Vibrant small towns just 10 to 15 years ago may still be ok but the retail mix of the community has totally changed and that has really limited the revenue potential for a host of small town stations. Places like Ashburn, Sylvester, Nashville, etc just don't have enough advertisers left to support a station. Larger small towns like Thomasville, Moultrie, Americus, etc dont have enough radio advertisers left to support more than one good local radio operation. In many of these places, if it weren't for automation systems and he ability to run stations with fewer people, lots more would be dark.
x1000. Even back when our cluster made an honest effort to stay live-n-local, we had to rely on automation for a good majority of the day because there's just no other way for a 1kW'er to survive. But like everything, there's a curse with the blessing. The bad thing about automation is that it becomes addictive. What started out as a way to make do in the off hours gradually crept into other dayparts. At first it was "we don't have to figure out how to pay an overnight guy," but morphed into this convoluted stream of "don't have to pay a morning guy;" "don't have to pay a sales force;" "just grab a few national dollars or a combo deal with the FM, and we'll still be in the black if there's no sales cost or talent cost."
Not that I'm a master of running radio... lord knows there's plenty of people out there who actually know what the hell they're talking about. But it always hearkens me back to the retrofuturism of the 30s-60s. The original thought was that technology and automation would mean we'd only work two hours a day. But that glowing futurism failed to count on corporate nature. If you can get everything done in ten hours a week, then corporate can cut the work force down to 25% and pile on 4x as much work on the folks that are left.
As I've said before... I worked in a radio station for about 14 years... but I only did radio for about half of them.