The Local Myth – Take 2

Mike Lee’s article, “The Local Myth” in the June 2014 issue of RAP sparked a spirited email exchange between Mike and one of our readers, Andrew Laird, the General Sales Manager at 1075 Kiss FM in Vernon, BC. Both gentlemen agreed to let us publish their emails. Here is Andrew’s response to the article, followed by Mike’s reply:

From: Andrew Laird <andrew.laird@1075kiss.com>;
To: mike@highdefintionmusic.com
Subject: About your “Local Myth” article...

Hi Mike,

Thanks to our creative director’s perusing of the monthly magazine, I found myself reading your RAP article in the June 2014 issue. Though I can appreciate that whatever may be happening in your home market is apparently disenchanting for you, hundreds of millions of North Americans elsewhere still find radio to be inventive, engaging, entertaining, informative, immediate and continually relevant — not to mention a major communication tool that is typically accessible to levels of society that may otherwise have no broadcast voice. From the top 40 station with a million listeners, to ethnic stations that draw five digits, hundreds of markets across both our countries support thousands of successful radio stations that just in 2013 experienced a revenue increase.

From my small three station market in Vernon, British Columbia… to our nearest urban market of Vancouver, “local” is a theme that is woven throughout the broadcast day. My station offers live broadcasting by announcers in studio, 7 days a week taking phone calls, reading news, promoting local fundraisers and events, taking contest players with generous prizing happily supplied by advertisers up and down Main Street. Looking at our Vancouver operations, and listening to the way the dozens of stations there engage with the urban core and its 15 surrounding cities, I’m equally excited to share that what is going on is opposite of what you claim. Over and over, there are hundreds of local advertisers, even single location businesses, using the unique relationship-building power of radio’s 92% reach of the population – on every level possible of the broadcast discussion.

On one other note you mention in regards to promoting local music, my radio station leads the way in this community promoting the literally hundreds of live events that happen each year. And my parent company runs Western Canada’s most publicized and popular music talent development contest three years running, Peak Performance Project, with hundreds of thousands of dollars in prizing, launching recording and performance careers for dozens of artists, and bands.

In the face of a dynamically evolving world of communication, which the entire planet is experiencing, and the literal millions of choices a content consumer can choose from, terrestrial radio in the electronic media has not only survived, but continued to be a vibrant industry filled with dedicated colleagues in pursuit of sharing the passion for communication in their home city and neighborhoods, using the affordable and flexible medium of radio.

I admit your article gives cause for pausing and thinking of my actions during 25 years in broadcast radio, and I fully realize RAP magazine has a finite group of dedicated readers and enthusiastic creative specialists, seeking insight and constructive suggestions how to generate ideas to keep “local” listeners seeking the medium. However, I find your article insulting to the industry, which I would suspect is partly responsible for keeping you employed, and might suggest you spend time encouraging originality throughout your business connections, instead of taking the easy axe to the grinding stone yet again – and claiming that terrestrial radio is broadcasting from the deck of the Titanic. This medium may not be driving the rocket ship into the future, but it is, and always will be, providing the soundtrack of the journey.

Regards,

Andrew Laird
GSM, 1075 KISS FM
Vernon, BC

From: Mike Lee <mike@highdefinitionmusic.com>;
To: andrew.laird@1075kiss.com
Subject: The Local Myth

Hi Andrew --

First, I want to thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful, well-reasoned response to my article. I recognize and share your passion for radio in its purest form -- at the local level. And if there is an omission in “The Local Myth,” it is that I did not acknowledge and praise the many decades when radio was the local white knight, and audiences depended on radio for its local involvement. I lived through those times and worked at more than 30 stations which supported that paradigm to one degree or another.

I should not be surprised that your stations, based on your country and market size, are exceptions to a new world radio order. Having written a column on Canadian radio many years ago, I came to appreciate that it was and would always be marching to a different drummer than most of the United States. And that is a good thing. Just as there are many social and political philosophies in your nation that we would do well to adopt here and won’t during our lifetimes.

Where our outlooks diverge is when it comes to what modern audiences expect from their radio stations. Certainly there are some who seek exactly what you provide when it comes to local content, contests, community involvement. Research shows that those audiences are dwindling and aging. Edison Research today announced results of a new study that found radio commands 52% of average daily listening to audio sources. And this is heralded as a very good thing. But the reality is that the number is down probably 40% from what it used to be. There is an abundance of empirical evidence to support that fact that radio listening has declined significantly among most major demographics, especially young audiences. You are a smart fellow, and I’m sure you are aware of it.

While I share your high regard for the incredibly creative people who read and support Radio and Production around the world, I take a different approach to their intellect. Rather than “insulting” an industry that keeps me employed, I have spent a career trying to encourage radio to evolve, to innovate, to break free of formats and clocks and contests and philosophies that are often 40 years or more out of date. The “axe to the grinding stone,” as you refer to it, is simply reality. I had nothing to do with it. And RAP readers are surely aware of that. Rather than be nostalgic about a time when radio was king and investing one’s energy in defending what it was and extolling how many people listen in a given week (almost entirely in their cars where their options are severely limited), let’s look for bold new ways to make radio relevant and exciting.

Otherwise, in ten years radio will mainly be local to senior centers. 

In harmony,

Mike

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