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.

Vested interest

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.