The local radio alternative to Big Broadcast

Low-power radio stations ( definition) can lure listeners away from the chain-owned boadcast stations that dominate the dial argues Stanford Business School professor Hayagreeva Rao based on a study of the phenomena.

But if too many low-power alternatives pop up in any given locale, none are likely to thrive. “Too much choice is demotivating,” said Rao, in summarzing what Stanford Business School is calling “one of the first studies to shed light … on how social movements spawn entrepreneurial activity to challenge large organizations … (and) whether such movements make an appreciable dent in corporate control of culture.

These findings come at a time when there is a move afoot to lift controls on mass ownership of TV stations.

This blog is a summary of the Stanford Business School press release titled “Keep Main Street Safe for Local Opinions.” It describes how Rao collaborated with professor Henrich Greve at the Norwegian School of Management and doctoral student Jo-Ellen Pozner at the Kellogg School of Management to study low-power license applications to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission between 2000 and 2005, and analyzed this against the market shares of corporate-owned radio stations in 3,000 locales across the United States.
Stanford writes that:

“The researchers found that more low-power FM applications originated in communities with high concentrations of chain-owned stations. ‘The strong presence of a common –enemy’ seems to have motivated such activity,’ explains Rao.”

But if the alternative stations are too narrow-casted, and if other community groups start their own low-power shows rather than creating shared alternative destinations on the dial, “after a while audience volume dropped as listeners began to lose interest,” according to the Stanford writeup.

That’s an interesting thought that suggests that coalitions of groups should share time on the low-power dial — if it’s linguistic media, get a few language groups to schedule regular times, etcetera. In this way the common work of building the platform and drawing the audience can be spead amongst several communities. Rao offered this comment in closing, not so much on the radio issue but on the applicability of these findings to any audience-building effort:

“If you’re an entrepreneur, you need to figure out how to create or join a cultural movement and take advantage of it.”

To learn more about low-power radio the Media Access Project lays out the regulatory landscape. The FCC has a low-power page. Here is a start on the technical details for anyone who might want to get into the act personally. That would not be me, however. I am barely competent to operate a blog.