How Local Revenue Can Save Radio

A few weeks ago I read about how Bell Media was selling 45 of their radio stations in the UK amid another round of layoffs. In an interview with The Canadian Press Bell chief legal and regulatory officer Robert Malcomson explained the sale by saying that radio is “not a viable business anymore.” As someone who makes a living working with radio stations that was certainly a frightening statement to read. We can brush it aside by saying to ourselves that it’s just the opinion of one executive in the middle of managing a crisis. But, we all know that it’s an opinion shared by many outside of our industry and even a few others within radio. I’ve been accused of being an optimist before, but I firmly believe that radio is still a viable business because of the local revenue that’s available for stations that are strategically built to get their share of it.

Here’s the main reason why.

Many of the larger groups made the determination years ago that terrestrial radio was dying so they slashed their costs as much as possible at the local level, letting leases expire, laying off most or all of the local staff and supplementing that with syndicated shows and a handful of network talent leveraged across all their markets. Even if you didn’t personally sit in closed door meetings with them it was pretty clear what their plan was. They were essentially just using their terrestrial stations to point to their digital assets and build those up while bundling all of their network inventory to chase national revenue instead of local revenue. While the first part of that plan worked to an extent, helping to create some strong digital brands, the second part back-fired as national revenue began to dry up.

Fortunately, this has created an opening for broadcasters willing to invest at the local level. Putting someone in place capable of managing a locally driven radio station (even if that person has to be regional to make the numbers work). Installing reliable equipment that’s remotely controllable and monitorable. Hiring as much local on-air talent as their budget will allow, while of course being strategic with it, there’s still only room for talent that actually add value. Supplementing that with part-timers, out of market voicetrackers that are willing to participate in digital content and syndicated shows that are live and interactive. Then creating content, contests and promotions that generate buzz and force all of the programming staff to interact with the local audience constantly on the air, online and on-site. Finally, supporting all of that local programming and promotions with a couple of sales people who are willing to meet face-to-face with local business owners and establish the relationships necessary to put them into custom advertising campaigns tailor made to help achieve their goals. Plus, look for ways to tap into some regional ad dollars, that also still exist, by tying in other stations within the company, outside of the company or through outside partnerships.

Stations that do all of that will find that radio is not only a viable business in 2024 but will continue to be for years to come. It’s by no means an easy task, but luckily there are a lot more tools and resources available to radio stations than there were just a few years ago. Investing wisely in those tools and resources makes it possible for groups to breathe life into their stations at the local level while staying within a budget and slowly rebuilding their operations. Shameless plug, all of this is of course a lot easier with the right consultant by your side.

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