What Does “Live & Local” Really Entail? 

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(By Ronald Robinson) The challenges confronting any station considering taking the “live and local” route are many, and they are significant. Having a “live” presenter occasionally making local geographical references or promoting local events is no panacea for the indifference demonstrated by so much of a local population. Rather, I believe such an approach would be an embarrassingly weak form of pandering. Large portions of potentially loyal audiences tend to respond poorly when they are being treated like bumpkins.

“Maude’s Bake Sale For The Rehabilitation Of Scrawny Cats” has a better chance of making it as a worthy programming element — only because of the entertainment value.

For the most part, existing “live and local” presenters have already had their personalities – if they ever had one – bludgeoned out of them or rendered anemic because of massive music sweeps and intolerable phusterclucks of poorly produced and annoying local spots.

Now, I do realize I am writing this in an age where reason, logic, and rational, critical thinking have become less-than-desirable elements. If it is not expedient or satisfying to apply these options, they get shuffled closer to the dumpster.

Further, since the “live & local” thingy has been kicked around for a number of years, astute readers will note how there has not been a headlong lurch into applying the concept. (The fear of the results of such arbitrary decisions, including all the accompanying expenses, can do that.)

As a number of operators have already concluded, “live and local” sounds great over a liquid lunch. Keener considerations, however, are much less appealing. The claim can be made that “live and local” is no plug and play application. Indeed, the “live and local” concept, to be effective, requires a set of companion pieces. Before “live,” uneducated talent is unleashed, here is what should happen:

  • Long-form music sweeps will have to be eliminated. This must be understood. With a very few possible exceptions, the majority of local stations are not the only go-to sources for groovy tunes. Further, I would inquire of any local station owner that has a hold on a given music format, “What is the confidence level of being able to hold on to that position?” 
  • The colossally brainless commercial Phustercluck Phormat will have to be broken up; the strategy trashed and burned to ashes. Shamanic chants and rituals must be performed to ensure it stays dead — forever. What this means is, local performers will be on the air for longer periods — and more often. (Anybody freaking out, yet? That would be a reasonable response. But, wait! There’s more!)

For the benefit of the few readers that haven’t already peeled off, here is what else has to happen if “live & local” is to be a successful enterprise:

  • Those already employed presenters, new recruits, and anyone involved in the writing of local commercials will — equally — have to be dragged off to a relatively short boot camp and trained in the science and art of communicating effectively to a broadcast audience.
  • Although impossible, that really should happen before anybody cracks a microphone or scribbles a piece of copy. Exposing more uneducated and unskilled “live” performers loose on the air constitutes a cruel punishment — on audiences! On-the-job training is necessary but still dangerous. So long as the principles are being introduced, it will be a clumsy exercise. But, only for a while. Improvements are assured.

Generally, commercial music-radio is such an obscenely underutilized and crippled medium that passersby avert their gaze, what with the open wounds and the tattered and soiled bandages. That is, unless they are with a competing medium. In that case, they are delighted to kick out a few crutches. Radio desperately needs to be taken through a “concussion protocol” because it is staggering around and can no longer identify a Tuesday.

Radio, I suspect, will continue surviving in some form or other. Almost all of the managers who are reading this piece are likely to reject the premises out of hand and without consideration. I only lament that radio’s fortunes will be getting even worse before any corrective actions are taken. More deregulation? Serving audiences and advertisers? Puh-lease.

Ronald T. Robinson has been involved in Canadian radio since the ’60s as a performer, writer, and coach, and has trained and certified as a personal counselor. Contact Ron at info@voicetalentguy.com

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