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Localized Black radio can be revived and saved

ALLEN JOHNSTON | 12/28/2012, 10:30 a.m.
There are two main technological advances that can be of significant use in reviving Black...
An open letter to the Congressional Black Caucus on the assault on Black-owned radio

There are two main technological advances that can be of significant use in reviving Black radio localized programming, allowing local sponsors renewed access to advertising and developing jobs within the community.

As an early advocate for Internet-based solutions, today I see merit in using terrestrial-based AM/FM signals to accomplish the revitalization that all of our communities desire.

HD radio allows AM/FM stations to broadcast multiple channels, basically giving them additional radio formats that can easily be turned into revenue generating streams.

Unlike Internet-based signals, HD radio is constrained within a given service area, making it perfect for directed localized programming. Qualitative audience measurement techniques allow periodic tweaking of the projected format.

A larger problem exists of getting HD-compatible devices within the market place. The most recent numbers suggest about 20 percent of new car models (under $35,000) coming out in 2012 offer the HD radio standard. These HD radio receivers are not traditional receivers with buttons; instead, they are now command consoles offering entertainment and car systems control and monitoring.

There is also a push to make FM receivers mandatory in mobile phones, which means that listeners would either have to wear a wireless listening device or wired earphones. Unknown to many smartphone users is the fact that there are inactivated FM chips already installed in their phones. Activation will accomplish a much larger direct-listening audience and save the end user money by avoiding costly data usage fees associated with most wireless network contracts.

The lack of activation of the FM chips, which are in all of the top 10 sold phones in the world, limits the reach of broadcasters during emergencies when wireless networks are overwhelmed or lose power. Most emergency broadcast services send text messages to alert the consumer of emergencies, so an alternative of FM signal-broadcasting is a perfect solution.

Today's programming is based on a single signal originating from a central location and shared among several operations, also called syndication. The largest issue is, and will always be, programming that is captivating and ongoing. Here is the crux of the new localization of Black radio: to be able to keep your programming highly focused on local topics.

Here are a few ideas on what could possibly work in local markets:

Local entertainment channels devoted to local talent playing within the targeted listening area, sponsored by local clubs, venues and businesses. Report on all local upcoming events inside of your service area, including restaurants, fairs, theaters, clubs, concerts, festivals, church events and more. This is a great opportunity to air live local musicians and on-the-spot remotes.

Local news: This past presidential election season has shown the world just how bad news programming can become. Instead of reporting on stories, many news stations are developing stories. Create a full-time local news staff that caters to smaller populations within your service area. Partner with small local newspapers to receive valuable content

Local sports broadcasts are one of the most missed programming opportunities within the United States. High school football, soccer, basketball and gymnastics meets bring out thousands of attendees who have an amazing degree of enthusiasm and buying power for their respective teams. Think ESPN on a mini level and you can draw in listeners, sponsors and possibly increase the use of HD radio right at the game.

Local resident programming: Get your listening audience involved with one another by broadcasting local podcasts and blogs. Just use topics that will have an interest within your service area and your listeners will do the rest. Think like you are developing public access programming but do not limit your specific issues or topics.