One of the big parts of my travels is monitoring the market. For the 3 or so days the visit lasts the biggest task is absorbing as much of the market as possible. Yet, when boiling down the monitor notes it's surprising that so many stations seem to ignore the local opportunity.
The music list is often the 'national norm', the sweepers/imaging are a collection of stuff stolen from other stations, and jocks all seem to follow the standard patterns in their breaks. The promotions are often copies of contests done elsewhere and even the logo or station brand can be found in many other markets (Jack, the X, Rock 102, Q92, The Fox, etc).
When you do find a station that's embraced the local angle it's usually a long term success. Just look at DVE, RIF, KSHE, and a host of others. These stations are woven into their communities. If you look at the music mix on each of them you'll see some big differences. DVE insists on playing The Clarks, RIF's list is often loaded with Michigan rockers, and if you do any music research in St. Louis you better be prepared to test some classics you've never thought of.
These stations also hit the streets all the time. They don't just show up at a festival in the summer with a booth - they create events that often make the festival a much bigger hit. They don't miss a concert or a hot local sports team. Their jocks talk about the community, know the streets, and are in touch with what the local audience is thinking about.
It's not just covering a few local stories in the news or in the weather and traffic, it's a beat that's underneath the whole station. Every market has a 'personality.' You go to Springfield IL and you eat horseshoe sandwiches, Milwaukee it's brats and cheese. Every city has a street culture that's unique, even in the smaller cities.
In some cases the great local stations have MADE events and traditions in the city. The EBN Fireworks, the Philly MMR Cardboard Classic, and The Bear's Howler Halloween party in Edmonton.
Some blame the corporate radio conglomerates, but DVE is Clear Channel, KQRS is Citadel, and FBQ is also Clear Channel.
It also doesn't take a ton of money to become woven into your community. It does take careful planning, creativity, and a huge effort from the whole staff. Even if you are running with a syndicated morning show and just 2 jocks you can still build a huge local presence. After all you have a big tower that talks to the whole community.
All you have to do is use it.