When residents of Salina, Kan., travel far from home, they can still listen to their local high school's football games, catch the latest crime report and hear the newscasts they missed at noon.
But instead of turning the dial to KSAL 1150, they log on.
"To me, it's not just about reaching people in your own backyard. It's people traveling all over the world," said Jerry Hinrikus, vice president and general manager of EBC Radio , which runs the AM news channel and five other stations that stream their programs on the World Wide Web.
Local broadcasters like Hinrikus gathered here this week for their annual meeting. Increasingly, they are harnessing the possibilities offered by the Internet, while capitalizing on their most valuable resource: local content.
"There is enormous opportunity if [broadcasters] can figure out how to make it another outlet for their property," said Robert McConochie, director of strategic research at The Arbitron Co. "I think the pie is going to expand for the entire media spectrum as long as business leaders are open to this evolution."
The trick for broadcasters is to deliver something valuable to their audiences, whether it's local programming that can be accessed anywhere in the world or information specific to that community. And consumers are looking for more than just pictures of their favorite disc jockeys when they go to a Web site, experts say.
"You've got to have a separate strategy for your Internet site," said Michael McPherson, vice president of sales and marketing for broadcastamerica.com , a Web address that brings together hundreds of local radio and TV Internet sites from all over the world. The company provides local stations the software and technical gear to set up their sites, in exchange for getting some commercial time on the air.
A study released by Arbitron this week gives some inkling of what consumers want to see when they check out radio stations online. Some of the most popular were: lists of fun places to visit in the community; movie schedules for local theaters; links to the Web sites of area retailers; and advertisers' coupons that they can print out.
At the Los Angeles classic rock station KCBS Arrow93, a full-time staff updates the station's Web site constantly to give listeners snippets of their favorite tracks and let them play along to music trivia games.
"On the Internet, you can give more information than you can on maybe 10 seconds on the air," said Timothy Suing, online producer and Webmaster for the station, which established its Web site in 1995 and now gets 4 million hits a month.
Dave Van Dyke, general manager of the Fstation, said audiences can get information about their favorite artists, tour dates and how to get in touch with the bands.
"That's something you just can't do as a passive listener," he said.
There are costs involved for the stations, which are trying to figure out a viable business model for going online. Hinrikus said the start-up price for his company's six Internet sites was $20,000, and monthly upkeep now costs about $6,000.
But the sites already are providing added revenue and Hinrikus expects eventually to bill $25,000 month in advertising.
Some broadcasters still have their worries. Kenn Heinlein, general manager of two sports talk stations in Waukesha, Wis., that are just beginning to have a Web presence, fears that advertisers will simply shift their dollars from the on-air station to the site, rather than spend more.
But the Internet could offer new opportunities, like electronic commerce, for stations to attract audiences and make money.
GetMedia, a San Jose, California-based company, provides radio broadcasters with a "Now Playing" music store so audiences can purchase songs as they listen to them on the station's Web page. Consumers don't have to leave the station's site to buy their music and the station gets a portion of the sales.
Aside from revenue, the Internet gives broadcasters a way to strengthen their connection to audiences.
"Until now, broadcasters lost touch with their viewers all day long,
" said Jon Klein, head of the FeedRoom, an online site debuting this fall that aggregates content from local, network and cable TV news. "Now broadcasters can stay in touch with their viewers all day."
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