Station’s Key To Success: Local, Local, Local

When an FM station in tiny Cadiz, Ky., won this year’s Marconi Radio Award for small-market stations nationwide, no one could fly to Seattle to pick up the award at last Saturday’s ceremony.

That’s because WKDZ’s staff was flat out broadcasting Friday night’s Trigg County High School football game and coverage of Saturday’s military-appreciation parade in Hopkinsville, near Fort Campbell. But then again, those are the kinds of things that won WKDZ the award in the first place.

And the station is the kind you don’t hear a lot about in broadcasting circles these days, with most of the talk surrounding corporate ownership of stations and the supposedly strict formatting of radio. WKDZ is locally owned and operated by a small firm, Ham Broadcasting Co. Inc.

The station serves Trigg County – population 12,500 – on the western Kentucky border with Tennessee, about 100 miles from Nashville. It’s got 25,000 watts of power and competes with a couple of 100,000-watt powerhouses down the road.

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The market’s so small that Arbitron only measures on a countywide basis once a year. But WKDZ’s mixture of local news and information, live coverage of community events and classic country music isn’t only a favorite of the National Association of Broadcasters judges. It’s pulled down an average 60.2 quarter-hour share for at least six years and shown growth in advertising revenue every month this year.

“We’re doing what small-market programming is all about,” said WKDZ general manager Beth Mann. WKDZ and its two AM stations are the only locally owned stations remaining in the marketplace and it’s deeply committed to the community.

That’s evident in its programming, which includes four extended local news broadcasts seven days a week, 365 days a year. But it also extends to play-by-play of every high school boys’ and girls basketball games, live coverage of the region’s Easter egg hunt and, recently, 18 hours of coverage of three days – without music – of the Tri-County Ham Festival.

She said WKDZ’s approach is different from the corporate stations that focus on format.

“We’re not trying to be everybody’s station. We’re trying to be the local station,” she said.

NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton said it’s a myth that radio is dominated by corporate owners. There are about 4,000 stations nationwide that are owned locally, including the most popular stations in Philadelphia and Kansas City, Mo. “Radio is probably the least consolidated media,” he said.

Wharton said the small-market stations survive and prosper because they’re laser-light focused on local news and events. And they also rely on local advertising more than conglomerate-owned stations that have more national advertisers.

“Their broad strength is their localism,” Wharton said of small locally-owned stations.

Mann doesn’t deny corporate-owned stations have their place in the market, but she hopes that smaller stations don’t get lost in the shuffle. She thinks the Marconi Award will help prevent that.

“It shows us that there’s still a place for smaller market, locally owned and operated stations to serve their community and make a difference,” she said.

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