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Radio Companies Partner with Local News Sites to Fill News Gap, Generate Revenue.

Two radio companies, one in the U.S., the other in Canada, have launched dozens of local news websites that are turning a profit and complementing their broadcast radio stations. Townsquare Media has quietly launched more than 50 standalone news sites in markets where it doesn’t already have a news station. North of the border, Pattison Media has launched 20 hyper local news sites in markets where it already had a strong radio presence and at least one news reporter.

Speaking at Borrell Miami on Monday, execs from both companies said the local news sites are profitable. Jared Willig, Chief Content Officer of Townsquare Media, said the individual sites generate revenue in the 5-figure to 6-figure range, depending on market size.

Aiming For Larger Local Share

With 354 stations in 74 markets in the heartland of America, Townsquare has focused on super-serving small and medium size communities since 2010. With CEO Bill Wilson coming from a digital background, it became radio’s most digitally aggressive operator, building over 400 local and national websites and companion apps, powered by its radio stations and air talent. Aiming for a larger share of local ad dollars and responding to a dearth of local news in many markets caused by the demise of local newspapers, it took the next logical step, developing standalone sites to supplement its radio station websites and apps.

Townsquare began in Laramie, WY with Laramie Live, then took the concept to upstate New York with the Hudson Valley Post. In 2020, Townsquare won a $260,000 grant from Google's news initiative and launched the Seacoast Current in Portsmouth, NH followed by the Tuscaloosa Thread, in Tuscaloosa, AL.

Across its 400+ websites and apps, including the 50 local news sites, Willig said they deliver an aggregated 55 million unique visitors and in some cases, over 500,000 page views per month.

“We leverage the content that was already being created by our personalities and then supplemented that with writers and journalists to create original news on top,” Willig explained to the Borrell Miami crowd. The result is a group of standalone news sites and apps that combine community content created by on-air personalities in touch with their communities, complemented with hard news from journalists who break stories.

Based in western Canada, Pattison Media owns 50 radio stations, and a handful of TV stations in small markets. “This has been a natural fit with our radio stations,” said Andrew Snook, Director of Digital, Pattison Media. “Our strategy has been around building sites dedicated to local advertisers, we want to help them build their businesses.”

Pattison Media’s hyperlocal news sites cover the everyday goings on at city council, and in local sports but haven’t shied away from bigger stories, such as the wildfires and evacuations that plagued western Canada.

Synergies And Cross Promotion

Both operators have found synergies and cross promotion opportunities between radio and the local news sites. During its top of the hour newscasts, Pattison Media news stations will direct listeners to the news site for deeper coverage of certain stories. “This is a good thing for the audience and the radio stations. And we have found that in the markets where we're most successful, that having an additional site like this is really the equivalent of having another radio station license,” Snook said.

Both companies’ local news sites are attracting new advertisers and upselling existing radio advertisers. For the former, the Pattison sites have been a hit with certain ad categories who were print newspaper advertisers looking to add a visual message to their campaigns. Adding a news product to its local market portfolios has lured new advertisers for Townsquare that weren’t necessarily a good fit with a rock or hip-hop station.

All advertising for Pattison’s news sites is sold by local sales teams – the company eschews programmatic buying. For Townsquare and the large scale it enjoys with 400+ sites, the opposite is true. Much of its inventory is sold programmatically.

“Our radio personalities creating digital content has turned into a big business,” said Willig, who joined Townsquare at its 2010 inception from AOL. More than fashioning funny TikTok videos or posting on social media, its air talent are tasked with writing news articles about what is happening in their community. “Our radio station websites and apps have become sources of original news. And it's grown into big audiences, and decent dollars,” Willig added. The revenue is incremental since the company needs air talent to anchor its radio stations and already had a robust online infrastructure and local sales teams. “And the digital content that that they're producing actually powers the radio shows themselves, and our digital content makes our broadcast all that much better,” he said. The digital content air talent creates “makes them more relevant, it garners them a bigger audience and makes them bigger stars.”

“The Resurgence of Hyperlocal News Sites” was moderated by Borrell Associates President Jim Brown.

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