Despite economic challenges, independently-owned radio stations focusing on localism are finding ways to thrive.
'GOTTA GET THE SNOWBIRDS'
Such a rapport isn't vital only with listeners, but with advertisers, as well.
Ed Perry (above, left), owner of AC WATD (95.9 FM) Marshfield, Mass., since its 1977 sign-on, says that independently-owned, locally-focused stations need to build a revenue-generating support system with advertising partners in order to offset their lack of corporate funding.
For WATD, especially, New Englanders' trademark close ties to their home region help. "Beyond our FM listeners, we have online listeners, say, wintering in Florida, or going to college in California, but who still make their major investments, like cars, back here. You've gotta get the snowbirds, the people who winter in warmer climates, or who are in school far away, but who still listen to us. If you do, you help maintain their connection to our area, which benefits us in terms of listening but also our advertising clients.
"So, local spots do not only us good, but also our advertisers, with whom we have longstanding relationships, on local and national levels."
Ultimately, Perry thrives on the station's DIY nature, regularly turning away offers from large-scale ownership groups. "I view the station as a community service. For instance, you need a good local news and sports department. Nothing gets parents listening like hearing their kids' names on the radio. I remember a longtime sports reporter I hired. I said, 'Make me a promise: you've got to mention 40 kids a week in a positive way.' He said, 'Ok.'
"Now, we're in our second generation of kids."
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick lauded WATD's recent storm coverage.
From such attention to elements ranging from programming to sales, Perry has seen the WATD staff's dedication pay off for more than three decades. "We had the best year we've had (financially) last year. And, we'll probably do better this year. Despite the economy, there's a lot to be said for duration."
True to his word, Perry had pressing needs to which to attend on the day last month he chatted with Billboard. "After we talk, I'm off to check our emergency generator equipment for the snowstorm that's coming [and which would wallop Massachusetts' South Shore with more than two feet of snow]. Our sales people are calling everyone right now who sells generators, flashlights, et cetera. And, on-air, we'll be the only station with the information that people who live here will need in this storm.
"It will take a lot to knock us off the air."
The declaration's meaning seems to stretch beyond the latest forecast.