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.