What Does It Mean for Radio to Be Local?

Edison Research Vice President Megan Lazovick presented the following at The Radio Show  in Dallas on September 26, 2019 in conjunction with GeoBroadcast Solutions. 

GeoBroadcast Solutions approached Edison Research to conduct research about meanings and perceptions of local. Or more specifically, what is local to radio listeners? What kind of local is relevant to them?

So to attack these questions, Edison performed a large national online survey of 1051 radio listeners to ask them about what local means to them, and we also conducted in person interviews with radio listeners in New Jersey to get a deeper understanding of what is important to them when it comes to local.

There is a lot of good news for local radio in our survey.  People already see radio as an essential source for ‘local’ information and content.  However, there are clearly opportunities to improve.  And if radio is going to survive over the long haul – it has to improve.

We asked our respondents how far they typically travel to various things in their lives.  As you can see, the overwhelming majority of commerce in these people’s lives is spent within ten miles.

More than four in five go to a grocery store and a bank within ten miles.  Well over half typically go to big box retailers like Walmart or Target within ten miles, and a Home Depot or Lowes within ten miles, and eat at restaurants or bars within ten miles.  The circle widens to up to twenty miles for a car dealership or a shopping mall or a furniture store, but almost no one travels more than 20 miles to do anything.

Think about what this means to local businesses. If you are a restaurant on one side of town, 75% of your advertising dollars is wasted reaching folks that you don’t serve.

Similarly, listeners get tired of hearing announcements and commercials relating to goods and services that are on the other side of town.

We then asked about all the kinds of media they might turn to for various sources of information. And we see that radio already does great for these things.

So a strong percentage of all Americans are already using radio for these local purposes. And radio works great at communicating local at the market level.

Let’s watch a video of our study participants from the western New York suburbs, in New Jersey, talking about Radio’s role in local.

While these people clearly listen to radio, and use radio, they are also well aware that New York radio is broadcasting to the entire New York market. And that includes tons of information that is not at all relevant to people in the New Jersey suburbs. Of course New York stations absolutely should provide market-wide information. But, you also hear these people saying that for them, that while they consider the information to be local, it is not always local enough.

While people associate with the metropolitan area in which they live, they actually live their lives within a much tighter circle.

Broadcast radio is a vital resource for market-level news, information, and content in most people’s lives. It does a good job. And yet broadcast radio could do better, if allowed to periodically split its signal to provide news and information that’s even more local to its listeners.

 

We asked our respondents if, as radio listeners, it was important for radio provide various kinds of information about their local communities. As you can see – overwhelmingly –radio listeners said that these items are important to have on the radio.  News about emergencies, weather, traffic, news, local sports, even information about local businesses – strong majorities say this is important to them.

Our respondents in the videos echoed this.

So we dug further into this with our respondents. We focused people on a definition of ‘local’ that means the area within 20 minutes’ drive from their homes, and we asked about how radio is performing relative to their needs. In every case, the number of people saying an aspect of information is very important exceeded the number of people who say radio is doing a very good job at delivering.

 

The single most important aspect of local information is news about weather emergencies or other local emergencies.  71% of respondents say this is a very important role for AM/FM Radio.  However, only 42% of respondents say that radio is doing a ‘very good’ job of providing that information to the local area as we defined it.

 

Let’s look at more key items: Two-thirds of all radio listeners feel “weather information relevant to your local area” is ‘very important’, but only 40% feel radio currently does a ‘very good job’ of providing that information.

We see the same thing with traffic information, with 56% of respondents say this is a very important role for AM/FM Radio.  However, only 38% of respondents say that radio is doing a ‘very good’ job of providing traffic information to the local area.  We see similar gaps for news and local event coverage.There is a large gap between the percent of people who say this information is very important to them and the percent of people who say radio is doing very good job of providing it.

What’s frustrating  is that while radio stations have the ability to serve hyper local content, they are actually required to deliver their signal to the metro wide market, and not break up information that would be more relevant to those living in different areas within that market.

And that leads us to the idea being brought to market by GeoBroadcast Solutions- which provides the technology to deliver different content to smaller geographic zones within a metro area.

 

Currently, without this technology, listeners often hear ads that, even if the general topic might be of interest, the location of the advertiser is just too far away to matter. As an example, we played for our participants from Somerset County New Jersey, an ad for a car dealer in Staten Island.
Look at this map – Staten Island is 32 miles and one busy bridge away from Somerset County.  Listen to the reactions to this ad:

We followed up directly with asking, “What if the ads on the radio could be more targeted?”

I hope you heard what happened there – there were three key themes.  Participants immediately recognized that this would make radio more like cable or print – targeted to them.  They actually said they would listen more.  And they said it would better connect them to the community.

This is what we learned in our survey as well: 77% of respondents agree that they would pay more attention to ads on the radio if they were for businesses or products in their local area.

It’s simply human nature – your ears will perk up when you hear a message for a business in a place that is familiar or close to you.

The people in the video, and the respondents in our survey, said something that should matter more to radio managers than almost anything else they might get from research – they said they would actually listen to the radio more if the information and commercials were better targeted within 20 miles of where they lived.  In fact 72% said they would listen more.

The point is, people understand radio’s role in the media environment. They ‘get’ radio.  They see that radio is not simply a distribution vehicle for music but a vital connection to the world.

If radio were allowed to provide zoned, local, relevant content, mixed with the metro-wide content stream, there is almost no doubt it would enhance listeners’ connection with radio.  Because of that strong community connection, they would listen more.

I recently spoke about the secret to longer TSL. My biggest ask of the radio industry was to improve the advertisements. Make it so people want to sit through the commercials, and I definitely think, making commercials more relevant to your listeners is one of the ways to do so.

Click here to view the What Does it Mean for Radio to be Local? presentation.