I was listening to a station that prides itself in being “live and local” yesterday. I was lucky enough to hear the last hour of one show and the first hour of the next.
It sounded neither live nor local.
A generic morning drive with a presenter talking a lot, reprising a first-hour general knowledge question and talking about football and showbiz.
Then an hour of hits and headlines from a particular year, with listeners invited to call in with their guesses in return for a mention on-air.
It was all very competent and slick. The imaging was on the money and the morning guy kept reminding the listener that he was indeed live and local.
But he didn’t need to be.
I didn’t hear anything about the area he was based in outside the news and weather. No local place names, arcane local information that the community would want to know. Just generic, slick radio.
I presided over the worst and later best audience figures at little Clan FM in North Lanarkshire almost two decades ago. When I got there the programming had lost all focus and I quickly turned it into a generic 25-44 while we worked out what to do with it.
The audience continued to slide.
Then Real Radio Scotland launched with the same imaging voice, music and an enormous war chest. It wasn’t local, but it totally blew us away.
Then we went counter-intuitive. I borrowed an idea from the US and dropped the music position, favouring a “Love Lanarkshire, Love Clan FM” strapline. The music was the same but the imaging all moved on. We had an ID for every town and hamlet – “Love Strathaven, Love Clan FM” and so on.
Presenters were encouraged to appear at every event in our patch and while they were there capture audio from local people telling us why they loved where they stayed.
We effectively gave away OBs, just covering our costs while gaining exposure.
In six months we clawed back all the losses inflicted on us by our larger competitor and became an attractive target for a takeover – but that’s another story.
The point is that live and local has to be something you believe in, not just something you say. It means thinking about your patch. Understanding it. Reflecting it. Going big when a local business closes. Being at the 100th Birthday party.
Listening to yesterday’s output several hundred miles away I learned nothing of the area and the reasons to love it. All I heard was a couple of presenters claiming a uniqueness they weren’t delivering.
Live and local can work if you’re prepared to work at it. Jolly and generic is doomed.
Work out what matters to your listeners and work hard at delivering it. You’ll be delighted with the results.