Local Focus, Sports Keeps Radio Profitable in Arkansas

by Kate Knable  on Monday, Feb. 18, 2013 12:00 am  

Local radio still lives.

On Dec. 8, KEWI-AM, 690, of Benton aired the Class 3A State Championship football game pitting Glen Rose High School against Harding Academy.

Due to heavy traffic to its website, KEWI’s “online stream shut down about the time we hit about 1,500” online listeners, said Grant Merrill, KEWI’s owner and manager.

Merrill bought KEWI, the only radio station operating from Saline County, in 2011, joining an industry that has managed to remain profitable in Arkansas despite competition from satellite radio, limitless iPod playlists and build-your-own online stations such as Pandora.

Merrill rents KEWI’s space at 115 S. Main St. in Benton, where the station has been for 15 years. His modest office features ragged chairs around his desk in the building’s foyer and a small radio studio.

His station isn’t rated by radio data aggregator Arbitron, so Merrill has no way to know how many listeners are tuning in to his terrestrial radio signal at any time. But he does know from Web streaming data and listener and advertiser feedback that if fans can’t attend a big game or Saline County residents are wondering about severe weather, then a good many of them are coming to his station. Merrill also knows that his website gets around 15,000 unique visitors per month.

Area sports, such as those of Malvern (Hot Spring County) school Glen Rose, and, really, all things local, are KEWI’s bread and butter.

Merrill’s station aggressively covers Saline County high school sporting events, sending a broadcaster to report on away games no matter where they are in the state. In addition, KEWI provides live play-by-play coverage of the sporting events of schools nearby, such as Glen Rose.

On Saturdays, KEWI still airs a show it has run since the 1950s: “Tradio,” an on-air Craigslist that allows listeners to call in to buy, sell or trade possessions.

KEWI also reports on area weather, city council meetings and other local news.

“We provide local programming that they’re not going to get on a Little Rock station,” he said.

Advertisers recognize the value, he said, and the business model works.



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