We are entrenching our focus on localism: Grant Broadcasters CEO Alison Cameron

Grant Broadcasters is recruiting staff all around the country as it strengthens its commitment to its communities.

CEO Alison Cameron talks to radioinfo about what community means to the family company that has owned and operated Australian radio stations for three generations.

Community means exactly what the community thinks it means, it’s not what we think.

When my grandfather first started the company, radio was the only medium, TV wasn’t really around, there was only cinema. The radio stations were absolutely the lynchpin of the community. That remained true right throughout my mother’s time, communities are so important… and it’s not just about what you do on air, so much of community is what you’re doing outside. It might be having the general manager MC something, somebody doing a fundraiser, an announcer chatting to people as they walk down the street, so the more people you have in the building, the more you can contribute to that community, many of them volunteering in all sorts of capacities beyond their day jobs. That’s at the heart of it.

The radio station has always been the linchpin of local communities, it’s had some moments over the years of moving away from that, but in the current media climate it is more important than ever.

Regionally, TV is not doing anything local, certainly not at the granular level of local that we have, and in press we’re seeing, unfortunately, significant closures. I just think it’s so, so important that radio steps in more than we ever have, to be the linchpin in that community… they’re crying out for it.

People want to know what’s happening in their market, they can get all that information about what’s happening internationally and nationally through so many other avenues, but what they can’t get is that unique local content.  We’ve always had a focus on it, but we all are putting more and more effort into that to really try and be there, because I fear that if we don’t, if we just end up being on relay from Sydney, I fear for the future of regional radio.

People can already get those Sydney shows if they want them because they can stream any radio station, but that’s not our model. We’re putting more and more of a push into what we can do regionally. For example we recently dropped networked football calls, people can get score updates for those matches on their phones, everywhere… what we’ve replaced them with is a local sports show called The Sideline View…. it’s a mix of music and what’s happening with local sport on a Saturday afternoon, it might have an interview with the president of the local football club, a rundown about what’s happening locally on the weekend and people calling in with score updates from local AFL or NRL or hockey games throughout the day… the smaller the market, the more important this kind of information is to the fabric of the community.

How is the feedback about those new weekend sport shows, and are they generating income?

Stations are doing it to different levels and getting different feedback. I think it’ll take probably a year for the community to really embrace what we’re doing and particularly the local sports clubs to get involved, but I’m really excited as to how that progresses. The feedback so far has been absolutely terrific.

With the availability of national sports coverage everywhere we were increasingly having trouble selling that coverage and I don’t think we were serving the community either. These new shows are being well supported by advertisers, but it’s not about the money really, it is step one of our absolute strategy to be genuinely local.

The beauty about what we are doing with the sports shows is that it can feed into the rest of the content through the week. It’s not just about what happens on a Saturday afternoon because people talk about somebody who was injured, they want an update about it on Monday, they want a preview on Friday, they want to know who has been selected for state teams, and many of the the national sports athletes have come from the regions. So there is plenty of local content for the whole week.

You talked about people in the building. What’s the smallest number of people you’ve got in one of your buildings? And the largest number?

Queenstown in Tasmania has three, it’s a pretty small town. The service area’s population is about 5000 people. It’s very, very small.

The biggest, in the building, probably Maroochydore. We’ve got some national functionality there as well, it’s about 50 people.

Geelong has some of our finance team, but if you’re just talking about pure radio staff, that’s probably our biggest, with about 35 radio staff.

We are entrenching our focus on localism in every station with the appointment of Ryan Rathbone as group content director. A large part of his focus is on ensuring that our content through the day is local because it’s not just about a quick four hour sports show on a Saturday, it really is about what we’re doing right throughout the week.

Our announcers live in the market, they should be able to talk about what’s happening in the market. I don’t think our listeners really care about Britney Spears’ birthday yesterday, so why are we why are we rehashing that? Ryan is working with all our teams to make sure the content is relevant and local. That’s not to say we want to miss out on entertainment or the big picture or something funny, but if you look for it there is often a local element to that as well, such as a caller or a local viewpoint. We are still music based, but people don’t listen to radio for just music any more, if they’re listening only for the music they’d be on Spotify listening to exactly what they want, we have to give them more than that.

This is the first in a series of conversations with Alison Cameron.
Related reports: Grant Broadcasters hiring more journalists 

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