Somewhere around mid Tuesday the 5th of July, we hit the “halfway point” of the 29 day Rediscovering America Tour. Time is like that. It can be slippery, and relative, and kind of creeps up on you when you least expect it.
I am a very young 62 years old.
I know…I know…every person in their 60s these days says that. But, I have a measurement matrix to which I can hold myself, that makes me feel like a kid. It’s the “Radio Industry Matrix.” Compared to almost everyone in radio/broadcasting, I am a “bleeding edge,” forward thinking, tech maven, kid. But, part of that is the fact that the radio industry would like it to be 1986 again…and for the most part clings to the notion that this “interweb thing” will go away some day soon.
I won’t go into the details of the long-term battle to drag our radio clients kicking and screaming into the early 2000s, let alone this decade. But, suffice it to say, that part of this trip, I will be visiting a variety of my clients for some one-on-one face time, and some serious cajoling, restructuring, and reinvigorating.
Which brings us to the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
WESR AM/FM is typical of the small market stations for whom my company provides services. We do everything from Content Management Systems, Streaming, News Servers, Online Business Directories/Couponing, Podcasting, Merchant Sales accounts, and Marking Ad Services. My real “service”, is to try to get the clients to use even 1/4 of what we provide.
It is a Sisyphean task…on a good day.
I have loads and loads of clients with whom I have done business, for almost 15 years…and have never met face-to-face. It is easy to get frustrated with “the industry” as most of the trade publications and industry organizations focus their attention on the large, rated, publically traded mega-groups (most of which are doing their best to avoid bankruptcy). However, I made the decision years ago, to service the small market stations which represent more than 7,500 sole owners, in small “heartland” markets. These are long-time broadcasters…not “real estate agent broadcasters” who swap and sell properties like a bad version of tower monopoly.
Charlie Russell and his WESR AM/FM combo in Onley, VA, is one of those stations which defines “the best of small market radio.” In an effort to try to understand the challenges of what radio in small markets are facing, I spent a day and an evening with him and his staff (which includes wife Nancy and son Will), and later relaxing with him, Nancy, and Deb on a gorgeous water-tour of Chesapeake Bay.
The station sits next to the tower and transmitter…a very standard setup in small market stations.
The smell of magnolias permeated the humid, warm air, almost hiding the station from the street.
Self Promotion at its most basic…
The station sits just across from the other “hub” of the community, the Elks Lodge…
I will write extensively at another time about the differences between small town broadcasters, and their major market brethren, as well as the differences we continue to discover about the changing way of life in America’s small towns. But, suffice it so say…I came away torn by what I discovered.
The radio industry is in many ways, a microcosm of the rest of the nation. The “Blue States” are mostly controlled by the major metropolitan cities, with most of the rest of the rural areas being “red.” It is very much the same way for broadcasting, in that small market stations provide the kinds of information that simply can’t be found on the plethora of “Formatted, Mainstream” stations that service the large markets, but don’t have the listening numbers to attract large market media buys.
High School Sports, Chamber of Commerce reports, local “Swap Shop” programs and live broadcasts from the county fair, school board meetings, and weather, crime, and road reports in real time, are standard programming features that make these “hyper-local” media providers indispensable to the town’s listeners. Try to find THAT on iHeart.
The wide range of services they provide is amazing…but, the listeners continue to be drawn away by the “siren song” of podcasting, music streaming services like Pandora and Spotify, and the burgeoning range of video content from YouTube, Amazon and Netflix. Not forgetting the fact that most people don’t even own traditional radios anymore (which explains the demise of Radio Shack). So…getting these folks to jump into the fray and become “Multimedia” companies that super-serve their markets, is imperative.
So…yes…you can imagine my frustration with clients who want to “FAX” me their logo to put on their web site. You can imagine my frustration when I see a client hand away their listeners to FaceBook (which can’t be monetized), and I am really frustrated when they don’t help their “mainstreet clients” stay alive and vital in light of the battle against the “WallMartization” of their towns.
But, all of the frustration melts away when you meet them in person…on their home turf…and get a sense of why they live where they live and do what they do.
Our host, Charlie Russell…doing the thing that no “big city broadcaster” could do after work. Relaxing on the water…just minutes from his family owned station.
Deb and Nancy on the bow seats of the runabout fishing skiff.
It makes you WANT to help the preserve a lifestyle and life that truly makes this country a better place.
I will write more about small town -vs- big city…and the media that is shaping and framing the battle.
But for now…just take a look at the treat that is the Chesapeake Bay…a surprise trip that Charlie sprung on us, because “he thought I could use a break.” He was right.
Deb and I noticed the extreme differences between big city traffic and the drivers in the cars that make every minute a competitive battle for space. When we “commuted” on the bay…it was us, a handful of water fowl, and the water…for as far as you could see.
I have a feeling Charlie got it right.
Tomorrow…On the North Carolina and the “Biggest Home in the World.”