Why is it that those who manage community radio stations seem to have no idea about what makes a good local station? Why is this? Well it’s because these managers simply refuse to listen. These are the very same managers who claim to know their area well and use that so-called knowledge to justify absolutely ridiculous decisions they make on a day-to-day basis. I suggest they seem to refuse to accept the basic principles of local broadcasting and I suspect the real truth lies in the fact that they don’t know the basic principles of local broadcasting at all.
What makes a great local radio station? What should you be doing to get people listening to you? These are just some of the questions community radio managers seem to avoid. Yes, I did say avoid. They speak of “what the community wants” or “serving the underserved” all the time and frankly, this is all ‘hot air’. I speak to local radio managers regularly and some do understand the concept of local radio, many clearly do not. There are those who believe they know how to broadcast locally yet all they do copy those who know nothing of local radio at all. I can tell you know that doing a Showbiz News stint on a local radio Breakfast show 15 years ago does not bestow the knowledge required to understand how radio works.
If you want to come to some understanding of the principles of local broadcasting you first need to understand the people you want to broadcast to. You need to realise that the people who are most likely to listen to you are the people who have a vested interest in the area you broadcast to. The have a house, a mortgage, children in the local school, the have a minor interest in or follow local sport and they work locally. Some are native to the area others are not but have set up home in the area. They are probably aged 30 or over.
It’s not a complicated concept
There are a number of tools you can use to attract an audience and the simple fact is that the music you play is extremely important in the battle to convince people to do so. I hear stations all the time where the music management is so poor that the results simply act as a millstone threatening the entire success of the station. Cheesy choices are bad enough but having a show playing this stuff on the basis that it fills some airtime is not the right thing to do.
In many local radio stations, the music content is at least 50% of total output and for many more it is more like 75%. Yet the music output of local radio is a major function of the station that isn’t managed at all. This is stupid, very stupid. Do not make the mistake of thinking that the local commercial station is wrong by repeating the same songs all the time (Their listeners only listen for 20 minutes or so, and in those 20 minutes they hear the ‘better music variety’ message about 4 times too and guess what, they start to believe it). Don’t do the opposite of what they do to compete because you think what they do is wrong. That is another stupid decision.
A small area
Big commercial music station like Heart and Capital are not dependent on very small areas to earn their living, you do. They have music experts and schedulers everywhere backed up by big Marketing Departments, all working to increase revenue at the minimum cost possible. They only compete nationally and music policies are aimed at achieving a big national audience. Your 50,000 song playlist helps them. Yes, you and your music policy are helping them build their listener base in your area. Why would you do that?
It is vital that you manage your music, its 75% of your output, but you do not have to compete directly with the big boys. If they only play a few songs you don’t have to play thousands just to be different. Don’t ever forget that ‘more music variety’ is simply a marketing ploy and playing everything and anything on your station to combat that is exactly what they want you to do. If you do that be aware that you are helping them, yes you have to manage your music output. To do that you need to know who your target audience is (see heading ‘vested interest’)
It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it
The other area that needs to be addressed if you want to gain some credibility with your audience is your provision of local news and information. Local radio is not simply about providing local information it is about how you deliver news and local information in a credible and intelligent manner. I heard one local radio station provide a list of gigs that, on one occasion went on for 21 minutes. He lost me in the first 40 seconds but I tuned back in assuming he had moved on but no… he was still going. More recently I heard a community station presenter chatting endlessly about an event only to realise that the event took place five days earlier.
How you deliver local information is extremely important and is the key to your success. Remember I said ‘how you deliver’ is the key. Reading out ‘three in a row’ lists of local information, car boot sales, local charity appeals for volunteers and so on is boring to the listener and the result is nothing gets through to the listener at all. I am a big believer in looking at the important reasons why a local event might be taking place and placing that information in front of the listener in a credible and intelligent way. Some truly local radio stations, in Ireland particularly have realised a long time ago that telling people why listeners should support a particular event and then providing some local details about the event itself works much better than just telling listeners what on and when. So, I suggest that promoting local events individually and including why events are taking place is a much more intelligent and sophisticated way of presenting something that otherwise would be lost in a long list of other ‘stuff’ broadcast at the same time.
Community versus Local
Most radio stations managers have made the huge mistake of interpreting a working title used by OFCOM to distinguish that type of broadcast licence i.e. Community Radio and incorporated the word community into the name of the station. There is nothing to say you have to use the word community in your station name and I strongly advise against it. In radio terms it means small, mediocre and amateur and if that is the way you want to be seen then, by all means go ahead and use the word community in your title. I notice that there is a clear connection between those in local broadcasting who choose not to use the C word in their title and the quality of the station outputthey manage. I also notice also that those who understand this concept also seem to understand the other finer points of running a small local station successfully too.
So, if you have a community radio licence and want to run a truly local radio station remember that you need to know how to build a decent local audience living in very small geographic area.
I suggest some simple steps; manage your music well and make your station sound bigger that it is. Deliver local news and information in a way that makes it sound credible and intelligent. Perhaps then you can start to truly see how local radio can beat the big music stations… by understanding who your listeners are and getting your music, local news and information right for that particular audience.
Oh, by the way, get rid of the C word from your station name.