"New Media", Translators, and Underwriting Success
by Chuck Conrad, KZQX-LP, Chalk Hill TX (three articles
This is something that will touch all of us (if it hasn't already). Traditional radio (and TV) have a pretty big problem. Their audience is finding other things to watch or listen to. It has been happening for some time, and is likely to continue on an exponential curve.
At church last Sunday, I got involved in a conversation with a lady who is a high school teacher in town. She reported that very few of her students listen to radio any
more - or so they tell her. It's all iPods and computer file swapping. She doesn't think they buy many CD's either, but most of them certainly do download what they want to hear from the Internet, either legally or illegally.
The success of Apple's iTunes is just an example of the future. Even
WalMart sells music on line. It's not just kids who are doing this. I find myself buying music on line, rather than paying $15.99 for a CD that only has a couple of good songs. The companies that are providing these services are not doing it for their health, or to be early adopters. They are doing it because it is good business.
Traditional broadcasting has to offer the listener some kind of unique experience, or it will eventually lose a great deal of market share to these emerging technologies. They think HD radio (IBOC) is the magic bullet to fix everything, but in my opinion it is just a ploy to weed out the small broadcasters from the mega-giants. The problem is content, not technology.
The funny thing is, we as LPFM broadcasters are becoming part of their problem. Some low power stations are indeed attracting reasonable audiences, which means that those listeners are not tuned into normal commercial stations. Better yet, in their greed, NAB (and others) have actually helped these small stations get listeners by making sure that we had to exclude traditional commercials. Did they not notice that most of their listeners hate commercials, especially when they are clustered in a ten minute stop set? After the second or third spot, most people start pushing the buttons on their radios.
Seldom does a day go by when someone doesn't tell me that they enjoy listening to our station. They always attribute it to our programming (which is unique in the area) but inevitably they tell me that the number one reason they listen to us is
no commercials! Imagine that. I point out to them that we do run periodic underwriting announcements, and they always reply, "Oh, those are no problem. I actually like them because they are local, and they only last a few seconds."
Score one for LPFM. And in their greed, NAB made us do it that way.
Translators and Hurricane Rita
The ability to rebroadcast LPFM stations on translators is essential to the long term survival of the whole LPFM idea.
Having just witnessed what our little station could do during Hurricane Rita (it went right over us), I'm even more convinced that having translators is a good idea.
We are normally carried by two translators, so we were able to cover a large number of people who needed and wanted information. It seems we were one of only three radio stations in our Arbitron market that were giving out information about shelters, cancellations, power outages, etc. At least, that's what several listeners have told us.
We were able to stay on the air, running on generators, when other stations went dark. Even the big "news leader" TV station went off the air for a good
eight hours during the worst of the storm. To their credit, when they were on the air, they did an excellent job.
Oddly, once the storm had blown over, and we were able to survey the damage, the other local TV stations resumed broadcasting golf games, etc. To be fair, we continued our music format, but broke in with updates as we got them.
In Longview, a city of about 80,000 where we have a presence with a translator, we were one of two stations that gave out local information. All the other stations were just playing their satellite feeds. After all, the storm hit on a weekend, and the sales staff (that's pretty much all there is) don't come to work on weekends.
I have a big problem with people setting up national networks of translators, but using them to fill in populated areas that are truly local to the originating station, is a very worthwhile idea. Not all communities fit neatly into a 7 mile diameter circle.
"Green" At Local Garden Club
I was recently asked to provide a program for the local Garden Club. It was suggested that maybe we could play a game with the audience that resembled the old "Name That Tune." TV show.
That seemed like a good idea to me, so I loaded about 50 or 60 well known songs into my laptop computer and hauled it and a small PA system to the meeting. It was a reasonable size crowd, with 60 or so people in attendance. Demographically speaking, they looked like the people I think listen to our station, but Then, you never know. It turned out that most were regular listeners and I'll bet that the few that didn't have tuned us in since then.
Since they were seated at individual tables where they had just eaten dinner, I divided the audience up into teams by table. My wife was appointed the "referee" and I proceeded to play snippets out of the song list. These were all songs we play on the air, so logistically this was pretty easy to get together. I used a version of our automation program to play back parts of the songs, but Winamp or Windows Media Player would work fine too. This does not have to be complicated.
We all spent the next 45 minutes or so playing songs, making wise cracks about audience members, and reminiscing about the music. Joking with the audience was a big part of making this work, but it was easy to do, since they really got into the competition. The teams were either really good or totally hopeless, but everyone had a lot of fun. Really! Even me. It was a real hoot. The winning team members all got station T shirts for their musical knowledge.
The really amazing thing is people were talking about this for days. It got almost as much buzz as Hurricane Rita. I didn't think too much about it at first, but I quickly received several "thank you" emails and even a phone call or two about it. Eventually a couple of thank you cards came by mail. The next thing I knew, the mailman delivered several checks from people contributing to the station. There have been five checks so far. They aren't huge, but it is nice to have such a positive response. I thought I'd pass the idea. It might work in your community too.