• Image about Adam Nathanson

One forward-looking radio company is a throwback to the good old days when "keep it local" was a mantra for success.


IF YOU HAPPEN to tune in to KPIG, an FM radio station based just outside of Santa Cruz, California, you might be surprised by what you hear - or, perhaps more accurately, by what you don't hear.

Don't expect to get a steady, endlessly repeating loop of songs by Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and the other select few much-hyped pop singers so many stations rely upon. Instead, you'll find that KPIG cranks out a steady stream of, well, surprises. During one stretch, you might hear songs from Wilco, Little Feat, and Johnny Cash. In fact, KPIG has a playlist that spans decades and genres: It includes everything from classic rock and bluegrass to Hawaiian tunes and New Orleans funk.

KPIG proudly calls itself an anachronism; it's the kind of radio station that was more common in the 1950s and '60s, when DJs had considerable latitude in handpicking the kind of music they thought their listeners wanted to hear. But KPIG isn't an anomaly. It's one of 34 stations owned by Los Angeles-based Mapleton Communications, a company that has aggressively pursued what it sees as an unmet demand for radio programming tailored to the tastes of small and midsize markets across the western United States.

"We are thinking local and acting local. You want to be locally relevant, so the brands and all the stations that we are operating focus and cater to the local community and audience interest so that we can super-serve the communities," says Adam Nathanson, Mapleton's founder and president.

"Super-serve" has become a mantra that Nathanson and his colleagues work in to conversations with almost alarming frequency, which is understandable, given that it's the nub of Mapleton's philosophy for catering to advertisers and listeners in markets like San Luis Obispo and Chico, both in California, and Medford, Oregon. And super-serving is an approach that seems to be working. Since the company was founded, in 2001, it has grown to become the second-largest radio group in California, exceeded only by industry goliath Clear Channel Communications. Mapleton's gross revenue in 2006 was $21.5 million, and some of its stations saw a doubling or tripling of revenue. While radio is not exactly a Wall Street darling these days - which is understandable, as the advent of iPods and digital music certainly poses a threat to the industry - last year, the Lazard Alternative Investments' Corporate Partners II Fund purchased a 39 percent stake in Mapleton, giving it the kind of cash it needs in order to continue expanding.