Local Radio Lives On - On the Internet

Once upon a time, you could count on radio to reflect a particular local community. I'm not talking just about local news or PSAs (public service announcements) of upcoming events. I'm also talking about programming that leans toward live broadcasts, with local shows and local musical talent, among other things.

Today in most cities, it seems that almost all you get is programming that has been scientifically selected to target a particular demographic or market. Oftentimes this programming is done by a company hundreds or thousands of miles away, and which reflects not a drop of local color or the special feel of a given community. Listeners are treated merely as consumers to be delivered (yes, that's the word that is used) to advertisers.

Fortunately, thanks to Internet radio, you can tune in to stations that still retain a pronounced community connection. It might not be your own community, but at least you can enjoy spending a few hours or a day experiencing local radio as it used to be.

One such station is WPAQ in Mt. Airy, North Carolina. WPAQ plays bluegrass and Old Time music, from, predominantly, musicians who stream in from the nearby Blue Ridge mountains, and who have made the station a mecca for that kind of entertainment -- and have been doing so for for than 60 years.

WPAQ still sponsors a live radio show each Saturday in a downtown theater, where you can sit in for free and listen to musicians play the most authentic mountain music you'll ever hear.

In addition to the music, WPAQ's announcers advertise local mom-and-pop businesses, in a style that is anything but slick -- and is all the more effective for that reason. They even read out the local obituaries! You can't get more community oriented than that.

Another station I like for its community color (or perhaps I should spell it colour) is Hermitage FM in the U.K. It started out years ago as a hospital-based station in the English Midlands; in fact, the only way you could hear it was over the hospital's speakers! Now it broadcasts over the radio waves to a cluster of towns in North West Leicestershire. Besides that, it has opened a coffee lounge and book room, and has its own mascot (Hermi the Hedgehog) who attends as many local events as possible.

WPAQ and Hermitage FM are real radio stations whose main focus, properly so, is their own hometown folks. Yet because they also offer Internet streams, people around the world can enjoy their unique flavor, which clearly stems from their powerful community ties.

Who knows If these stations become popular enough with a global audience, it may spur more stations to abandon the sterile and often bland corporate formats heard on most dials today, and to return to the glorious days of truly localized radio.