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Moving Past Call Letters And Dial Position

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If there is anything lacking in my knowledge of the radio industry, it would be the lack of attention spent listening to the national and regional Christian music networks.

In the part of the New York market I reside only Educational Media Foundation’s “K-Love” is available in any nearby market. But after two trips to the Midwest this summer including a week traveling through Michigan and from here in Nashville at the 2016 Radio Show one thing in particular caught my ear.

Some of these brands are more prepared for our digital future than any commercial radio station as they have moved beyond reliance on the frequency and call letters. It doesn’t matter what frequency Educational Media Foundation’s “K-Love” or “Air 1” are on as the branding is the same whether its Chicago, Charlotte or Chattanooga . KSBJ’s “NGen Radio” app is just as important for distribution and fund raising as its its new 100kW frequency in Houston.

I may be one of the few proponents that there should be a few national commercial brands co-existing with local brands in every market. iHeartMedia is pushing the iHeartRadio app more than local brands in marketing, but with so much content split there is no way for any program to reach national critical mass. If the company say created a national “iHeart Hits” CHR brand that reached 70% or more of the nation’s ears over the air and the rest online, there would ability to charge higher advertising rates as you’d be reaching both local and national audiences. And content would be better in many of the markets. Instead of making one jock voice-track generic liners for every market, they can spend the time making a great national show and giving audiences a shared experience no matter where you’re listening. Let that station have a web/social presence that matches other great national brands.

And this would help the locally focused competitors. If one CHR in a market was focusing on national content, the competition could focus on creating a better experience for its home market. You’d have a less stations relying on local advertising dollars for mostly national buys shrinking the financial pool locally (although these national focused stations could still have a handful of local elements like traffic/weather)

iHeart already has two similarly formatted stations in many markets. If “102.9 Now” KDMX Dallas picked up the national programming and “106.1 Kiss-FM” KHKS stayed local they’ll have both niches claimed. The company is already halfway there with the amount of syndication and Premium Choice music logs their stations utilize to create in many cases something that is trying to be local but doesn’t have the resources to do what is needed to build the brand locally.

Many national groups have musical brands that they are starting to build out. Cumulus has Nash and Nash Icon. CBS has Amp Radio. Saga has its Classic Country Outlaw. And Alpha has started building out Classic Hip-Hop G. It would be a jarring change at first to see all the local brands and remaining hosts go away, but by shifting those local hosts to other stations in a cluster and increasing local content on the stations that do not go national will retain some good-will.

Every nation outside of the United States and Canada (although Bell Media’s “Virgin Radio” could do this in Canada) has a national radio brand. Some of the BBC Radio stations are part of the fabric of the nation where there is really no commercial brand here that the same can be said about. Apple’s Beats 1 of all stations has come the closest in building something that could eventually fill this niche, but without the over-the-air delivery mechanism necessary to still reach a critical mass in 2016. Come 2020 or 2025 that may be another story, but it’s not there yet.

Whomever takes the leap first will deal with a lot of negative flack for being the first to shift from a local music content strategy to national, but so many are straddling the line of national with syndication and voice-tracking that it’s time to just give up the ghost of being live & local 24/7 on every station. Be live, be interactive, be larger than life, be relevant to the audience.

Profile photo of Lance Venta
Lance Venta is the Owner and Publisher of RadioInsight.com and a consultant for RadioBB Networks specializing in integration of radio and the internet. Lance has two decades of experience tracking the audio industry and its use of digital platforms.

6 Comments

  1. Profile photo of maytableinc


    The idea suggested here is very indicative of the radio industry in the UK, where national commerical brands like KISS, Absolute, Heart, etc… And there are local stations like the community stations that have been growing in the recent years due to Ofcom regulations. But there are also local commercial stations like Gem 106 in East Midlands and Cool FM in Belfast, where most of the programming are local, despite being owned by Bauer Radio, the same owners of national stations like KISS and Magic. But one thing that differs greatly from the UK and North America is their use and reliance towards digital radio, which is a lot more developed than the HD Radio here. Digital radio helps widen the spectrum of more national brands across the country, at least in the UK.

  2. Profile photo of Jack Bayes


    The advantage that EMF has that allows them to be totally network for K-Love and Air1 is that they don’t have to worry about ratings. Outside of the majors, national buys aren’t a huge money-maker.

    In theory, if the networks still do local imaging, it could work. If not, there is one huge problem in non-PPM markets. Dial position remains far and away the #1 way people identify stations in diaries and phone surveys. If there’s anything we’ve learned over the years is that it’s difficult, time consuming and costly to change listener behavior. Without a way to consistently drill frequency mentions, the network environment isn’t viable yet.

  3. Profile photo of therwnb


    I still believe that live, local and unique 24/7 is the best bet in the long run, radio still remains strong but has weaker numbers with younger people and many are dissatisfied with cookie cutter radio. The bigger companies have cut too deep and people have stopped listening.

    If all that radio stations are today is a voice tracked jute box why should anyone listen to 109.4 or whatever when Pandora and YouTube exist. You need personality and content to drive radio be it national or local. If I could be radio king for a day, I’d set up more regional networks that share programming.

    Example: A six station network could each program one four hour show to share on the network, likely this will never happen but it’s what I’d like to see more of!

  4. Profile photo of borderblaster


    I’ve said this for years. K-Love listeners couldn’t care less where the announcer is located. They listen to it at home and when they travel. Instead of national masquerading as local, I don’t see the downside of a national format that could be made huge. ABC just about did that with Superradio in the 80s. In fact, I listened to CKLW from a small town about 150 miles away from the Windsor-Detroit area. Happenings, TV personalities, etc in Detroit meant absolutely nothing to me. Had it been a feed of KHJ I still would have listened. (most of the “I want local” complaints are from radio people, not listeners

  5. Profile photo of musiconradio.com


    As several posted, KLOVE is a different business model. Ratings don’t matter, and is a very specific format. Also operating costs are minimal with main studio waivers, and translators. They have done a excellent job in building a audience in a format that underserved. Local content still rules in smaller and medium markets. Economics in most cases won’t allow a 24/7 live and local presentation, but a live daypart or two makes a difference on the impact a station has in a community.

  6. Profile photo of Brett Morris


    Canada does in fact have one National network and one Semi National network. CBC Radio One does share national programming but during morning and afternoon drive times, it is switched to local news. The noon hour is also local or provincial news.

    The only true national network in Canada is CBC Radio 2. They share the same national programming 24/7 with shows coming from different CBC radio studios across Canada. They share national news but break away for 30 seconds to a minute for local and regional weather updates.

    While Canada may not have a commercial national network there is a national public network.

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