How Small is Too Small?

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Why Small Radio Station Interviews Can Be Just as Good – If Not Better – Than the Big Ones

There is no question that the activity of public relations is primarily a numbers game.

The predominant viewpoint is that a campaign that reaches a large audience is typically a successful campaign. But when you delve beyond the surface, you may be surprised to discover that there are still instances in which smaller can actually be better.

In radio, that is very much the case these days.

So much has changed in the world of talk radio, where the power of the station isn’t as relevant as it used to be, primarily because of three key elements: ratings, formats and the Internet.

Big radio stations in big markets are more and more being ruled by Arbitron ratings, which can now track audiences in increments of about 3 minutes. This phenomenon is making the days of 10- and 20-minute interviews in many major markets a thing of the past. They do still take place, but in fewer and fewer places. However, stations in smaller markets tend not to be as slavish to these format structures, enabling their hosts to conduct more substantive interviews.

As it stands now, in the bigger markets many shows schedule 5- to 7-minute interviews.  And, some are starting to do even shorter interviews, 3.5- to 5-minute interviews, which is the same format as the guest interview segments on TV. We’re seeing that more and more in the major markets.

That’s where smaller stations in smaller markets can be a great fit, because a small station with a smaller, but more loyal, audience can really deliver the goods. They can afford to have a guest on for 10, 20 and sometimes 30 minutes, and the audience will be more attentive and responsive listening to guests they like. In addition, while the majority of big-market stations and nationally syndicated shows have phased out listener call-in segments, many smaller market shows still have listeners calling in.  And that’s where a guest on a roll, who can grab the interest and attention of the listeners, can have a segment last way beyond the original length of the scheduled interview.

So, while the idea of appearing on shows on big stations in big markets still stands as a primary guideline in PR, there are places on the radio dial where big doesn’t necessarily mean better. Sometimes, there is nothing better than a small, dedicated audience who listens to a long-time, well-loved local broadcaster. If you ignore those opportunities, you could be missing out on some premium media interviews.

Lastly, it’s critical to understand how effective the Internet has become in extending the audience reach of stations and markets, both big and small. Today, in order for any radio station to be competitive, they have to have a strong Internet presence and simulcast their shows online.  As well, today most hosts are blogging to build and maintain their audience numbers, and when they have a good show, they’ll create a podcast of it.  Hosts are not only promoting your appearance on their show, but if you’re a good guest, they promote it through all their social networks, their blogs and podcasts.

Why does all this matter? Because the whole reason you do radio is for the quality of communication. This is why many people still prefer picking up their phone and calling someone instead of emailing them or texting them. It’s why we still have face-to-face meetings with our business associates and clients. It’s why we do conference calls. And it’s also why we call our relatives to wish them a happy birthday instead of just tweeting them. It’s about the quality of that communication. The sound of a human voice can communicate passion, intent, emotion and sincerity. Can you imagine what history would have been like if FDR had written his “we have nothing to fear but fear itself” speech as an op-ed in The Washington Post as opposed to having given it as a radio address? Could Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” have scared as many people if it was a short story instead of a radio play?

We do radio to provide a greater quality of communication to our audiences. So, you can play the numbers game if you wish, but if you do, you’ll miss the whole point of doing radio in the first place and the ghost of Marconi may well come and haunt you for it.

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