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SAYING NO TO SMALL MARKET WHINING
by Glen Pavlovich, Commercials By The Dozen

Every so often I run into a thread on various boards talking about "small market stations" and their various woes concerning their listening public.

     "We can't do that here we're too small"

     "We don't have the money for that we're too small"

     "Bids for Bargains-type shows are ok in smaller markets"

     "Satellite is alright for those small market stations"

In small markets like mine, there are only a few radio stations. A small number of radio stations that most everyone listens to. These radio stations have the responsibility to represent the entire community's values and do it on-the-air. Just a few people (the PD, GM and news guy/girl) give the majority of the population their image of what the rest of the community is like.

If the GM/PD/News has a sour outlook on the community and believes that the market can only sustain a $3.00 spot rate, then business owners are going to think that advertising is worth only $3.00. And that the listeners in the community are only worth $3.00.

Remember, you're selling access to your listeners. After all the work you've done to get listeners and draw them to your radio station, you're telling the client that it's only worth $3.00.

If the staff reports about lost dogs and the rummage sale over on Main Street, people are going to think small and forget that there is a developed/cultured world outside of their four-block neighborhood. Use your stations website to do this. Then spend time on-air promoting the website.

My point is....It's the responsibility of local radio to lead the community. We must be positive and proactive. If you want the general population to have a good attitude, project a positive attitude on the air. If you want the community to invest in itself, then invest in yourself.

Can your community afford a new high school? Give them the impression on-the-air that they can. Stop using the phrase "especially in this community." As in, "it's great that we can have a city bus, especially in this community".

Singling yourself out like that makes it seem like you are somehow worse off than other areas around you. Or surprised that a downtrodden community like yours can afford to have the bus system/department store/winning football team.

Talk about events going on and different things that you're doing. When there's a community fair happening, get involved in its promotion. And try to help make it something that people are going to want to come to your town to see. It will give the impression that your town has something to offer other towns. And give that impression on-the-air.

Don't ignore people in neighboring communities. Make it sound like we're all in this great big city and working together to succeed.

I've heard and worked in radio stations that only cover local news from their county. They rarely if ever talk about state budget issues, where the Governor is this week or what national issues our congressmen/congresswomen are involved in right now. Why ignore the fact that you're one part of a greater whole? Cover regional news. Help everyone join this great big community.

Do live broadcasts from events even if the broadcasts are not sponsored. This makes the event and you seem bigger. "This event is so huge it's even drawn the attention of the radio station!"

Get to know the Economic/Business Development people in your area and be "in the know" when there are big projects in the works. Then do your best to influence the public to be forward thinkers. You can influence the public. You don't have to be impartial. But you should influence them in a positive way.

Everybody/thing has positives. Find them and use them on the air. If you have beautiful beaches, host a beach party. If you have snowmobiling trails, host a snowmobile race or competition. If you've got great nightlife, do celebrity night at the bar and have your morning DJ spin discs and doing a live broadcast.

If you sound like a bigger market, people will think they are living in a community that could support such a great sounding radio station. Pay good people a little more than average for your market size, and they'll think they're lucky. Explore new equipment and update as often as possible, and your staff will think they're working for a company that invests in its operation.

Give your staff digital editing tools. It's cheaper than a lot of smaller owners think it is. You can get a Dell for $600 and Cool Edit Pro for around $200. Don't let people fool you into thinking that you need an expensive digital work station.

Give your PD the freedom to program. Set down guidelines and have weekly meetings. He'll be happier and more likely to take his work home with him and become a more involved member of management.

Let your PD use a voice-over guy. He'll quickly become a production king and eager to use it (e.g., to create promotions)

And for God's sake, keep an engineer on call! One who can get things taken care of in a hurry. There is nothing more frustrating for an employee of a radio station than knowing that something needs fixing, tweaking, adjusting or replacing and knowing there is no one to call.

Encourage your staff to take vacations and listen to other radio stations. A curious programmer will come back from vacation with a rundown of stations he listened to. He'll be loaded with new ideas, programming theory, production ideas and a renewed interest in his job.

Keep employee moral high. Trade stuff for your employees. It doesn't cost you a lot, and the employees will think of them as perks. Take the restaurant/bar account that owes you the most money and have an occasional after-work party just for employees and their spouses.

Provide key people with cell phones, gas accounts, lodging/hotels, theme park tickets, and clothing with the station logo on it. It will go a long way with an employee who's making $18,000 a year.

Buy or trade a remote vehicle emblazoned with the station logo. When your people go out, they'll feel important and the community will see your station investing in itself. Your on-air product is only part of where you need to invest.

By setting an example, a radio station can lead its community to success, not follow them down a negative path. Newspapers, radio stations and TV stations should all come up with some plan to promote their community. To lead the way. To join together and work toward the success of everybody.

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