Localism is critical to regional radio remaining relevant
I was lucky enough to start my career in regional radio at ZZZ FM in Lismore NSW doing mid-dawns back in 1999, and 20 years later, I find myself programming in New Zealand.
Regional radio in Australia is very different to New Zealand. Due to the amount of network brands piped into the markets here (e.g. Rotorua has a population of 70,000 people with 18 commercial frequencies plus the government-operated stations), there is a lot of choice for listeners. You would think that’s going to make it pretty difficult for a local show to survive.
Imagine being the host of a local show in Bathurst, with a co-host and maybe a producer if you’re lucky, competing with 18+ national shows – all with huge budgets, big profile TV personalities, access to guests, prizes and resource that you could only dream of.
Well, this is a reality for many regional shows in New Zealand. And unbelievably, local shows can actually thrive in such competitive market conditions because of their use of localism, a skill many Australian regional shows simply don’t do good enough.
Take Mike West, Gareth & Kearsley on More FM in Manawatu New Zealand. They’re a powerhouse in the market, beating all the glitzy network shows convincingly – and have done for years – because they work hard at finding the local content angle, using local knowledge and experiences to their advantage. They weave local throughout the entire show, not just the weather.
All too often I tune into regional stations across Australia and hear local shows trying to emulate their network counterparts with generic non-localised content. Shows like that quickly get replaced by a network product in New Zealand and I’d imagine replaced by a podcast in a market with fewer choices for the audience like in regional Australia.
I’d like to encourage more localism from all Australian regional breakfast shows. Their content directors should teach them how to make national stories feel local, encourage them to pounce on local content opportunities, even if it’s not the coolest content because local content has so much more value to the audience.
To be clear, I’m aware this is not a new idea. Some shows, like Steve Price in Townsville, have been doing exactly this for a long time and reaping the rewards with both ratings and revenue.
But if you haven’t yet adopted a local focus, and you are lucky enough to be doing a breakfast show in a regional market, make sure you’re using the powerful tool that is localism to your advantage. You and the entire industry will be better for it… and you’ll never have to worry about being replaced… because local is irreplaceable.
Ryan Rathbone runs talent coaching and development business Revolver Consultancy and is the network content director for Mediaworks radio station The Edge.