On 'Live And Local'
October 18, 2013
One of the things I left out of last week's Epic Rant was something I commented on in the live version of the diatribe, a reaction to the previous speaker, Alpha Broadcasting and L&L Broadcasting founder Larry Wilson, who stressed "live and local" as a key element for radio success. He's right, of course, and it's something I've said many times before. But I also reserve the right to contradict myself, because why not, so here's my qualification of the issue:
Live and local is better if and only if the content is better. Live and local garbage doesn't turn into gold just because it's local. Conversely, syndicated programming isn't automatically bad. In fact, one of the things syndication did for radio is to bring the top talent in the business to markets where stations could never afford to hire them on a local basis. People didn't think, oh, well, Rush Limbaugh/Howard Stern/whomever isn't in my town, so I won't listen to him. People don't think of that at all, really. If it's entertaining and good, people will listen. If a local host is better, he or she will win. If everything else is equal, local will more likely, but not always, win, simply because being local means having the ability to talk about topics that are more eye level and relatable to the audience. And if a national host is really, really good, would you expect the audience to reject him or her on the basis of location? Do people say, "I didn't watch 'Breaking Bad' because they shot it in Albuquerque, but if they shot it here, I might have"? Would people watch a local chat show over the network late night shows because it's coming from the next zip code over?
Oh, wait, I just realized, "local" means more than one thing. Local can mean just that someone is sitting in a studio within the market at the time his or her voice goes out over the airwaves. It can also -- SHOULD also -- mean talking about things that directly affect the local population, local issues and local spins on national issues. And that's my problem with so many local shows I hear. With the number of local shows having fallen, I hear local hosts doing topics that are identical to what the national hosts are talking about. Obamacare? Check. Benghazi? Check. Federal shutdown aftermath? Check. Actual local issues? Um....
The qualification of "live and local is better," then, is simple. It IS better if YOU'RE better and you hammer on those local topics. Live and local is a strategic advantage not only over national programming but over other new media if you do it right. If you break local stories and own them -- get the newsmakers on the air and grill them, be the place where people will find out more than from any other source, create the image of being a must-listen-all-the-time outlet on which news happens -- you have something that will win no matter what the medium might be.
Maybe the mantra shouldn't be "live and local." Maybe it should be "live, local, and unique." Or "live, local, unique, and better." You know we could just say "unique and better" and that'd cover it. Maybe that's not as simple to accomplish, but that's what will win.
Yeah, I know, short one this week. But it was hard to top last week's outburst (and to the many of you who sent along your comments, thank you, even those of you who disagreed. I'm happy I got people talking.... And I'm sorry I've been slow in responding to everyone, but rest assured I do appreciate your feedback. A lot.) Meanwhile, it's business as usual at All Access News-Talk-Sports' show prep column Talk Topics, where I'm posting stuff that any show, local or national, good or bad (I don't discriminate), can talk about. Go take a look by clicking here for the full column or going to Twitter at @talktopics, where every story is individually linked to the appropriate item. It's all free, too. And this week, we also have a great "10 Questions With..." Larry Gifford, former KIRO/Seattle PD and currently co-host with Deb Slater of the essential Radio Stuff podcast. Larry has a lot to say about radio in general and talk radio in particular, as well as social media and much more. Don't miss it.
Next week: I might have to take a break from all the blood-pressure-elevating stuff. How about My Favorite Halloween Candies? Or something like that.