Keeping it local – KNCO and STAR stay vibrant ‘the old-fashioned way’
March 22, 2005
Naysayers have been writing and rewriting the obituary notice for the radio industry since television became popular in the 1950s.
These days, the rise of satellite radio and the popularity of the iPod combined with advertising clutter on the air and flat industry growth have again raised questions about the future of the medium.
None of this particularly concerns Bob Breck, CEO/general manager of KNCO-AM and STAR 94.1 in Grass Valley.
“We’re kind of run the old-fashioned way,” Breck said. “We’re just the local radio station doing our thing. As long as we keep doing that, we don’t have to worry too much about what’s going on around us.”
The stations’ “thing” is local programming, and as much of it as advertising will support.
“Our goal is local news and information,” he said. “We just want to expand local information as much as we can. … If we could run 24 hours a day with local programming, we would do it.”
The stations offer area residents a choice between news and information or music, and attract 30,000 listeners a day within a 50-mile radius of Grass Valley.
STAR 94.1 goes after younger adults, generally 25 to 49 years old, with music it calls “the best of the ’80s, ’90s and today,” while KNCO (830 AM) uses news and information to target adults 35 and older.
Both stations draw their largest audiences during the morning drive time – 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. – with KNCO’s “Swap Shop” running a close second.
Breck singles out KNCO’s on-air flea market as a good example of why radio remains strong in small markets.
“It’s a fun program,” he said. “It’s nonthreatening talk radio. You call up and sell something, and you don’t have to have an opinion about anything.
“A program like ‘Swap Shop’ just doesn’t work in San Francisco, but it works great here.”
Breck maintains that radio has always been a local medium, and that it can be successful by offering programming that connects with local residents.
“That’s the great thing about being in a smaller market,” he said. “You can do high schools, you can do pet patrols, talk about people’s cats and dogs. Where else can you do that?”
The emphasis on local programming also fortifies the stations against inroads from satellite radio services and the increasing popularity of digital music players.
Breck points out the two satellite radio services – XM and Sirius – currently have about 5 million subscribers between them.
“In their wildest dreams they’ll get up to 20 million to 25 million subscribers nationwide. That means they’d have about 150 subscribers in this particular area,” he said, “so it’s not a real threat as far as numbers of people.”
The iPod may be a bigger problem, but Breck believes its more of a concern for major market stations with little local programming and a cookie-cutter approach to music.
“There are a lot of operators that are pretty much juke boxes,” he said. “If you’re a music listener and the station is not giving you anything other than music, you might as well use your iPod.
“But broadcasters like KNCO and others that really focus on local information … don’t feel nearly as threatened as some of the conglomerates that are running the same programming on all of their stations.”
KNCO’s seven hours of local programming are supplemented with syndicated information and commentary programming. The latter – Rush Limbaugh, Lars Larson and Matt Drudge – is decidedly conservative in nature.
“Basically, what I do is try to pick programs that are going to get the largest audience,” Breck said. “There’s no company decision to be conservative or liberal. We have three pretty conservative programs, but just about everything else is informational.”
The stations are considered part of the Sacramento radio market, and at least 38 other stations get some of their ratings from listeners in western Nevada County. KNCO draws its audience from the west county and parts of Placer County, while STAR’s signal reaches into the Sacramento Valley from Lincoln to Oroville.
Nevada County Broadcasters, which operates the two stations, also owns KUBA-AM in Yuba City, which draws its audience from Yuba, Sutter, Colusa and Butte counties.
Breck said the company might acquire another station in a nearby market – Auburn or Truckee – if the right opportunity surfaces. For now, he wants to grow by doing more local programming.
“You can do a lot of things in a small market that you can’t do in a large market,” he said. “You can get more involved in the community and have a real impact.”