Today's “Best of” post is linked to one that also attracted many of your eyeballs – “Is radio losing the battle for the ear” – which I reprised a couple days back. Today's post responded to some of the questions raised in that first post, as well as to many of the responses it elicited.
The “live *& local” question is an ongoing debate in radio – and one that we should continue to have. It is a fundamental issue that speaks to big questions that include funding, talent, and marketing – all of which have been rocked (and in many cases, cut) since the start of the pandemic.
This debate isn't just about whether broadcasters can monetize a concerted local effort (although I talk about that in the post). It goes to the heart of broadcast radio's continued relevancy as a platform that matters in people's lives. This post addresses the “hub” philosophy of programming and on-air talent, a topic we're learning more and more about with each rating book we see, and research study we conduct.
As we head into the new year, and a COVID recovery (one can only hope), how broadcasters weigh the value of “live & local” could play a determining role in the medium's ongoing survival in a growing audio smörgåsbord of free and paid content. – FJ
April 6, 2021
An earlier blog post this week posed the difficult and uncomfortable question for radio broadcasters:
Is radio losing the battle of the ear to podcasts, streams, smart speakers, satellite radio, and now, social audio platforms like Clubhouse?
My conclusion was that while most broadcasters have a heavy lift competing against the big boys (and girls) in these spaces – Amazon, Apple, SiriusXM, Spotify, and so many others – there is a strong, enviable position radio broadcasters can still win:
Live & local
Many of you agreed with the premise, at least, but questioned whether, in fact, radio has walked away from its homegrown roots.
Scott was not alone in his skepticism about radio's lost opportunity in the live and local space. Many stations and their parent companies talk the talk, but fail to deliver on the promise. After all, there is no low hanging fruit on the path of least resistance.
But a number of people concurred with my take that for certain broadcasters in the right town with a strong brand, there continues to be a track record of positive performance.
This suggests it is never too late to double-down on your hometown.
And when you look at any given ratings book in most diary or PPM markets, chances are the station(s) sitting at or near the top of the heap are still filling that live & local position that has served radio so well for so long.
But conventional wisdom in radio has taken a decidedly different course in recent years. The “hubbing” of talent, music, and production has become popular and common, thanks in no small part to its economy of scale, ease of execution, and promise to ensure stations sound consistent whether they're in Abilene or Ann Arbor. The “degree of difficulty” of a plug-and-play format or voicetracked personalities is tantalizing for many broadcasters. Low health insurance costs, fewer aircheck sessions, and virtually no talent blowups at client remotes. In other words, easy peasy.
But then 2020 happened. We are still experiencing the biggest reset of our lifetimes – and it's not over yet. But the reckoning has been very real. A global pandemic forced us to reassess and recalibrate everything. It compelled us to check our “because we've always done it this way” mindset at the door.
The mantra became wear a mask, wash your hands, and socially distance. Who could have imagined in 2019 that our lives would be turned upside down by a virus?
And even though COVID is a worldwide scourge that has impacted every corner of our planet, we have learned that our lives are very locally dependent.
Think about the pandemic's trajectory these past 13 months. In what states – or towns – are we seeing hot spots? How are community hospitals coping with the volume of truly sick people? Does that grocery store in our nearby strip mall have any toilet paper on the shelves? When will the schools open here? Where do I vote? How do I support my favorite restaurant? Where can I get the vaccine?
These are intensely local questions.
It doesn't matter that your friend in Tampa got the vaccine and she's younger than you. Or the mask mandate has been lifted in Corpus Christi. Or all the gyms in New York state are still closed.
We are all conditioned to truly care about is what is happening HERE. In our cities, our towns, our communities, and our neighborhoods.
And truly prescient radio broadcasters have been embracing the local zeitgeist from the day we first met Dr. Fauci and learned terms like “community spread,” “personal protective equipment,” and “flattening the curve.”
It is never too late to double-down on your hometown.
If you doubt these assumptions, I'd invite you to pull up a chair and listen to 42,200+ radio fans who weighed in earlier this year for Techsurvey 2021.
We have been tracking a number of bellwether agree/disagree questions over the years, but this one is a favorite:
“One of radio's primary advantages is its local feel.”
In recent years, we've watched the strong degree of agreement incrementally uptick. But then came 2020, and now a near majority are in lock-step concurrence with this idea:
Men and women are on the same page. So are Millennials and Baby Boomers.
And here's a fun fact – the various political factions can actually agree on something. A majority of Democrats and Republicans (52%/50% respectively) strongly agree with the value of radio's local commitment.
Coincidence? I think not.
We've witnessed a sense of hometown spirit and pride many of us simply overlooked. And while “we're all in this together” did not turn out to be a consistent truth due to our political divisions, the vast majority recognized the contributions of essential workers and others who did their part to keep the lights on, stores open, and hospitals functioning.
We're seeing positive signs in markets all over the country. Mid-West Family's “Town Crier Wire” platform (website + app) is a great case in point. In their Southwest Michigan region, market manager Dave Doetsch recognized that the absence of local newspapers and television presented an opportunity for a radio broadcasting entity to fill this void. People crave news, information, tips, and even gossip from their zip and area codes.
Soon, local venues, theaters, bars, clubs, arenas, restaurants will be open for business. How they perform, how they're welcomed back, how locals learn the facts are all part of the narrative citizens expect from local radio.
It is never too late to double-down on your hometown.
Stations that provide that local flavor – in the form of features, apps, website info, talk show guests and other outlets – is the content that will separate hometown radio stations from SiriusXM's '70s on 7, the “Joe Rogan Experience” on Spotify, endless conversations about “How To Make 5 Figures Every Month On Clubhouse,” and other media distractions that add to the noise.
Our jacapps division has developed a “TownConnect” app that works for local stations and clusters. Originally designed for the December holiday shopping season, the platform provides a great solution that melds radio, retail, and restaurants in hometowns of all shapes and sizes and is included in any station's app as an added feature.
The planets are lining up for a “live & local” strategy, and broadcast radio is the medium in the best position to take advantage of the opportunities.
2020 was the Year of COVID, and I'm excited to share our top-line results and insights from our new Techsurvey with attendees at the AllAccess Audio Summit that takes place virtually later this month. Like the above chart, we can now see the effects of the pandemic on broadcast radio. But we can also see the way forward.
All signs in 2021 point to the potential for radio broadcasters to have a bounce-back year. After all, beating 2020 Q2 numbers shouldn't be hard. But stations that lean into this “live & local” moment have the potential to not just generate revenue, but to build brand equity and value for audiences and advertisers.
It will be a year when radio can help its hometown businesses get back on their collective feet. And the good news is that embracing your community is a tactic that any station in any market call pull off.
Assuming of course, you get the green light to do so.
Is it too late to double-down on your hometown?
It's never too late to do great radio that serves your community.
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