Radio: Think Locally, Reach Globally.

Traditional terrestrial radio has reached a eucatastrophy , and it’s time to drink the koolaid.

I do remember the days when mom and pop radio stations were the norm. When there were exceptionally run radio stations that had compelling programming run by motivated and involved community entrepreneurs. I was even lucky enough to work at a couple of them. Still consolidation was bound to happen. Radio was and is a great way to make money. Centralize, consolidate, downsize and join the ranks of wall-street darlings and the seemingly endless double digit returns. Well, today radio finds itself in a similar, but not quite as drastic predicament as the newspaper industry. Those ever increasing returns for investors are starting to show a downward trend from the impact of a new entry into the advertising dollar feeding frenzy: the Internet.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a FUD flinger when it comes to the net. After all I did read Silicone Snake Oil. I don’t believe that the net is gonna “take over the world” and we all better run for the hills screaming and wailing in panic. I am a believer however in the fact that as traditional broadcasters we do need to start looking at what we do a little closer. Notice I said at what ‘we’ do, not so much at what ‘they’ are doing.

OK, here’s the meat of the matter. Consolidation will not go away, but it’s going to diminish. Why? Simple economics. The rate of return is slowing in radio. If the forecast for return doesn’t continue to climb, investors and analysts will shy away from mega radio companies and the stock prices will fall. We will probably end up seeing these consolidated companies still thriving and making money, but my bet is that they will diversify. In fact, we’re already seeing this. As they diversify, individual investors and entrepreneurs that are more than happy to make, let’s say, a 10 percent or even a 5 percent return, will start buying up more properties. And I see this as a very good thing for radio.

With the possibility of new ownership blood and hopefully even local ownership, programming could, and should, diversify and hopefully some really creative people will start throwing up some new and interesting programming. We’ll still see the consolidators rolling heavy with syndication, both network and centralized. That’s not bad. We need it. But local markets should gain new and much needed local programming. Programming that has a history of winning and is really the backbone of traditional radio. Here’s what I would like to see:

Imagine a local ‘rock’ station that still follows the trades and still plays music that’s testing well and is very solid formatically, but really pushes the local angle. A station that’s actually involved in the local music scene. Adds local artists and actually plays and promotes them and their shows. Is passionate about how cool their local music scene. Hire a bunch of ‘kids’ that would really get excited about this kind of stuff, people that have the passion. Then, take that local angle and push it over to the web. Have interns running around with cheap video cameras recording local ‘fans’ at the clubs and the bands, all pushed virally to a youtube and the video flavor site of the week. Take your local angle and push it ‘globally’ to the web.

Imagine a local talk station that deals with almost entirely local things. Where to get a good parking space. The best place to get a chili dog. The local judge that just got caught smoking weed. Take your man on the street audio to the next level and push it to your web site as video. Hire local people as talk hosts, train em’ to do it right. Not just some local politician. Find somebody that ‘home-grown,’ really understands the place they live. It might be some ‘funny guy’ that works at a convenience store or a housewife that’s ‘gone crazy.’ Local and real. Oh, and for the record, this isn’t anything new. NJ101 has been printing money doing this for years.

Neither of these two ideas are wildly exotic in any way. They’re just simple observations on solid programming with a slant to the web. And I believe that’s the direction we have to take. Good solid local programing with a push to the web, the global web. Solid local programing always beats syndication. It always has and always will. Being local is the bedrock of terrestrial radio and now is the time to get back to our roots. The global network onslaught is coming from all sides: Satellite, ipod, streaming, GSM and WiFi. How do we compete? That’s the rallying cry. The simple truth is we just need to get back to the roots of what makes radio great. Being a part of the community. And the next step, taking that killer local programing globally on the net. We can’t keep doing it the way we used to. But we can go back to what we know works best, with a web twist. Think locally, reach globally..