Years ago, in a meeting with Ross MacFadyen at the RNIB’s wonderful Insight Radio in Glasgow I heard a phrase for the first time.
“Yes we’re a community station, but what we serve is a community of interest”.
He was making the point that while the station broadcast in Glasgow on a low-power FM Community Radio license, the key was the national audience on various digital platforms who could access their programmes. The community of interest? Blind and partially sighted people.
Listening to the latest Radiostuff podcast as I walked the dogs this morning, that phrase came to mind moments before interviewee James Cridland used it. James is a wise man: he said radio is much less about here and now – it’s much more about what I want to hear, now.
There’s a disaffected school of former radio presenters that want to go back to “radio like it used to be” citing a time when Americans were already experimenting with automation as if it was some kind of Golden Age. Indeed many of the US powerhouse stations of the time (like 77WABC and WLS) were effectively automated from the jocks point of view with the tech-op running the desk and playing in the tightly playlist music.
They insist, as James says, that “live and local” should be the mantra. They’re only partly right.
If you’re a local station surrounded by regional and national mega-brands then you absolutely should be local. I’d argue that where at all possible you should be live. That’s because there’s unlikely to be a music position you can stake out and anyway, your competitors wouldn’t want to be sullied by that small stuff. Own your patch. Attend every event and always use local names, words and rivalries.
But as James and host Larry Gifford point out, that’s what relevant is all about.
Your content may be on AM, FM, Digital or a file, but it will only succeed if it’s relevant to your community of interest. To me that’s media, politics and travel – to others it’s maybe sport, food, cars or astronomy.
The new platforms actually get us back to one of the first principles of good radio.
It needs to understand its audience and be genuinely compelling. As long as programmers strive to make programmers strive to programme beyond the lowest common denominator and deliver content that’s real and relevant the medium will continue to thrive.