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Sunday, December 2, 2007

Local, Local, Local

I've been at my new job at ABC radio for about a month now and it's great; I'm really enjoying the fact that as Vice President of ABC Radio Networks' Affiliate Relations department, I can interact with so many radio stations across our grand land.

The lessons I learned through my years of working at Bridge Ratings I brought with me and after a few weeks communicating with a much more diverse group of stations than I ever have before, here's what I've learned:

1. Regardless of market size everyone has the same problems and opportunities.

It wasn't always this way, you know. Before consolidation took our industry by storm, major markets and stations in the top 50 had far different considerations in operating their businesses than did operators in markets 51 and below. Pre-'96, top 50 market stations had operating budgets that included marketing, promotion and research. They also had personnel resources that allowed them to be extremely competitive and allowed them to keep their eyes on the various balls they had to juggle. Major market operators only recently have had to deal with managers overseeing multiple stations. Top 50 stations in those days actually had time to plan and strategize for the future and act upon those strategies. They also have years more experience operating multiple properties than do their big market cousins.

Medium and small market operators have always had to work harder at making their businesses work. They did so with good old fashioned sweat and creativity along with building relationships. They still do it this way today.

2. Medium and small market operators are more aware of the importance of reflecting the local audience.

While this has been a staple of broadcast operations for-ever, somewhere along the line major market radio pushed it to the back burner. Now, I'm generalizing here because there are some major market operators who have not only remembered this important element of serving the public interest, they use their major market resources to make a difference in their towns and cities.

Local radio has always been compelling. The genericizing of American radio which has been pushed along by companies with such huge footprints as Clear Channel have literally taken the spine out of these stations which no longer sound like their communities. These stations provide impetus for all listeners - not just Gen-X, Y and Z - to seek alternative entertainment by virtue of the obvious lack of interest in their local communities.

3. Major market management drink their own kool-aid.

These people are so impressed with their climb to the top many have forgotten their roots. I was visiting a small market operator a couple of weeks back and I was taken by his continued passion and optimism for our business.

On the other hand, not a phone call I have with major market managers doesn't include a doomsday outlook. Small market operators don't fear Internet and satellite radio like their big market brethren. Perhaps there is some legitimacy to this perspective since there seems to be wider consumer acceptance of these technologies in the larger markets, yet I have spoken with some major market management who understand that it is NOT Internet radio and it is NOT satellite radio that has caused terrestrial radio's ills.

My view of the radio landscape is undergoing some adjustment simply because I am now exposed to a broader perspective and I love that. In fact, this broader perspective has allowed me to share some of the small and medium market wisdom with the big boys who seem to react positively to a fresh perspective.

I look forward to being exposed to the inclinations of all of the broadcasters I come in contact with these days and sharing them with each other in a way that perhaps has never been done before.

After all the things I learned through the consulting work I've done through my Bridge Ratings experience, I didn't have the ability to share with the industry the insight of so many others.

The insight seems to be helping gain perspective which we can all use from time to time.

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