Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Where Do You Live?

One of the challenges facing every on-air personality is figuring out how to localize their show. That doesn’t mean that you should ignore national/international stories or “location-less” stories, but if you’re not talking about things that listeners in your town can actually do, see, hear, touch, taste, smell and just generally experience, you’re missing out on a goldmine of potential show material, and you’re probably not doing your job well enough.

I heard a great example of localization recently from Leela K., who does afternoons at KUPL-FM in Portland, Ore. She told the story of driving home late Saturday night and being the front car at a red light when her path was blocked by a naked man…on a bicycle…who was blocking traffic for at least 100 of his naked friends…in a naked bike ride. She closed this part of her break by saying that she thinks she finally gets it when people say, “Keep Portland Weird.”

There are a couple of important things to know here:

1. Leela is relatively new to the Portland area, so she is still “discovering” lots of new things about Portland.
2. You see “Keep Portland Weird” bumper stickers all over Portland (just like you see similar bumper stickers in cities like Austin, Boulder, Louisville, Houston, and, I’m sure, many other cities).

What was great about this story was that everybody in the Portland area (count me among them) immediately knew what she was talking about, and that this was an unmistakably local story.

It’s been said that the best shows are the ones that people from outside of the market in question wouldn’t necessarily “get.” That’s an indication that you’re so plugged in to your community that you’re almost speaking a secret language that only people in your town understand. The danger in speaking a secret language, of course, is that you have the potential to alienate some of your listeners – especially new ones – so it’s important to balance your in-speak with enough explanations that nobody feels left out. The tipping point will vary from town to town and bit to bit, but as long as you’re conscious of the need for that balance, you’re probably going to be just fine.

You don’t have to have “Keep (Your City) Weird” bumper stickers for this to apply to you, and your story doesn’t have to be as unusual as a naked bike ride, but you should keep your eyes open for good, local stories that you can share with your audience. Sharing those stories will strengthen your connection to your area, and they’ll also bond you and your listeners in a very special way.

If you want to hear the aircheck of Leela’s naked bike ride story, just let me know, and if you’ve got an example of a great local bit you’ve done, send it along and I’ll share it with everybody else.

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