(By Richard Burns) That was a question that Fred Jacobs posed in a post on social media and in a Jacobs Media blog. To say it generated some spirited debate would be an understatement.
Radio is meant to be local. It’s meant to serve the community of license that’s why we have the license in the first place. If you can’t make that financially work there’s bigger problems – and maybe there are.
The question then becomes what is the problem? Is it radio stations are laden with so much debt they can’t create local radio? The insatiable need for cash to pay crushing debt drains great radio stations of their lifeblood – local talent and local connection. Is it too many competitors for ever-smaller revenue pies or is it structure of the markets themselves?
The fact is that radio stations can be great cash flowing businesses even when (or because of) providing expensive local service if the market is properly structured. All radio markets are not created equally – metro radio is different to regional radio and small market radio. It’s not possible for station in LA to be as local as a small market station – or is it?
I’d encourage anyone who studies the industry to check out Guy Zapoleon’s book on KHJ LA and read the memos from PD Ron Jacobs and consultant Bill Drake. What ‘local’ means for each market can be different. I was impressed to learn that KUZZ in Bakersfield has always been live! Wow that’s awesome! Live however isn’t the answer; of course it is one component.
It’s not much good being live if the talent doesn’t use that advantage and is just doing liner card radio. We must hold a mirror up to the community and really connect with the audience. Make the local listeners the stars. I feel that if you listen to a station and within 30 minutes you don’t hear something that anchors the station to the community it’s not good enough. I don’t mean PSAs or weather (and yes, stations should do local weather – there’s something else for people to argue over). I mean truly connecting.
Not every station in every market can be hyper local but surely at least one could be? This is what I mean about structure. Some stations in a market should be local, others regional and others national brands – brands that don’t pretend to be local but are true national brands. I’d want to have one of those in my cluster!
What works in my markets won’t necessarily work in others but my experience tells me that when you serve and I mean really serve your local markets, the revenue follows and the revenue sticks.
For years small and medium market stations have fought it out with local newspapers for local revenue – we are now winning this revenue battle thanks to sticky station websites and apps that provide local news, info and engagement. I fully agree with Fred Jacobs when he says, “It’s never too late to do great radio that serves your community.”
Richard Burns was the first non-American to be granted a foreign ownership waiver by the FCC. He currently owns 18 radio stations in four markets. Richard can be reached at [email protected]