Local Radio Is Alive And Well


(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]


  1. Everything except the part about local ownership. Yes, local ownership means more of the revenues generated stays in the local community, but as far as company culture, I’ve worked for mom & pop radio stations and some of the largest radio companies. I even worked at a station owned by Mr. Pittman (before he took over iHeart). The culture is *always* set at the local level by the local management. I know local owners that are one step above demons, fancying themselves as equal to a big operator and treating the employees like dirt. I have also worked for 3 of the top 4 companies in the industry, and 2 of those had local cultures where the management treated the employees like they want the employees to treat their best customers. Whenever the decision was made to terminate an employee for budgetary reasons, it was a heart-wrenching decision and every effort was made to help the employee find new employment. Yes, I would like to see more local radio owners, but that, in and of itself won’t create a culture of compassion and empathy. that comes from the heart of the local manager.

  2. You’ve been reading for years how radio needs to “reinvent” itself in the 21st Century. It’s not the first time the medium had to do that. Think “Todd Storz” -who was sitting in a restaurant where the waitress played the same song over and over and over on the jukebox. It was ’cause she LIKED it. It didn’t happen on a CBS, NBC or ABC owned station. It happened when he took that premise to a local station in Omaha. He expanded it to six stations -but over the years failed to “reinvent” the stations as technology changed. However-it all started LOCAL with an operator who – determined that there was a better way. Then there’s the revitalilzation of AM radio in the 80s. It was Rush – who started on ONE station (in Sacramento) with a new talk format that included many Top 40 tactics. He didn’t start on a network. Let’s all understand that one of the reasons for radio to exist is to entertain, and the other is to service the advertisers. When we develop a platform that will engage the user it will work!! Be glad not every owner (for the time being) isn’t iHeart. Someone can and should develop that “new way” to revitalize radio.

  3. A tall order for a staff of 13?!? How about a group of 3 FMs, and a translator in a small market…2 & a sales person. Yup…2.

    • Thanks for the comment! Sometimes it’s easy for us to forget how other operations our size (or larger) get it done with less staff. Another thing about our local owners I love is that they enjoy being employers!


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