Another Jay Trachman treasure (click to learn why I occasionally reprint these wonderful articles which Jay wrote weekly for more than three decades):
I had a fascinating discussion with a person who works for one of the satellite programming companies. He suggested that well-done satellite syndication can "sound" as local as necessary, through the use of devices like pre-cut liners, and insertions of local information.
When I replied that "liners" don't make a station sound local, his response was, "Just how local do you want it to sound?" The weather is local, the PSA's are local, the news is local -- how much more do you need? He went on to point out how, if local-ness is any standard, they must be doing it adequately, because they're beating dozens of stations in market after market.
I can't argue the point. It appears that well-executed non-local radio will beat out poorly executed local radio almost every time. But I also believe, on a level playing field, comparing top-notch satellite radio with top-notch local radio, the local will win -- provided they sound local.
Local does not mean simply repeating, six times an hour, "Jayville's home-town radio!"
It does mean that most of what the jocks talk about should be derived from what's going on in their lives in the community today. It means that most personality raps should be written by the personality him/herself.
It means the personality should live in the community, should involve himself in local activities as much as he can, should read the local section of the paper every day, should participate in the life of the area.
It means the station should try to have air-staff show up at events (paying for their time when appropriate), and that the programming department must have a way of systematically informing the jocks of what events are coming up and what artists are performing locally.
One of the simplest things you can do is to stick your head out the window at least once an hour. Does it look like rain? Is it clearing up? Are there still a few leaves left on the trees? Californians: does it look like "earthquake weather?" Midwesterners: tornado weather? Does today remind you of some Christmas past? These go beyond the forecasts, and make you shine as a person involved in the town.
When reading the paper, don't just skim the front pages; read the births, marriage announcements, "community calendar" features and even the ads. Is someone holding an event, but didn't bother to inform your Public Service Department? Don't ignore them -- talk about it in an informal way. "I see the Rotary Club is getting ready to pick out next year's crop of exchange students... I have a friend whose daughter is in France this year, through the Airport Rotary Club, and from her letters, it's like she's been 'adopted' in a foreign country. I wish I'd gotten mine involved in something like that..."
Remember, the purpose of local content is not to "inform," but to Share. To get the listener to respond by saying, "Hey, me too." Your observations while driving, while shopping, while raising kids in the local schools -- these are all things nobody based outside the town can have. Share your responses, and over a period of time, you'll give your listener a sense that you're keyed in to what's going on in his or her life.
The station benefits when the entire staff is actively supporting this. I remember doing a very successful bit after a salesman came in during my show one morning and said, "You should see the jam-up on Shaw Avenue! They're re-painting the traffic lines in the street, and it's backed up all the way from Fashion Fair to the college..." That's not just a traffic report, that's a universal and a commentary on life in my town. "They always pick the worst possible times to re-paint the lines, right?" And with that, the phones began lighting up, with half a dozen calls from listeners with similar experiences, or suggestions.
No satellite could have done it.
What they can do is talk slickly and interestingly about the music, the artists, the season, their own lives and responses.
But the main area where they're unable to compete is "today, right here."
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