University Station Alliance

Linking public broadcasting stations and their university partners since 2001

Twelve Steps to Creating a Public Radio Commitment to Localism

by KNAU-FM, Flagstaff, AZ

  • Create a network of full power radio stations. Translators cannot originate programming. Avoid low power FM if at all possible. The more power the better. Target communities that have sufficient population and concentration of target audience to make local origination financially sustainable. With the current FCC freeze on NCE applications, the only ways to build a localism network may be: 1) purchase existing radio stations, 2) establish LMAs with other NCE licensees, 3) convert existing repeater stations.
  • Develop a business plan to make the satellite stations self-sustainable.
  • Minimize expenses by avoiding on going operational overhead such as leases. The most viable revenue stream may be underwriting credits. Inform the business plan with a thorough economic assessment of target communities.
  • Place underwriting sales reps in origination communities. Or send station-based sales staff on working road trips to network outposts.
  • Configure the network to allow distribution of a custom stream from the main station to each remote location. This allows the greatest quality control. If this is not an option, locate automation systems at remote facilities with high speed Internet.
  • Equip remote stations with digital workstations and high-speed Internet connections. For production purposes a small mixer or a mic pre-amp may be all that is needed for voice tracking local breaks. A high quality sound card and digital editing software will improve final product. High speed Internet allows more efficient file transfers.
  • Install an automation system, such as Audio Vault, that ensures reliable and timely insertion of localized material.
  • If your network has more than one program stream, conduct a market analysis in each community to guide local format selection.
  • Determine optimal placement of localized material. Because production and content quality is of paramount importance it may be best to start modestly. Produce short, local breaks that can be easily inserted into programming such as newsmagazine cutaways. For the greatest impact schedule localized material in drive time. All local breaks should emphasize local content such as weather, community events, local underwriters, and place identification to maximize local identity.
  • Hire capable producers who can gather material, write copy, voice track, produce and edit local inserts. If no talent is locally available, it may be best to collect local material that can be voice tracked by professional staff in the main studio. If there is an expectation that local producers produce news content, it is important that both underwriting representatives and producers understand that an editorial firewall is maintained between journalists and development staff.
  • Spend a lot of time training each local producer. Producers may need help developing relationships with stakeholders. They may require assistance understanding market segmentation and selection of material appropriate for the target audience. They will need training with studio equipment, digital editors, field recording equipment, basic broadcast copy writing, and announcing. Assert editorial oversight by rewriting copy, inspiring excellence, providing on going feedback, killing material when warranted.
  • Determine benchmarks to evaluate the impact of increased local content. Measure underwriting and membership growth. Accurately estimating audience will be difficult in rural areas with light Arbitron diary placement. Telephone surveys can estimate market share in remote areas.
  • Cut your losses if local origination is not sustainable. Better to provide the public service of a repeater network than to bankrupt the network through localism.

Provided by KNAU Arizona Public Radio Commitment to Localism Project (2003.)

For more information contact Dave Riek (928) 523-5628 or