The future of local radio

It is six o’clock in the morning, the sun has just filled the eastern sky and KWAY radio is ready to go live. Ael Suhr has opened the doors to the station as “The Breakfast Club with Matt and Carolyn” kicks off the day.

Suhr has owned KWAY for 34 years. There are three stations: 99.3 and 96.3 on the FM dial and 1470 on the AM dial.

Suhr does not like to hear what he calls “the outside noise.” He said “the outside noise” is the talk of the future of local radio and how local radio will soon die out.

“I think local radio has a bright future, it all depends on how you operate in the industry,” Suhr said.

Dennis Wharton, senior vice president of communications at the national association of broadcasters (NAB), said there is the assumption by the public that local radio will not exist in years to come. He said there is no reason to question the future of local radio.

“People have been writing an obituary for local radio for 50 years, just like they have with newspapers, local radio listenership is as high as it has ever been,” Wharton said.

Suhr said his stations run because of local programming, ranging from local news and weather to area sports.

“There is an appetite for high school sporting events to be on local radio,” Wharton said. “Grandma and grandpa can’t always make it to the games and that is where local radio comes into play.”

Suhr said local radio is a free source of news information, sports and entertainment.

“You need a subscription to get a newspaper, the same goes for cable TV. There’s no subscription for local radio,” Suhr said. “That’s an advantage radio has to get listeners.”

Suhr believes social media is a must to reach more people in local radio. He said that is a good way to get local audiences involved with song requests and contests.

According Radio Facts, social media reach continues to grow with mediums like local radio creating Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Radio Facts also shows local radio does not spend a lot of time on advertising compared to its competition. It shows today’s newspapers average 2/3 ad copy to 1/3 editorial copy. TV spends about 1/3 of its time on advertising. Local radio today devotes 10 minutes per hour to advertising, which is less than 1/5 of its time to ads.

Suhr said advertising with radio is also an area that has been questioned by its effectiveness and reach.

“Advertising with radio can reach a lot of people that is cost-effective and can be done in a timely matter,” Bette Rockmore, advertising sales of Sirius XM, said.

Rockmore said though radio cannot show a product on screen like television can, ads on radio can get completed faster than their counterparts and still convey a strong message.

Suhr said advertising works on local radio for three reasons: consistency, frequency and quality of the message.

“We, as an industry, are able to provide advertising the fastest and the most economical,” Suhr said.

A Nielsen study states over 90 percent of people have a radio whether it’s in the car or an in-home radio.

Wharton said more than 260 million people listen to the radio every week. He said with that many people, advertising on local radio is a must for small businesses.

“If you bought advertising with cable TV you have 500 channels available and you need to determine which channel you’ll advertise on,” Suhr said.

He said advertising on TV can cause a business to lose frequency and consistency with their advertising.

“Locally, radio can really help small businesses in terms of advertising,” Rockmore said. “That’s where local radio will continue to thrive.”

Another study by Nielsen shows local radio boasts a 93 percent weekly reach among Americans, which is even more than the amount of Americans watching TV or browsing the internet.

The study by Nielsen shows radio is still a huge part of everyday life for Americans, and therefore a practical medium for advertising a small business.

Suhr said he has not had offers to buy his stations. He said he does not see the benefit of selling to larger companies.

As of now Suhr said there is nothing to worry about when it comes to local radio’s future.

“There is easy access to local radio, there is no reason to question its existence in years to come,” Suhr said.

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