The Roar Over Localism

23 Jun

What exactly makes a station ‘local’?

To me this is a puzzling discussion.

Is it how well a station does in Arbitron meaning that high ratings equal local acceptance?

Is it the number of local mentions per hour? That would mean a station mentioning four towns during the weather forecast is more local than one mentioning two.

I worked for Capstar Broadcasting several years ago when we began voice tracking our stations around the country from Austin.

In preparation for this, I listened to major market stations owned by other companies to see just how local they were.

In all cases the only ‘localism’ I heard in my monitors were mentions of towns during the weather forecast and commercials.

The stations could have been anywhere. In some cases even the legal ID was buried and difficult to hear.

The jocks said absolutely nothing that gave me a clue about the station location.

The more I listened, the less localism there appeared to be.

By the way, they were highly rated well known radio stations.

We worked hard at Capstar to keep our stations sounding local. But we didn’t try to fool the listener by having the jocks say they were in Lubbock when they were in Austin. Instead, their job was to relate things happening of local interest.

The result was stations that related to their community. If we programmed the station well enough, listeners responded and it received good ratings.

The localism discussion never comes up with television.

Probably 95 percent of programming on local TV stations is not local.

I doubt that anyone cares that the ‘Tonight Show’ comes from Los Angeles.

The local news hour is usually all the local programming done by TV stations. In the sea of cable channels only a few slots are dedicated to local stations anyway.

So why is radio being pushed for localism to the point of possible re-regulation at the FCC?

Probably because the FCC doesn’t understand the real world.

The FCC Commissioners like to host ‘town meetings’. But these are hardly good representations of the real market place.

The rooms are filled with people who dislike anything commercial and have a specific agenda to push, or are shills placed in the room by the big radio groups.

In 2003, I attended a ‘town hall’ meeting in San Antonio that could best be described as a waste of time and taxpayer dollars. In fact I doubt many of the people who spoke that night had listened to a radio station in years.

The other side, those people touting the great service by the local stations were asked to attend by radio owners.

It was pure circus.

Yet the interest groups are loud enough to get the FCC’s ear.

So again, what is localism?

Is a station that mentions four local towns per hour more local than one that plays sixteen locally tested songs per hour and never says a word?

Personally I don’t think the government has any business sticking their noses into programming. The FCC should regulate frequencies, ownership rules, etc. But when it comes to content they should butt out.

A radio station can only compete by connecting to and attracting an audience. A line-up of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Michael Savage is likely to do that better than a local host talking about taxes and school issues.

Listeners want entertainment. They’ll get it wherever it suits them best.

The internet, IPODs and all of the other changes in technology have changed the playing field.

The business world has figured it out. The rules that applied before, don’t apply now.

It would be nice if the government had a clue too.

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Posted by on June 23, 2008 in Radio programming


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