the tips of my fingers and ends at the tips of my toes, then how exactly do you offer me a better “local” solution? 

After all, the personalized page on Yahoo is called “MyYahoo” not “OurYahoo.” 

if, by “local,” you mean a way for local advertisers to reach local consumers, then what do you call Facebook, where your clients can target specific demographic segments in the specific areas their local business serves – no muss, no fuss – and no waste. 

While radio continues to have huge advantages in terms of reach and habit, the fact remains that these advantages are not God-given. And there are many forces aligned – driven by the consumer – which aim to diminish these strengths over time. 

Yes, you need to make hay while the sun shines. But recognize that the true value of “local” media is in the richness of the content and connections you’re creating, not in the number of ears you’re interrupting. 

There is no longer any such thing as “local” as we traditionally use the term. The definition of “local” is both expanding (interests are broader than geographies) and shrinking (I am the ultimate “local”) at the same time. 

The opportunity for radio is to use our reach to connect consumers with the information and entertainment they want in the way they want it, regardless of where they are or how they want us to connect with them.

The opportunity for radio is to be so unique and compelling that there is no substitute – near or far – which can match the magic it provides. 

Otherwise “local” is just another way of saying “near you.” And why do I need you to be nearby in order to hear the new Lady GaGa song? 

Next time you hear a broadcaster boast that “we’re local,” ask him (and it’s usually a “him” who says stuff like that) what that means, exactly. See if he even knows, or if he’s plucking low-hanging talking points off the RAB tree. 

If the Internet makes the world “local,” then what’s is your advantage?

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