Local Radio Still Rules?

With the impending merger of XM and Sirius, much attention has been placed back on satellite radio. A push to gain new subscribers to help ease the pain when Howard Stern hangs up his headphones is going on now, with two years free service being essentially offered to folks who’ve never had satellite radio before.

There is a place for satellite radio and this particular column isn’t out to blast it.

I do believe, now more than ever, that local radio is essential to the communities they serve, with more local on-air content starting to pop back up again.

As I write this, the midwest has suffered the worst flooding, particularly in Iowa, in 12 years. Fires are raging in Northern and Southern California. We’ve already had record high temperatures in most parts of the country, and 8 inches of hail fell in Nebraska in a 45 minute period just last week. Immediate information on weather and acts of God is usually found first on local radio stations.

When severe weather hits, most times power is out. Battery or solar powered radios are the main source of information. That really hasn’t changed in the last 70 years. When power is out, many cellular towers are down. Communication is sometimes very difficult, if not impossible. Many landline phones now require power to them, though those that live in severe weather prone areas still have the simple phone plugged into the wall with no hybrid between them just for that reason.

This magazine focuses on local radio stations and the music we play in several different genres. We like to think we bring the industry new and important information each week on a wide variety of subjects, not just the music world, though obviously the name of the magazine speaks for itself. Independent artists may get more attention here than they would in other magazines. You’ll read about tomorrow’s most popular artists today as a subscriber here.

But programming music is only part of a program director’s job. Even music intensive FM stations break normal programming when major local news stories that impact your listening area are likely to either simulcast the group’s AM programming (if you have a news/talk in your group) or have your newsman take the lead. It is the way it should be. I’ve recently noticed a trend in my part of the country….. stations that used to rely on satellite vendors are now using music on hard drive and either are live, or sound live. That, too, is the way it should be for many reasons. It puts the “program” back into the program director title, and “music” back into the music directors title. Most trades won’t allow you to report to them unless you’re programming a minimum of 12 hours of locally generated programming per day, and that is the bare bones minimum. I believe it connects you to the community much better than a “jock in a box” with little or no local content.

Local radio isn’t really making a comeback, because I believe it really never lost its grip with a majority of the potential listeners to satellite radio. But the trend to downsize satellite has begun- from two providers to just one- and consolidating these two competitors in many experts eyes in this industry is a clear sign that expectations far outweighed the demand, and that local radio stations still service their market very nicely, thank you very much…..and we do it for free.