Is Local Radio Dead?

Local FM and AM radio stations in the US have been struggling for years, and the proliferation of in-car satellite options and mobile device connections that allow your smart phone to link directly to your in-car speakers may just be what finally does the old format in. While these technologies have been around for years, a growing number of people are turning to online services such as Internet radio stations, online music retailers, Pandora, Rhapsody, Spotify, and Last.fm for their music listening needs.

Local radio depends greatly on local and national sponsors to buy advertising time on their station to survive. A 30-60 second commercial is sold through a dedicated sales team that passes the order off to production and traffic, a term used in radio to describe a rough schedule of songs and/or commercials the DJs should follow. Once the spot is produced, it is put into rotation and scheduled until the purchased number has been met. Without sales, the station simply can’t stay on the air.

Local radio stations face an incredible amount of overhead including the office, transmitter tower, ASCAP and artist union fees, staff, and promotional expenses that is significantly harder to cover than an Internet station that can stream from an old PC to a cheap bandwidth provider that serves audio streams to its listeners.

Internet-based music services offer a lot more music with a lot less commercial interruption. What you hear is based on your own preferences. You don’t have to rely on a dozen or so local radio stations to provide you the music you enjoy. Unfortunately, they’re usually playing the same 20-30 songs over and over throughout the day until a new Billboard chart comes out that features something else.

Is Local Radio Dead?Where local radio is practically indispensable is during a time of emergency. Just about every DJ you hear on the air knows that their duty is to inform and entertain. If something important goes down in your area, a local DJ switches from entertainment mode to news anchor, delivering information from the ground without the fog of nationalized news. If you need to know what’s really going on with a bad storm, earthquake, or other disaster, local radio may actually be your best source of information. If your power is out, you may not have access to television.

Data plans are becoming more limited, and Internet radio can take up quite a bit of your monthly allotment over time. Unless you have a good amount of listening material on your phone’s drive, you may find local radio to be a better alternative to sitting in silence during your commute. Morning shows are designed to be entertaining and help listeners start their day with a laugh. The comedy presented during these shows not being everyone’s cup of tea, there are still plenty of folks out there who appreciate local morning shows.

In the UK and other parts of the world, radio is doing quite well. According to the latest Rajar figures, listenership in the UK has increased 2% over the past year. This is an incredible sign that broadcasting isn’t as dead as it appears to be here in the US.

So, is local radio dead? Comments welcome.

Article Written by

Ryan Matthew Pierson has worked as a broadcaster, writer, and producer for media outlets ranging from local radio stations to internationally syndicated programs. His experience includes every aspect of media production. He has over a decade of experience in terrestrial radio, Internet multimedia, and commercial video production.

  • http://twitter.com/Wetzyl Larry Opena

    Local Radio is still alive but Internet radio is as well. There are still lots of people who prefer to listen to local radio due to data restrictions. Online radio listening chew up data especially if person is on a limited data plan with their ISP. I think it is the geeks in us that prefer online radio…listen on the run using your smartphone….

  • D Lowrey

    Having worked in local radio in different parts of the country for about 20 years…I have another take on this. As you pointed out…you hear the same garbage over and over with commercials which sound like something a three year old produced for 20 years because Jim Joe Bob thinks that’s what his customers want to hear. If that wasn’t bad enough…I have had too many talented friends who have lost their jobs in the past several years because of automation and ownership changes.

    Myself…having seen how American broadcasting is more and more consolidating and sounding exactly the same…I only listen to local radio in my car as long as I have to. The rest of the time…I stream radio out of the UK and other English speaking countries. For my news…I trust Al Jazeera…RT and several non-US sources. The reason…I don’t trust US sources for my news with its corporate control and want to hear professional announcers I will not be able to hear on the local stations.

  • Jim Witherspoon

    I suppose over time mobile bandwidth will be cheaper, and data limits will ease, so that it won’t be a restraint on listening to internet radio anymore.  And technology will make it easier to do so.  So  I can see where local broadcast radio will be in greater trouble.  I was hoping that HD Radio would give us a much broader selection of local broadcast channels, and I have two HD radio receivers.  But it seems doomed right now.  It is hard to find an HD radio receiver any more.  Ibiquity, which licenses the technology to receiver manufacturers, has apparently priced it way too high, making the receivers too expensive compared to other available technologies.  

  • Jgorycki

    Local Radio is still good to have when you’re in your car, but it is still dated.  This has happened to me a few times where I am in the middle of traffic jam caused by an accident, only to find out about it on the radio either when I am in the middle of the traffic jam or after the jam. 
    Also, there are issues with listening to AM when the sun goes down, as the stations are required by FCC to power down their power, making it impossible to hear.  However, late at night, early in the morning I pick up radio stations that I can not hear in the daytime — I am in the S. Florida area and pickup radio stations on my car radio from as far North as Cincinnati.
    The FM stations get interfered with the wireless ipods and the buses and their telemetry — they have wifi.

  • http://lorigreenberg.com/blog Lori G

    Local radio as it is today is dead because mass programming and generic formats are dead.  Lifeless and uncreative. I stream WXRT from yahoo radio.  IT is local radio that is creative, mixes old with new, gives live performances and quirky spots in-between.  It works.  If they can do it (by engaging their noggins to be creative in their content) so can others.  Perhaps it just isn’t cost effective.  The commercials are one thing but worth if it the content is this good.

  • http://www.buzzbishop.com Buzz Bishop

    Mr Pirillo: You are not the norm.  You may be the norm, one day, but now? You’re not.  

    And your editorial is making you come off as a know-it-all asshole. Which perhaps you are.  

    Enjoy the basement.  And when you come off your high horse, let’s have a chat.

    • http://robertglenfogarty.com/ Robert Glen Fogarty

      That’s silly. You can’t keep a horse in a basement!

    • http://robertglenfogarty.com/ Robert Glen Fogarty

      That’s silly. You can’t keep a horse in a basement!

  • http://about.me/markedwards MarkEdwards

    You bring up some solid points, but have only scratched the surface.  I’ve written a post far too long to put in your comments with some more thoughts on this subject.  http://markontheweb.blogspot.com/2011/11/is-local-radio-dead-in-some-ways-it-is.html

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_4NVFI4D5VPXYQM355XGLFXG4RQ Matt Jones

    People have too many specialized intrests in music to listen to a music station show many diffrent genres and singers

  • http://twitter.com/DomOnAir Dominique

    You are about 5 years early before we see a dent in commercial radio thanks to digital broadcasters.