(By Shawn Dietz) I know what you’re thinking. “Local radio = smaller-than-small market and boring!” Not only are you wrong, but your naiveté could someday cost you. Radio is not unlike many other industries. People dream of working their way up. Start small. Find your niche. Finish big. That’s a phenomenal plan. Until you don’t have any say in it whatsoever.
Recently, a large corporate machine dashed the plans of nearly 1,000 radio dreamers in a gut-wrenching move. Each one of them were people who dreamed of success. A handful of people in Des Moines, Iowa, were counted among the casualties. In this case, not one of them had any say over their future. At the Des Moines station, these were the top programs on the most popular Sports Talk station in the state. It wasn’t good enough. Suits in far away offices made the decision to move in a different direction. Seemingly on a whim.
This column isn’t about the story of what happened in that giant media conglomerate, though. I don’t like to tell stories that have a sad ending. We’ll leave that to the doomsayers and the naysayers in political media. I’m here to tell you the story of the corner of the radio industry you don’t know, or maybe you’ve written off. This story has a happy ending.
Every day, our goal at a pair of 6,000-watt FM radio stations in north central Iowa is to provide local news, sports, weather, and other information to approximately 50,000 residents. It should be delivered in a way that is accurate and timely. Our hope is that our programming and promotions are also fun and entertaining. And yes, we would also like to be profitable in doing all of this. It’s a tall order for a staff of 13. How we do it, is the story of local, community radio.
Relationships are the bedrock of that story. Our communities depend on us. Likewise, we depend on them. Those relationships go beyond business and forge special bonds. Trusting relationships are why local radio has been able to survive, and even thrive as the economy has cycled, ebbed, and flowed.
Local. Ownership. Matters.
I’m not against profit. I’m not against corporations. I’m not against CEOs making huge salaries. I am against people who treat others as objects, though. If you’re one of the people who recently found yourself displaced by a corporate media giant, or you think a similar situation could be your fate, consider locally owned radio. You’ll be empowered. You’ll be valued. We are always looking for great talent in every facet of our business. You may or may not become rich, (that depends on your own work ethic and your own definition of the term) but you’ll be employed, your next paycheck will cash, and our owner of nearly 27 years still lives right down the street. Our average full-time employee has been with us for nearly a decade.
One last thing; I promised a happy ending. The Des Moines station I previously alluded to was forced — under the weight of listener and advertiser backlash — to bring back all of the employees they fired. The listeners told the local management of the corporate conglomerate that they were taking the station off preset. The advertisers’ dollars would go elsewhere. Management acknowledged the mistake. The good, talented people with the popular shows in Des Moines will be back on the air. Why? Because of the local relationships forged. They’re also getting a bigger audience. Local radio, folks. Alive and well.
Shawn Dietz is the General Manager of KLMJ-FM/KQCR-FM in Hampton, Iowa. You can email him at [email protected]