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All Radio Is Local

“There's one obvious loser: the guys in the middle, local radio stations. With free online music services appealing to those of us on a budget and SiriusXM taking the high-end, luxury listeners, there may not be any middle ground left … Streaming services and national programs may be the future of radio, but that will be cold comfort indeed.” –John R. Quain, “Local Radio Is Getting Tuned Out –Thanks Internet,” November 1 ,2011

Tip O’Neill famously stated, “All politics is local” – that a politician's success is based on his or her ability to understand the issues of their constituents. The same could be said for local radio (from the article I quoted above, Quain also states, “There's a comfort and cohesiveness you get from hearing the local jock rant about fighting the snow storm to get to work, just before you head out into the same storm”) – there’s a shared experience that listeners can only truly get through their local stations. But there are a number of forces that are making it more difficult for local broadcasters to engage with their audiences.

Technology and market forces are radically altering the landscape for traditional broadcast radio—but particularly at the local level. Already challenged by satellite radio, podcasts and online services like Slacker and Pandora, local outlets have been further affected by recent, widely-reported announcements from corporate owners—eliminating local programming, programmers and on-air talent.

While nationally-syndicated programming is nothing new, local outlets are increasingly relying on it to draw listeners. Sports stations in Bellingham, Wash. and Millinocket, Maine (along with hundreds of others across the country) play the same national programming throughout the day—and while their listeners tune in for the personalities, their listeners are fanatic about only the Mariners or the Red Sox. Similarly, while their political leanings could be similar, listeners to talk the same talk radio program aired in Southern California and South Carolina are likely passionate about different issues specific to their own communities.

How can a station that relies on national programming “be local” for their listeners?

Mobile may be the answer. Stations have turned to mobile to engage with their listeners, by creating listener loyalty clubs or sharing content through mobile Web sites. What better way can stations make themselves relevant than through the device their listeners always have at arms’ length? A few ideas:

Create a local conversation and take it mobile. Create listener clubs for each program—and promote them through spots with open-ended questions and SMS “calls to action”—“What does the NBA lockout mean to fans in Duluth? Text HOOPS to XXXX to be part of the conversation.” “Can the presidents’ job program help Worcester? Text JOBS to XXXX to share your views.” Compile the best comments on your station’s Web site, mobile site or Facebook page and encourage listeners to check back in to see if their input made the list.

Use social media—Facebook, Twitter, even FourSquare—too. Keep the conversation going on your station’s social media properties; promote these properties and use them as a “hub” for the best local content. Likewise, encourage the listeners that follow your station on Facebook and Twitter to opt into mobile loyalty clubs or to check in on FourSquare when they visit your sponsors.

Take full advantage of mobile’s local capabilities. Much has been reported about “geofencing,” the ability to couple location data with mobile marketing. This presents tremendous opportunities for your sponsors thorough promotions that couple listener loyalty clubs, mobile marketing and social media. Empower them to make relevant offers to opted-in listeners when they “check-in” from their store “Members of our sportschat club who check in on FourSquare from Town Pizza will get $2 off a small pie,” or the like.

Local radio stations are the lifeblood of communities across the nation. With mobile, all radio is local.

Ivan Braiker is the president of Hipcricket+Augme Technologies, Inc and can be reached at 425.202.0833 or ivan@hipcricket.com




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