THAT'S WHERE the whole concept of super-serving comes in. In practice, at least on the programming side, it means ditching the homogenized playlists, which often make a station in New Hampshire indistinguishable from one in Alaska. "We combat that," says Andrew Adams, a senior vice president and the general manager of Mapleton's Radio Merced. "We don't play just the same 200 songs." And the stations also focus relentlessly on anything and everything local, from news to events to contests.

"Where our competitors may do national contests, we are doing everything local, with local winners," says Nathanson. "It's a fantasy experience on a local level that people get to touch and feel through radio. That makes it special."

Because of their focus on smaller communities, Mapleton stations can also deliver personalized attention to the local businesses that advertise with them. That can translate into ad salespeople at the stations forming one-on-one relationships with business owners and getting real-time feedback about which ads work and which don't. Bigger stations, by contrast, devote their attention to national advertisers. "We feel that we can control our destiny by focusing on local advertisers and building the relationships and helping them grow their businesses. By doing that, it helps us grow our business," says Nathanson.

Growth is what Nathanson has in mind for Mapleton. The company recently signed a purchase agreement to enter the Spokane, Washington, market, which will allow the company to add seven stations to its portfolio. To Nathanson, this is just the beginning. And thanks to the success he's had thus far, he fully expects other companies to mimic Mapleton's local focus. "I think companies like Mapleton are the future of radio, and we take some pride in that," he says.