The Herald Bulletin

March 27, 2011

Local radio stations let talk of their demise go in one ear, out the other

By Lisa Allen
For The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — “We were up 3 percent in 2010,” said Bruce Law, general manager of Backyard Broadcasting, a cluster of radio stations that includes Anderson’s WHBU, talk radio 1240 AM.

Business will get better in 2011, Law predicts, forecasting an 11 percent jump.

“We’re in really good shape,” he said. “We gathered up the largest cluster of stations in the area.”

WHBU also rehired Doug Zook last year as station manager and on-air personality. Zook got out of radio to work for the parks department under former Mayor Kevin Smith and then worked in Delaware County.

But Law hopes the company doesn’t get much bigger. Its stations include WLBC (104.1), WERK Oldies (101.7/104.9), MAX Classic Rock (93.5/97.6) and ESPN 1340 AM.

Over-consolidation is why Backyard Broadcasting is doing well, Law said. While Comcast and Gannett now cast a wide net, they are ignoring smaller markets. Where Comcast once had four salespeople covering Richmond, Muncie, Marion and Anderson, now it has none. Salespeople from Indianapolis rarely approach those markets.

“The larger companies haven’t put the emphasis on smaller markets,” Law said.

Donald Boggs, general manager of Christian station WQME, is a little more tempered in his assessment of 2010. It was “challenging,” he said. “Everyone has been challenged across all industries since 2008.”

Revenues have been on the upswing since 2009, Boggs said, and increased again last year when the station offered online streaming.

“Perhaps someone would have frowned on you having a radio in your office, but everyone has a computer and headphones,” he said.

It also helps that the station’s audience is upscale, older and includes intact families, a market coveted by advertisers. The station added short, mini-ads that launch when one clicks on Internet streaming. The audience, Boggs said, wants to hear the ads because for the most part they pertain to them.

Radio, WHBU’s Law said, knows how to survive. It was attacked early with records, cassettes and CDs. “Last year, we launched an online directory and some web products and added social media,” said Law.

It also helps that with television being so fragmented, there are plenty of local ad dollars available. “In regard to cost-per-thousand listeners, radio has always been low. We haven’t had huge rate increases.”

Plus, Law said, radio works. “We spend a lot of time making sure our advertising is effective, making sure something happens when the ad runs.”

When advertising clients see an uptick in business after an ad runs, they know it worked, he said.

Boggs declined to predict what might happen in 2011. ”No one knows what’s coming down the road,” he said. But he added that the station will remain true to what radio audiences want: immediacy, on-air personalities and contests.

And whatever might come next, Boggs isn’t worried. Radio has weathered television, movies and now the Internet.

“What radio is really about is communicating with people, and we’re going to do that wherever technology takes us. I’m very upbeat. People who are wise and good communicators, good storytellers — those people will do well.”