The Broadcasters' Desktop Resource

Can Radio Survive in Small Towns?

From my general radio industry experience plus my advertising business, I am aware of small- to medium-market AM stations still succeeding in what they do, and again, it’s [drum roll, please] the Live-n-Local factor. There are many towns in rural and suburban America that would welcome and could benefit from a really local radio station to promote local merchants (to the extent they exist); high school sports remotes; remotes for business ‘grand re-openings;’ local news and views, including town council and school board meetings; live church services, Talk To The Mayor, and, yes, Swap Meet of the Air. You might convince that 18-year old to put down his iThingie if his high school basket ball team were on-air at night and his girlfriend was playing. One of the things that killed AM radio was wall-to-wall spots — way, way too many and too few records, news and sports. Greed helped poison the Golden Goose that was AM radio.

My little town in the Southern Missouri Ozarks is a vacation and retirement destination, dominated by boaters in the summer on Table Rock Lake, and year-round seniors. We have nine churches of all denominations. But we have no OTA voice in this town. If I could find a frequency, I’d build a little AM station operating 24/7 featuring mainly local programming of general interest. This COL of 2,500 souls in a small radius could be nicely covered by 1KW day, 250 night – enough RF to overcome the cellphone charger and other spectral pollution. I’d use the satellite dish only for network news at TOH, otherwise live personalities. There are a lot of adults who would love to bloviate all day, plus college kids to staff the mic. This idea could be replicated around the USA. What’s stopping me? The absurd silly nonsense of the ‘filing window’ being nailed shut until the FCC decides to open it.

Granted, advances in OTA technology and other information and entertainment conveyances have eclipsed the miracle that was radio a century ago. And gone are the Mexican and Cincinnati Border Blasters of the past. But while the big city blow torches struggle to stay alive with syndicated programming, the small towns of America have been left behind. Is there critical mass of advertising revenue to support a small town radio station? Maybe, and maybe not, depending on the local retail situation. But with modern studio and transmitter equipment (low electric bill) and an efficient, inexpensive antenna system (my preference is a cellular pole with a skirt and elevated 4-wire ground system) one could get an AM station up and on-air for an amount of $$ comparable to starting any other local enterprise, e.g., auto repair shop, rental store, grocery store, etc.

The essence of my thesis is think small, live-n-local. Be one with the people of the town, not some VT from the John Hancock building in Chicago. As with any retail business, to succeed you need to establish a bond with your local customer base and keep that bond evergreen by serving value to your customers, in this case, listeners. Not an armchair quarterback, but a realist with business experience and a friend in my town. But don’t plan to make $millions every year by using outside program content and zero live talent. That is a failed business plan, although it gets re-fertilized every day in radio around the country. But the fruits are stillborn. One man’s opinion…

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James Potter