Perceptions of Radio Localism
Let Radio's Marketplace Decide: The Public's Perception of Localism
Consolidation and clusters are changing the radio dial. The economics of
managing a radio station have created unimaginable programming philosophy
shifts. Many radio stations are relying on programming techniques such as
voice-tracking and satellite delivery to help realize economies of
scale. In particular, Clear Channel Communications uses voice-tracking
technology to bring large market radio personalities into smaller radio
markets (Mathews, 2002). In other words, radio personalities located in
one market record and distribute their 'show' to other stations in
different communities. Although voice-tracking allows a radio personality
to 'localize' the show for a community, the fact remains that the radio
personality is out-of-market. This type of programming strategy, along
with the growth of non-local group radio owners, has led to more questions
about the effect of radio consolidation on the public interest. Critics of
deregulation might argue that these strategies and developments are eroding
one of the core goals of broadcast policy localism. Proponents of
deregulation might view these developments as increasing the quality of
radio programming available to local radio markets. Regardless, there is
no question that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 ushered in new
structures and programming strategies that have brought non-local owners
and talent into radio markets. What perceptions of localism do radio
listeners have? This study seeks to answer this question, and others, by
examining the policy of localism from an audience
perspective. Specifically, this paper will examine the policy of localism,
explore the recent trends of localism in radio markets and analyze audience
perceptions of the policy.
There is no doubt that the deregulation of radio ownership provisions of
the Telecommunications Act of 1996 has led to the consolidation of radio
properties. Recent studies indicated higher levels of ownership
concentration in large radio markets (Drushel, 1998) and smaller markets
(Chambers, 2001). The explosive growth of large radio groups like Clear
Channel Communications has created concern about the effects of
consolidation among politicians and regulators. In fact, the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) initiated public field hearings about the
upcoming broadcast policy rules vote (Bishop, 2003). The problem for the
FCC is reconciling the goals set out in the Telecommunication Act of 1996,
competition and diversity, with the economic realities of local and
national media marketplaces. FCC Commissioner Michael Copps highlighted
the importance of an upcoming policy vote related to further relaxation of
ownership rules: "At stake are core values of localism, competition,
diversity and maintaining the vitality of America's marketplace of ideas"
(Copps, 2003, p. 5). Under the current radio ownership rules, research has
suggested that the radio marketplace is losing local owners and increasing
the number of absentee owners (Chambers, 2001). Although there has been a
shift from local ownership to absentee ownership in radio markets, localism
has been a cornerstone in the FCC's public interest framework.
The Public Interest & Localism
As policy, localism has long been heralded as one of the cornerstones of
communications policy (Napoli, 2001). From the FCC's 1941 Report on Chain
Broadcasting to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, there have been several
different rules and regulations targeted at insuring the local ownership
and control of electronic media outlets. Former FCC Commissioner Andrew
Barrett defined localism as the "basic notion that the best practicable
service to the public is rendered by the broadcaster who maintains close
ties with the community served and who provides programming that responds
to issues affecting residents of that community" (1993, p. 147). Newton
(1995) defined two methods of FCC regulation of localism geographic and
audience. According to Newton (1995), geographic or spatial localism was
"exemplified by the distribution of licenses to various communities and the
traditional preference granted to local ownership in initial licensing" (p.
79). On the other hand, audience localism obligated the licensee to
"identify and program for the needs and problems of the community" (p.
79). Throughout the development of radio, the FCC has attempted to
operationalize localism in terms of ownership and content.
In the original Communications Act of 1934, the licensing rules required an
owner of a station to be involved with the daily operations of the station
and be involved in the local community. Ownership rules restricting the
total number of properties one individual or company could own at both a
local and national level helped maintain the daily involvement with a radio
station. In addition, the Commission attempted various program guides
designed to help broadcasters 'operate' within the public interest.
Napoli (2001) chronicled the various rationales and standards for localism
policy in broadcasting. Although recent policies related to localism have
focused on the direct broadcast satellite and cable television industries,
the origins of the policy started with the development of the radio
industry. In the 1929 Great Lakes Broadcasting decree, the Federal Radio
Commission linked a station's license renewal with guidelines ranging from
music choices to news reports (Federal Communications Commission,
1930). The FCC continued to regulate localism with policies mandating
certain types of programming.
Before the explosion of television, the FCC released a 1946 policy
statement, the Public Service Responsibilities of Licensees. In this
statement, commonly referred to as the "Blue Book," the FCC outlined four
expectations of programming for the purpose of license renewal. These
elements included the carriage of sustaining programs, local live programs
and public issue programs (Federal Communications Commission,
1946). During the development of television, the FCC issued the En Banc
Programming Inquiry in 1960 that listed 14 program elements that met the
public interest standards of broadcasting. These program standards included:
"(1) opportunity for local self-expression, (2) the development and use
of local talent, (3) programs for children, (4) religious programs, (5)
educational programs, (6) public affairs programs, (7) editorialization
by licensees, (8) political broadcasts, (9) agricultural programs,
(10) news programs, (11) weather and market reports, (12) sports
programs, (13) service to minority groups, and (14) entertainment
programs" (Federal Communications Commission, 1960, 2314).
In addition to these types of programming standards, the FCC also used
licensing rules to maintain the local nature of broadcasting. In 1965, the
Commission released its Policy Statement on Comparative Broadcast Hearings
that outlined policies related to competition for a broadcast license. The
statement highlighted the need for a diversified media, full-time
participation in station operations by owners, proposed program service,
minority interests and other goals for satisfying the public interest
(Federal Communications Commission, 1965). After the FCC passed these
rules, it later adopted a rule requiring broadcasters to survey the local
population to 'ascertain' what the community interests were the
Since the passage of these types of regulations, the FCC has relied more on
marketplace forces than regulations to meet public interest
standards. Beginning with the deregulation of radio in 1981, the
Commission has eliminated the non-entertainment programming guidelines,
ascertainment rules, commercial guidelines and program logging
requirements. During the period of deregulation, the FCC relaxed some of
the licensing and license renewal rules that attempted to insure a degree
of localism in the daily operation of radio stations.
The Commission has relaxed local ownership rules and various requirements
related to the daily operation of radio stations. From the 1992 duopoly
rules to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the FCC relaxed local
ownership requirements. At the same time, further relaxation of various
licensee requirement standards such as owner involvement in the community,
local program origination and studio location have changed. Specifically,
in the current application for a Construction Permit (CP), the FCC only
requires that one 'management-level' and one 'staff-level' employee be at
the station during regular business hours (Federal Communications
Commission, 2003, 12). These rules have allowed the development of
programming tactics such as voice-tracking and satellite-delivery of
programming. In addition, the main studio for a radio station can exist
with 25 miles of the community of license. The application form does
require applicants to state a responsibility for broadcasting programming
to meet local needs. Despite this request, the current rules governing the
radio industry do not mandate specific types of programming to meet 'local
needs'. Therefore, the economics of the marketplace have initiated changes
to the local model of radio broadcasting.
Localism and the Radio Industry
The issues of consolidation and using out-of-market radio personalities
have attracted recent media attention. The Wall Street Journal (Mathews,
2002) and Now with Bill Moyers (Transcript, 2002) have devoted space and
time to the use of voice-tracking as a tool to help large radio companies
generate synergy and cut costs. The technology of voice-tracking allows
computerized radio stations the opportunity to maintain shifts such as
overnights and weekends. According to one manufacturer/distributor of
voice-tracking systems, the technology allows a radio personality record a
four-hour show in twenty minutes (Scott Studios, 2002). The technology has
value for all types of radio stations -- from the small market,
independently owned station to the large market, group owned station. A
radio station can permit its own local personalities to voice track their
shows; or a station can rely on an out-of-market personality to record and
distribute their shows for immediate or a later broadcast.
Although voice-tracking has received most of the recent media attention,
there are other methods for distributing out-of-market radio personalities
to distant stations. Radio networks such as Westwood One and Jones Radio
Networks have utilized satellite delivery to provide radio programming
ranging from individual shows to complete radio formats (Radio and Records,
2002). According to the 2002 Radio and Records Directory, there were more
than 70 syndicated daypart personalities distributed via satellite by
various companies. These shows include personalities like Rush Limbaugh,
Kidd Kraddick, and Delilah (Radio and Records, 2002).
In addition to using voice-tracking and satellites to provide program
content, large radio companies have also experimented with developing radio
format franchises. Mathews (2002) documented the Clear Channel
Communications strategy for the "KISS" music format. According to Mathews,
there were 47 Clear Channel stations throughout the country programming the
"KISS" format. In fact, the strategy is "an effort to create a national
KISS brand in which stations share not just logos and promotional bits but
also draw from the same pool of on-air talent" (Mathews, 2002, p. 1). By
using out-of-market talent, this may have an effect on the perceived
relationship between radio personalities and local listeners.
Research in the area of Radio
Most of the academic research dealing with the consolidation of the local
radio industry has dealt with issues of market structure (Chambers, 2001;
Williams, 1998; Drushel, 1998). Other radio studies have focused on radio
programming issues (Wirth, 2002, 2001). Overall, these studies have
focused on the structural changes resulting from the drastic local
ownership changes in radio markets. In general, the studies confirmed the
concentration of ownership (Drushel, 1998), the loss of local owners
(Chambers, 2001) and the existence of format oligopolies at the national
level (Wirth, 2001). Although these studies have examined the structural
implications of local radio consolidation, there appears to be a research
void in terms of effects of consolidation on actual listeners.
In general, research in the area of radio use has been targeted to a
listener's personal connection with radio and different types of radio
programming. Specifically, recent studies in the area of radio listeners
have focused on issues including listener involvement with talk radio
(Bennett, 2002; Rubin & Step, 2000; Hofstetter & Gianos, 1997), radio news
credibility (Powell & Ibelema, 2000), meanings of radio to teenagers
(Carroll et al., 1993) and listener attitudes toward radio promotional
announcements (Potter & Callison, 2000). For the most part, listeners to
radio develop relationships with radio stations to satisfy various
gratifications (Rubin & Step, 2000). The selection of a radio station
involves matching personal belief systems (Edwards & Singletary, 1989). In
addition, other research indicated that talk radio listeners felt that they
were active participants in the listening experience (Tankel, 1998). These
types of relationships suggest that listeners do more with the radio than
just turn it on.
Since 1996, large radio group owners have changed the programming
strategies for stations within the group and these changes may have had
some sort of effect on listener perceptions. Before the development of
large radio corporations like Clear Channel, Citadel and Cumulus, research
in the area of programming strategy indicated the existence of corporate
format strategies. Greve (1996) found that even before the 1996
Telecommunications Act that many stations mimicked corporate
formats. Borrell (1995) discovered that corporations were the most likely
radio owner type to adopt satellite programming.
Research Questions and Hypotheses
Based on the recent research in radio listeners, it would seem logical to
assume that radio listeners develop relationships with particular
stations. Part of that relationship includes the information communicated
by that station in terms of programming, advertising and promotions. The
trends of consolidation and the development of non-local strategies seem to
suggest that audience members might be able to discern those changes.
In general, the majority of recent research in the area of radio
consolidation and the public interest focused on the economic effects of
the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (Berry & Waldfogel, 2001; Chambers,
2001; Wirth, 2001; Drushel, 1998; Williams, 1998). There has been some
research that analyzed news programming on radio (Lacy & Riffe, 1994;
McKean & Stone, 1994; Riffe & Shaw, 1990). While these studies have
provided valuable insight into the structure of the radio industry in radio
markets, the research has not measured attitude and opinion about radio
consolidation among radio listeners. As policy, localism has ranged from
ownership to programming issues. Although deregulation has relaxed the
ownership and programming standards for localism, previous policies seem to
provide common themes related to the public interest standard. First,
radio stations are licensed to a local community. The license to broadcast
requires at least one management employee and one staff employee. While
the main studios of the station can be 25 miles away, these employees
operate a transmitter that serves a local community. Despite radio
deregulation, there remains the requirement of a minimal level of
'management' operation of a station. Therefore, there should be some
audience sense of local management operation of a station. Some of these
daily operation activities might include the owner, the management, and the
air personalities. In particular, audiences may have a perception of the
level of involvement of owners, managers and air personalities. Likewise,
the audience may perceive the business of broadcasting.
A second theme of localism policy has been anchored in the programming of
the station. Although the FCC no longer requires certain types of
programming on stations, the provision of local news, weather, sports,
political information and other types of program elements would seem to
help stations connect with local audiences. The audience may discern the
different types of program elements.
Based on these themes of localism and the lack of research into this area
from an audience perspective, this study will seek answer to the following
research questions. The first two research questions focus on the core
themes of localism:
RQ1: What are the general audience perceptions toward the
management theme of localism?
RQ2: What are the general audience perceptions toward the
programming theme of localism?
The final research question deals with the recent consolidation of
radio. Specifically, critics have claimed that the trends of consolidation
and out-of-market programming have led to a negative effect on the public
interest. The third research question explores the relationship between
radio ownership type and localism.
RQ3: Are there differences in audience perceptions toward
localism between group-owned stations and independent
US households were contacted through a telephone survey center, and
qualifying individuals were asked to respond to a series of questions
concerning perceptions of localism in terms of the radio station they
listened to the most. English-speaking persons over the age of 18 were
eligible respondents. A purchased list of 3890 contiguous-US household
telephone numbers served as the initial sample. Of these numbers, 662 were
not called and 597 were business numbers, fax numbers or numbers that had
been disconnected. A total of 2595 numbers were deemed to represent
households, and of these 919 eligible respondents were
contacted. Ineligible non-English speaking respondents answered 36
calls. From the eligible households were an eligible person answered the
telephone, callers completed 293 interviews. As the goal was to record 500
interviews, two other number lists were generated from the first. Two
randomly generated digits were added to all numbers from the initial list
resulting in an additional 7780 telephone numbers. For example, the random
digits 5 and 7 were added to all initial numbers transforming (768)
639-4412 to (768) 639-4417 and (768) 639-4419. These newly generated
numbers had a higher problem incidence but nonetheless resulted in 262
additional completed interviews from the 2117 numbers actually used. In
these additional calls, 1206 calls resulted in an eligible person actually
answering the telephone. Ultimately, the rate of eligible, answering
households who responded to the survey was 26.1 percent. This cooperation
rate seems to be inline with recent survey research and reflects the
declining response rates resulting from increased use of answering
machines, caller identification systems, and the increased magnitude of
telephones solicitation (Massey, O'Connor, & Krotki, 1997).
Trained student callers conducted the telephone survey from a 15-station
telephone bank housed at a large Southwestern university. Calls were made
Feb. 17 20, Feb. 24 27, and March 3 5 nightly from 5:30 p.m. CST to 9
p.m. CST. States in the Eastern Time Zone were called from 5:30 p.m. CST to
8 p.m. CST; states in the Central Time Zone from 6 p.m. CST to 9 p.m. CST;
states in the Mountain Time Zone from 6:30 p.m. CST to 9 p.m. CST; and
states in the Pacific Time Zone from 7:30 p.m. CST to 9 p.m. CST. Callers
recorded call disposition noting completed interviews, no answers,
answering machines, refusals, language barriers, disconnects, fax numbers,
and business numbers. Numbers that resulted in answering machines or no
answers were called a maximum of seven times.
Callers introduced themselves to potential respondents by giving their
name, university affiliation and providing a statement concerning the
academic purpose of the call and promising no attempt to sell goods or
services. Callers then asked to speak to the person at least 18 years of
age who experienced the most recent birthday. This method of selecting
respondents has proven effective at ensuring broad representation as
demographics are equally distributed across the calendar year (Salmon &
Data Collection and Measures
A computer assisted data entry system prompted callers through the 21-item
questionnaire, and responses were entered directly into a computer data
file hosted on a main server. The measures were designed to collect three
types of data through a joining of experimental and survey
methods. Initially, callers asked respondents to provide the radio station
that they listen to the most. Since this was a nationwide survey,
respondents provided call letters or slogans of the station they identified
as listening to the most. After collection, the station call letters were
traced in industry resources such as the most recently published
Broadcasting & Cable Yearbook and the Radio & Records online ratings
database (www.rronline.com) for ownership, format and ratings
information. Although there might be validity concerns related to recent
ownership changes, every effort was made to gain the most up-to-date
information from these resources. Ownership type was coded as either
group-owned or independently-owned based on information from the
Yearbook. Format and ratings information were also recorded. Each of
these station elements were matched by respondents who identified a station.
Once the callers identified the station, interviewers asked a series of
11-point items related to ownership and program elements. Respondents were
asked: "Thinking about the radio station you listen to the most, please
rate the following statements on a 1 to 10 scale where 1 means "I Strongly
Disagree" and a 10 means "I Strongly Agree." The items are listed in the
Appendix. Gender, education and age were also collected.
Overall, there were 382 usable responses from the data set. Since some
respondents were not able to clearly identify a radio station by call
letter or slogan, some of the responses had to be coded as missing. In
addition, there were some station identifications that did not match the
information provided in the industry data. These responses were also
unusable for the analysis. Despite these setbacks, the sample included 54
percent females and 79 percent identified as Caucasian. The education
category included 5.5 percent with some high school, 17.5 percent with high
school, 28.5 percent with some college, 32.2 percent with a college degree
and 16.2 percent with a graduate degree.
From a localism perspective, the overall sample appeared to indicate some
degree of a connection with the local program elements rather than the
local operation elements. The overall mean scores for each localism item
were reported in Table 1. At first glance it would appear that the
respondents rated the localism items related to ownership lower than the
items related to the program choice.
Table 1. Mean Scores for Localism Scale Items
The air personalities live in my community
The managers of the station live in the local community
The money the station makes stays in the local community
The owners of the station live in the local community
The station has personalities who work at other radio stations
The station provides local news
The station promotes the local community
The station provides local weather information
The station provides local sports information
The station provides educational programming
The station provides children's programming
The station plays a variety of music
The station provides information about local politics
The station provides public service announcements
*Note: The item for 'personalities who work at other stations must be
interpreted according to the reverse scale.
In terms of the first research question, the lowest rated item was that the
owners lived in my community (M = 4.5). The highest rated items were
related to the air personalities. For the most part, it appeared as if the
respondents felt connected with the air personalities at the station they
listened to the most.
The second research question sought answers to the perceptions of the
program-related localism items. From the information provided in Table 1,
it would appear that respondents rated local news and weather as the
highest. Not surprisingly, educational programming and children's
programming rated the lowest (M = 4.2, M = 2.03).
The final research question examined the relationship between group
ownership and perceptions of localism. Overall, the respondents reported
stations from 150 different radio owners. The list of the top 20 most
reported radio owners is listed in Table 2. By far, the owner of stations
most listened by the respondents was Clear Channel Communications which
accounted for almost 25% of the total. Clear Channel's dominance accounted
for almost double the number of stations for the nearest owner, Infinity at
12.3% of the total.
Table 2. List of the Top 20 Radio Owners
% of Total
Clear Channel Communications
Minnesota Public Radio
WNYC Radio Corporation
Central Valley Broadcasters
Each owner was coded as either a group owner or an independent owner. The
results showed that there were 287 groups and 75 independents. Independent
samples t-tests were used to compare the differences between the
group-owned and independently-owned stations for each of the localism
items. As reported in Table 3, the independent stations rated higher on
the ownership issues than group-owned stations. In particular, listeners
to the independent stations rated 'their' managers, money and owners as
living in their community more so than listeners to group-owned stations
(managers, t-value = 3.297, p<.001; money, t-value = 4.052, p<.0001;
owners, t-value = 4.64, p<.0001). For the program elements, the
independent stations rated their station as providing more children's
programming (t-value 2.94, p<.003), educational programming (t-value =
6.865, p<.0001) and public service announcements (t-value = 2.439,
p<.015). Of all the localism items, sports programming was the only
significant element for group-owned stations with a mean higher than
independents (t-value = -3.351, p<.001).
Table 3. Comparing the Radio Ownership Types by Localism Item
The air personalities live in my community
The managers of the station live in the local community**
The money the station makes stays in the local community**
The owners of the station live in the local community**
The station has personalities who work at other radio stations
The station provides local news
The station promotes the local community
The station provides local weather information
The station provides local sports information**
The station provides educational programming**
The station provides children's programming**
The station plays a variety of music
The station provides information about local politics
The station provides public service announcements*
Although the single-item measures provide an interesting examination into
audience preference, the measures appeared to have relevance for future
Ratings on the nine items were subjected to principal component analysis
without rotation of components. Two factors emerged, accounting for 58.4%
of the variance (42.3% and 16.1%, respectively). All individual items
loaded higher on factor 1 (Eigenvalue 3.8) than they did on factor 2
(Eigenvalue 1.5), with Factor 1 showing high loadings on all items, namely
The air personalities on the station live in my community (.54); The
station provides local weather information (.69); The station provides
local news (.77); The station promotes the local community (.79); The
managers of the station live in the local community (.69); The station
provides local sports information (.67); The money the station makes stays
in the local community (.57); The owners of the station live in the local
community (.53); The station provides information about local politics
(.54). Likewise the measure showed a high degree of inter-item consistency
(_ = .83). This warranted construction of a composite measure, labeled
Station Localism, by averaging the ratings across all nine items into a
Based on this factor, an additional t-test indicated an overall difference
between independent (M = 7.1) and group (M = 6.5) stations (t-value =
1.913, p = .056). A difference that was not statistically significant at
the .05 level. While the overall localism index failed to account for a
statistically significant difference, it did appear that the scale has
merit for additional analyses.
In general, the results appeared to confirm what recent economic analyses
have shown in local radio markets. Overwhelmingly, group owners like Clear
Channel Communications and Infinity Broadcasting accounted for
approximately 35 percent of all station owners. Currently, Clear Channel
Communications controls more than 1,200 radio stations. Likewise, all of
the top ten reported radio owners were classified as group owners. These
results seem to mirror the current trends of consolidation in radio markets.
From a localism perspective, analysis of the single-item measures
indicated that the audience rates the programming on stations as more local
than the ownership of the stations. Subsequent analyses found that there
were significant differences between independent and group owners for three
of the five items classified as 'ownership' localism measures and three of
the nine items in the 'programming' localism measures. These findings
suggest that there may be some negative consequences of consolidation on
radio listeners. In particular, it appeared as if those who listened to
independent stations felt that their owners, managers and money were more
likely to stay in the local market than those who reported listening to
group owned stations.
Before making conclusions about deregulation policy, there were definite
limitations to this study. First, there was a cooperation rate of less
than 30 percent. Of those respondents, there were only 382 usable
responses. Despite this lower than average response rate, the information
collected did provide some valuable insight into audience perceptions of
localism. Related to the responses, the matching of call letters and
slogans may not be as valid as being able to have respondents clearly
identify the radio stations in their markets. Likewise, by using yearbook
information, there may be validity concerns for some of the stations who
might have had a transfer in ownership since the last printing of the
Although there were some limitations to the study, the data seemed to offer
a few conclusions related to policy. First, recent research has indicated
a loss of local ownership in radio markets (Chambers, 2001). The present
findings suggested that the changes in ownership might have led to lower
ratings on some of the measures of ownership. In addition, it does appear
that the non-local program strategies such as voice-tracking and
satellite-delivery are not necessarily having a detrimental impact on radio
listeners. In fact, the lack of a difference seems to show that group
owners may be successfully 'localizing' the out-of-market talent in some cases.
Overall, there are several different areas for future research. First,
further study on the localism scale could provide analysis from both an
intra-industry and inter-media perspective. Another area for future
research is to include economic and social variables that might play a role
in audience perception of localism. For example, several studies have
explored the relationship between talk radio and politics (Bennett,
2002). By adding the localism factor, future research may be able to
provide a more robust explanation of the relationship between radio and
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