Media Perspective: Local radio for local people has reach beyond the studio

One of the most original and charming media experiences I've ever had happened to me in a car-park in Ashbourne around this time last year.

I was sitting in the car, waiting for the family to emerge from a shop, twiddling the radio dials (trying to avoid Any Answers or Moneybox Live) when I chanced upon a station called Ashbourne Radio. It grabbed my ears because it sounded rather special: not the generic local radio you expect but full of voices that were recognisably from Ashbourne.

Most of the ads seemed to be for shops and services within a couple of miles of where I was parked. They were mostly Christmas messages recorded by the shop owners themselves - often, seemingly, recorded actually in the shop. There was nothing hi-tech or fancy and no high production values, but its authenticity and directness was gripping.

Now, every time I'm back in Ashbourne, I can't wait to tune in. The music is a standard greatest hits selection, the DJs are perfectly acceptable but nothing special, but the ads are great. They seem like the genuine voice of the community. Who you hear on the radio is who you find in the shop. And it made me realise that in all this media talk about hyper-local futures, radio often gets missed out. Which is a shame, because it's probably the most naturally hyper-local format there is.

To start with, it's localised by physics. Because the strength of signal naturally determines the constituency, radio can be very specific to a particular community. It doesn't have to flag-up who it's for, it can just broadcast in a specific place.

Second, radio has a long tradition of content based on its listeners. Radio's been doing user-generated content for decades via phone-ins, competitions and charts.

Radio people more regularly interact with their audience than most media creators and not just via clicking and forms and online votes. Radio people interact via real conversation.Very few media channels can replicate the intimacy of that.

Third, audio has enormous technological advantages on the internet. It's way easier to host, handle, edit and transmit than video (which makes it lots cheaper) but it has tons of impact versus straight text. And you can carry it with you, listen while you're driving, have it on in the background - it fits naturally into people's lives.

Hyper-localness does seem to be round the corner, all sorts of media operations are investigating it: looking into blogging, print-on-demand, all sorts of innovative stuff.

But they should make sure they think about radio - Radio Local. It's not glamorous, it doesn't seem cutting edge, but it is often more genuinely connected to its community than most media and that, these days, is priceless.


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