The Sound of Local Flavor

Community Pride Is Missing From Radio Advertising

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Doug Zanger Doug Zanger
I have, once again, found myself in New York City, here for meetings with the Radio Advertising Bureau. (We're going to have an online radio station during Advertising Week. More on that soon.) After a somewhat uneventful overnight flight, aside from a row mate who smelled like an Anheuser Busch brewery and Knob Creek distillery rolled into one, I plunked myself down in The Pod Hotel on E. 51st Street. As all of you know by now, I am a sucker for shiny objects, and this hotel is no exception. I stumbled upon it via Cool Hunting. I will reserve my judgment until I leave on Thursday, but, so far, I kind of dig it. It's comfortable and pretty darn cheap. As long as you don't mind shared bathrooms, it's pretty much a winner as far as I can tell.

After a quick nap, I decided to walk around a bit to get a feel for the neighborhood. I usually stay at my brother's place by Union Square, but he has since sold his apartment so I was left to fend for myself unless I wanted to endure a 90-minute commute from the Jersey shore. When I stayed at his old place, I got a real sense of being in a small community in this huge city. My new digs are similar. It is fairly close to the UN and you can tell that there is a decidedly global feel to it all. There is a synagogue across the street and a few UN missions peppered in with the all of the international restaurants. It really does feel incredibly local here.

I started thinking more about the idea of "local." Jill and I just spent a few days in Bend, Oregon, about three hours from Portland in the central part of the state. For those of you not familiar, Bend is one of the fastest growing and beautiful cities in the west. It is in an interesting growth period where the locals aren't terribly happy with the influx of people and construction -- but it is, without question, too late to stop the inevitable.

One of the most prominent things about Bend is its connection to the outdoors. It seems that everyone there hikes, bikes, skis, snowboards, climbs rocks, plays golf and kayaks. With over 300 days of sun (Portland isn't quite as lucky), it's hard to imagine being inside.

The easy-paced, outdoor vibe is something that everyone there is proud of. When you walk around downtown Bend, everyone pretty much looks like they are training for a triathlon. People from Bend are also fiercely loyal to the area. As I listened to the radio (Clear 101.7 is a great station, by the way), I could hear that connection in the advertising. It was laid-back. It wasn't egregiously over the top as can be the case elsewhere and it just "felt" like Bend.

Portland experienced the same thing in radio back in the 90s. There were a handful of radio-specific shops (Red Monkeys and Radioland being the most prominent) that did some consistently exceptional work. There was, back then, a clearly defined Portland "sound." It was quirky, funny and interesting. It took what was unique about Portland and made it its own. Sadly, that boat left the dock starting around 2001. There are some notable exceptions: Leopold Ketel does a consistently outstanding job, R-West kicked around some great local stuff, the Oregon Lottery keeps impressing and there are pockets of truly juicy work. But it's not like the "good 'ol days" I remember.

One of the great opportunities radio has is to refocus the local impact by not necessarily selling a marketer's "thing" but rather the "idea" of being part of the community. It's so much more than "family owned" and "in Portland for 400 years." It's the notion that, on the most basic level, we all have a connection to our cities, towns and regions that goes beyond merely "being there." I'm not exactly sure when we stopped telling the consumer why we loved being part of Portland, New York or wherever. But the time is ripe for us to refocus our energy (at least in local radio) to show local pride in as many ways as possible.

Quick Hits
Does your market/town have a "sound" or a "feel?" If so, what is it?

Does "local" really matter to you? Why?

Are there some good examples in your market of "local" taking front and center?
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