The importance of local radios has always been historically acknowledged. When the internet was only a utopia and print media slow to respond, small and localized radio stations were the fastest to provide information and warnings to the most remote areas. In times of war or natural disasters, when all infrastructures were destroyed, radio waves were still there to serve the population.
With the dawn of the internet and with big media corporations increasingly spreading their reach national and worldwide, the time for small broadcasting stations seems to be over, and yet they are still here and thriving in many cases. In a world where everything is globalized and standardized, they offer something unique outside the mainstream.
The reasons that justified the importance of local radios have changed, but these small stations remain as significant as ever.
Being up to date with what is happening in the world and in one’s country is interesting and necessary in many cases. However, the kind of localized information provided by local radios borders the public service.
They have the freedom and the immediate access to cover a community or town’s news or the small events like fairs or exhibitions happening within it. Besides the usefulness of this information, these types of coverages also help to bring the community together and to create a sense of belonging.
Furthermore, they provide a personalized service giving people what they want and need to hear regarding the most relevant issues to them. In the case of an unforeseen event, for instance, these local radios will tell the community which schools are open, which public transportation is still operating and to which degree, which roads to avoid, etc.
The importance of local radios also extends to the need for diverse and different contents outside the mainstream standards set by big corporations.
Their programming is designed to appeal to their particular markets, and it could hardly work anywhere else. These stations are made for and by local people. They reflect their audience and are the product of their own environment.
Due to this, their programming will very likely include the coverage of local sports teams and community events, programs where local people are invited to participate and discuss the issues affecting the community, and even their advertisements will be focused on hometown businesses.
Highly consolidated media organizations own most radio stations nowadays. It is hard to escape their controlled content regardless of how many times one turns the dial. As a result, the listeners are bound to a set music rotation, usually focused on the pop hits of the moment, with the same songs playing every time and everywhere.
The importance of local radios goes beyond their unique programming to also include music variety. Local DJs have the freedom to create their own playlists. Their music choice will reflect the interests of their community, but they also have the opportunity to be creative and include less-known genres or artists in their broadcasts.
These stations also tend to support local musicians and artists, giving them airtime and allowing their music to reach a wider audience.
The overplayed sameness that exists in larger and nationwide other radio stations is very unlikely to happen in local radios.
Empowering vulnerable communities
Local stations can target small communities within their town. They can have a religious nature or be designed for cultural, racial or language minorities, for instance.
These broadcasters provide a common place for people with the same background, where they can listen to individuals talk about the same issues they face, enjoy a programming in line with their interests and find news reports about subjects that concern them particularly.
The importance of local radios in creating these public and social spheres where everyone can be heard should not be dismissed. They help to strengthen the sense of community and belonging, thus reducing the feeling of isolation felt in many of these social groups.
Many countries have different languages or dialects within their borders and rarely do these reach the mass media.
Local radios play a very important role in these cases, not only because they reinforce the sense of belonging and community, but also because they can provide a unique public service.
By broadcasting in local languages or by simply using the local slang, they can convey the issues pertinent to that community much more effectively. The audience can listen to local voices speaking specifically to them about topics such as education, health, politics and other subjects that directly affect their lives.
Additionally, the importance of local radios cannot be ignored when it comes to preserving endangered languages and the cultural richness of a country.
Local radios have a unique signature and broadcasting style because they reflect their audience. They express their own context and reality and provide an outlet for local voices and communities to be heard.
They might operate on a small scale, but what sets them apart from the big corporative radio stations is their purpose and freedom. This is why, in an ever more globalized world, these local radios are standing out more than ever and are increasingly being sought for.