Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
January 9, 2010 7:13 PM

The Local Radio Dilemma

Whether it's buying books, going to the movies or buying music, the Internet is being blamed for the death of every other media, including radio. It's a very misguided presumption.

The Internet is not killing any other media form. It needed to be said. The Internet is fragmenting audiences simply because it adds additional choices and options for the consumer. But, it's not just the Internet. When you can buy a 42-inch high definition plasma screen for under $800, you can rest assured that it is also playing a part in the pain the local movie theatre's cash registers feel. It's not just that people are suddenly downloading movies off of the torrents. More importantly, the change (or as some call it, "the death") of traditional media channels seems to be coming more from the owners of these channels than the consumers who are abandoning them or the technological advances in society.

They're doing it to themselves.

Today, Steve Faguy (over at the Fagstein Blog) has an excellent Blog post about local radio in Montreal titled, What's happening to Montreal radio? Like any other local market (it's not just Montreal, it's happening in your hometown as well), radio is going through some very tough times with some very big changes (I've Blogged about this before: Attention Radio DJs: There Is Still Hope). Faguy points out some of the problems he sees with local radio:

"I find most of their names and voices interchangeable. They seem to lack personality that sets them apart from the rest, because they're not allowed to develop one on the air... Maybe listeners don't want to connect with their DJs, maybe they just want the music. It's a fair stance to take, and studies show that people want music - not talk - from their music stations. But then the music suffers from this same lack of personality. It's all from the same tiny playlist. And while limiting variety concentrates hits and increases the likelihood that someone turning the dial will stop on your station to hear a familiar song, it also decreases the likelihood that someone will discover something new. And if they're just listening to a bunch of songs they already know (some of which they like and some they don't), what competition can that offer to iPods and other recorded media, which are programmed by the user?"

Spot on! Plus, it's a Marketing problem that can, literally, solve itself (if radio station owners can muster up the courage).

Radio is dropping in ratings and advertising revenue (in fact, online advertising spend surpasses radio advertising in places like the United States, Australia, Canada and more). Part of it is because advertisers are clearly getting more value out of their ad dollars in other channels. Part of that might be because people's perspective of radio has changed as well (their habits and whether or not they even care for it). In a world of so much media exposure, it is possible that radio is becoming less important to the masses. Along with that, there is satellite radio, iPods, Internet radio, Podcasting and many other audio choices.

And here comes the opportunity...

It's in doing what radio always did best: serve the local community. Get more local. Not more national. Not more global. Nothing like that. Odds are if you asked a community how they would feel if their local radio stations all disappeared, it would make them sick to their stomachs. That audience is probably not tuning in right now, because the bulk of the content is either regurgitated news from CNN or the latest Lady Gaga hit - which they can get from anywhere and everywhere else. These big national and multi-national media companies who bought up all of the radio stations believe they will save their own financial hide by streamlining and automating the radio experience. That's what's doing them in. In order to stay afloat, they're taking more of the "local" out of it (by making the voices and content so generic), and all that's doing is getting the masses used to not having anything special/local.

In essence, they're doing themselves in. Sad.

These local radio stations need to get used to making a lot of money, but it's going to be a lot less money than they're used to. The changes have come. The digitization is a reality. Technology is not going to stop. We all now have global perspectives and instant access to news in near-real time. What we're all missing is what's happening in our own backyard (but platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Blogging and Podcasting are starting to change that too). Sadly, just covering the local scene may not bring in the sexy and exciting national advertising campaigns that these radio station owners are looking for, but it is still good, strong and solid revenue.

The question becomes: are they going to change, take those local dollars and start rebuilding, or are they going to destroy the decades of comfort that real local radio has brought to the masses?

By Mitch Joel