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.
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.