Pat Holiday
Pat Holiday

Pat Holiday: Live and Local is Overrated

We’re local, we are a very locally focused radio station and we know that’s why we will be successful.”  Ever hear someone say something like that? I did last month. But is it correct?

Ever try to build a bomb?  Probably…not.  But lets say you did, as sort of a science experiment. No doubt your high school teacher beat it into you that in science, a theory is only true if you can duplicate it over and over again. If you can’t then it’s not true. The concept is a cornerstone of science.

Ok, so lets blow s%$& up.  Lets say the hundred-year-old formula for making a bomb is:

  • 1-cup gunpowder
  • 1-cup baking soda
  • 1-cup equal salt and sugar
  • 1-cup sand
  • 1- Fuse

You are told this is absolutely how to make a bomb. It is an unassailable truism.

Light the fuse and boom.

But next time you’re short on materials. You’re missing the baking soda but you try it anyway out of curiosity. Boom.

Hmmm.  Ok, what if there’s only half the salt and sugar?  Boom.

What if there’s no salt and sugar?  Boom.  Ditto on no sand. Boom.

Really? Just gunpowder and a fuse? Boom.  Again and again and again. Boom, boom, boom.

What would you deduct from that?

I’d surmise that the cast in stone, hundred year old formula isn’t true. Those six ingredients are totally wrong. Only two of them actually make stuff go boom.

Back to radio and the “We’re local. If you want to win in radio you have to be local”. If this were true, a scientist would then say the opposite would have to be consistently wrong?  NOT being local would prevent you from winning.  If there’s even one discrepancy then the theory is not correct.

What makes up a great radio show? A SUCCESSFUL radio show? Like the bomb, what are the ingredients? Clearly there are a hundred different views on that but generally many of these ingredients will likely come up:

Local news, local traffic, great entertainment, local information, great music, talent that’s interesting, local contests, funny talent, great production, a good signal, lots of advertising (for the station), a good website, interacting with the audience on the phone and web during the show, being out everywhere in the community.

So what about The Howard Stern Show?

Stern on terrestrial radio was a juggernaut. He consistently went into market after market via satellite and either crushed his competitors or heavily damaged them almost immediately and yet most of the formula ‘ingredients’ were missing.  On Sirius, almost all of them are missing. Yet LOTS of people PAY to hear the show. He most certainly is and was not, local. But he’s successful.

The Howard Stern Show has no local news, no local traffic, great entertainment.

The show has no local information, no great music, and talent that is always interesting.

There’s no local contests, always funny talent, no great production, not always a great signal, no station advertising, no website, no phone or web interaction during the show, not being out in the community… unless your community is NYC.

I can remember being in Philly listening to Stern grilling Arnold Schwarzenegger and Trump over their sex lives and exploits when they were single and then tuning his competitor to hear a two minute interview about the local Zoo opening. Which one of those is more riveting? Which one would have someone sitting in their car for 10 more minutes before getting out and going into work?

This winter I was in Singapore listening to Ryan Seacrest syndicated on KISSfm there. Add in great music and pull out funny talent from the ‘ingredients’ above and voila! Station was successful. The show is successful.

How many more are there?  Well, there’s Rush, Delilah, Hannity, Tesh, and many more syndicated shows from all over. Being local can be meaningless.

When you cut the formula to its basics on a music station, three things always jump out: Great music, talent that’s interesting, and great entertainment. That last one can come from anywhere. Fantastic air talent, crazy promos, Tesh-like information, inventive and surprising music (oldie stations hit this a lot if their good- the ‘Oh Wow’ factor), novel or informing features; and sometimes serving up great entertainment can be as simple as just leading the audience instead of following it.

So why did I write this?

Over the course of 40+ years in radio I have heard so many ‘truism’s’ about what goes into a great radio station that from experience I know are total bulls&!#. Stuff regurgitated from people who heard it from someone else and believe it to be gospel yet it isn’t. I wanted to point at least this one out so you might think differently when someone tells you a radio absolute. In radio, almost nothing is an absolute.

It bums me considerably to have people take a station down a path and totally believe that they’re going to win mainly because of doing ‘X’, like being local. There’s a lot more needed beyond ‘X’ but they’re wrapped up in the ‘absolute’ and can’t see it.

Can being heavily local win? Of course it can. Especially in a small, isolated market.

Can NOT being local win at all? Of course it can. More and more it’s actually the norm in all size markets.

Can you win without a station being entertaining, interesting, and having great music (assuming it’s a music station)? I seriously doubt it.

Well, except for that government station in North Korea.  I hear they have a 100 share.



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