John Collins: In Praise of 'Localness' on Radio

First up – disclosure. I present a show every Sunday for Central FM. I receive a tiny fee for it but don't care because I do it because I love it.

Anyway …

Last night (Tuesday, May 9), at the Sony Radio Awards in London, Central FM won a Sony Gold for 'Station of the year, under 300,00 potential listeners'. This really means 'Local Station of the Year'. I think their victory strikes a blow for something that's been missing from the industry for years: localness.

I learned a very hard lesson while managing director at Clan FM in Lanarkshire, between 2002 and 2005. If a smaller station's offering is built around mentioning towns and targetting music with brief links, it leaves itself open to stations with deeper pockets taking them on. In our case, Scot FM turned into Real Radio with almost identical music and imaging and 100 times our marketing budget. Our audience fell by 30 per cent overnight.

I went with my gut feeling that localness was the only battle we could win.

We moved from a 'Best mix of the …' music brand to 'Love Lanarkshire'.

The joke became that the station would broadcast from the opening of an envelope in Lanarkshire. The audience quickly climbed to 33,000 a week – higher than it had ever been.

Central FM proclaims itself to be 'All About the Forth Valley'. The music is pretty much what you'd expect from a station its size and in that market. But the lesson was learned a couple of years ago that your USP is your locality. 

So the presenters are briefed to keep it local and relevant and not just bang on about the same content as the other stations. The news is local all day long. And the team is really, really good.

That's why they won. A strong local team. Most of them live and breathe the Forth Valley. Add to that the high production values, music and imaging that you would expect if you knew the people that are involved and it's no real surprise.

John Collins lectures in radio broadcasting at Reid Kerr College in Paisley, following a 25-year career on both sides of the microphone in both BBC and commercial radio in Scotland. He still pops up on the radio at Central FM on a Sunday morning. 

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