February 10, 2022
YOU LIVE HERE, BUT ARE YOU LOCAL?
In the awkward period of time between looking at my car stereo in horror and screaming at yet another “local” deejay who talks about nothing besides last night’s The Bachelor episode, I was inspired to transform some random thoughts about local content into something you can use.
In 1988, I worked at KZBS-FM in Oklahoma City. I was the nighttime party-animal-slash-ringmaster for angst-filled teens and starry-eyed club kids. (Wow! That was a lot of hyphens.) I cut my teeth there, learning about audience behaviors, motivations, and what the listeners defined as local content.
That was thirty-four years ago, but faster than you can say “Boomer,” I can prove that what we knew about local content then is what many stations could benefit from today.
Today, many radio stations are in danger of losing their way if they haven’t already. Sadly, many have abandoned “local content” because, frankly, they don’t remember how their listeners define it. So, as a refresher course, my next two or three posts will be about local content identification and selection and presentation integration.
First, let’s cater to our mutual short attention spans and put some filters in place. They will help you and your team to clarify what is and isn’t local in the minds of listeners and, because you’re most likely a manager, it’s okay to direct your on-air staff. It’s actually your job.
Here is what I learned all those years ago about the basics of what is “local content”:
- If it relates to a listener through home, heart, health, or wallet, it’s “Local Content.” When content touches a listener in a personal way, that’s as local as one can be. That’s why we think of Jimmy Fallon as a friend. He speaks to “everyman” issues even if he isn’t speaking about where I live. High gas prices may be a national topic, but they hurt my ability to buy better beer at the convenience store, so that’s local to me. Dr. Oz may live in Chicago (or is it Pennsylvania now?), but when a guest says that a double cheeseburger, like the one I had for lunch, clogged his arteries and led to a massive heart attack, that’s local content because it affects ME. When your midday personality talks about a little girl falling down a well in Ohio, if I have kids, and that is close to ME…and I live locally, so that is local content. Remember, local content doesn’t have to be just the obituaries and high school football scores. Local is about personal connection over geography.
- Local place names and people are the hallmarks of local content. The late Ron Chapman, Dallas’ morning radio mayor for decades, made a Hall of Fame career of local inclusion as content. To Ron and his programming protégés, saying it was a cold morning didn’t cut it. Ron saw a cold morning as an opportunity to maximize and localize his content. Ron might have said, “It was about 15 degrees when I bought gas at the Addison Exxon on Beltline by the Chili’s. I was cold, so I stopped for coffee at McDonald’s…you know the one, next to Buddy Morgan and his wife Cindy’s hair salon right there on Midway.” That’s content that makes listeners feel that you know them, or at least the people they know. Local content.
Ron never missed a chance to localize. It was never “over there in Ft. Worth.” Anywhere that listeners could hear Ron’s voice, was home to his radio stations. Local. Our community. No place for “over in.”
Voice trackers often use tricks like saying hello to the Subway in Jonesboro or playing a request for a fictional listener in the next city over. They try to fool listeners but they’re only fooling themselves. If you employ voice track personalities from out of town, you don’t need out-of-towners like that. Good remote broadcasters will ask you to participate and help them understand and get to know your market in an intimate way.
Local content is hard to achieve, and it isn’t just voice trackers who fail. Local people can be lazy, too, and become little more than the vehicle that redirects listeners to your social media posts. Local or remote, You need personalities who understand and reflect your town, its people, and their interests. When they do, local content can come from anywhere on the planet.
- Do your homework. Local content plays best in a location known as “Theater of the Mind,” and is not dependent upon the location of the microphone. Simply put, nobody cares about platforms. If the content is about my town, I listen. It can be distributed on radio, television, or any device. It can come from Atlanta, NYC, or down the street. Please! Be specific about real landmarks when you tell me that the tornado is moving toward me. You can’t fake that. Worse, make sure that you tell me about it. If you don’t have a way to insert this information, you have a problem. Again, that’s where Buddy and Cindy’s hair salon comes in. Make time to truly converse on the air with your audience about people, places, and situations they know and experience each day. It doesn’t have to be a physical two-way conversation, but it has to be an implied exchange that proves to the listener that you know your city. That’s local content.
- Pay your listener with content. Listeners invest their time, attention, and emotional identity in a good radio personality. Invest in them with your time by researching, learning, discovering, and telling stories about your community, the people whom you serve, and the challenges they face. Revel in civic successes. Cry with your audience in times of need. Live your life locally and share that common experience. Educate your voice trackers. Whoever replaces Tom Brady will learn quickly about the Bucs’ offense. He’ll get a playbook. He’ll practice over and over until it seems that he has lived in Tampa forever. Anything else lacks authenticity and local benefit. The payoff must be, at least, an even trade for the listener’s investment. Is that your station? If you’re paying your listener with valuable entertainment, market information, and the things that truly matter on a human-to-human level, that’s local content.
Stay local, my friends, Kenny
Clear Media Network is a 24/7 Format Syndication service that combines the most advanced automation and delivery technology, custom programming solutions, award-winning programmers/talent and flexible format clocks. A “RADIO STATION IN A BOX”, that lets YOU stay in complete LOCAL control of your operation.