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Can Radio Combat the Demographic Divide?

September 1, 2020

How’s billing next month?
How’s billing next week?
How’s billing tomorrow?

For purposes often attributed to survival, radio station management takes a very short view when judging success or failure. As an industry, we are not alone in this myopic view. Most American businesses are taking the same approach.

While it is important to make next week or next month’s numbers, it is equally important to plan for the long-term future. Without doing this, one can win the battle and lose the war.

There are many facets to planning for the future. One of these is combatting the demographic divide.

In just about every market, the strongest radio listeners are Adults 45 and over. The younger segment of the population, ages 6 to 24, is composed of the lightest radio listeners.

This younger group spends less time commuting and at work – both now and pre-COVID. Many of them spend time at school, where audio entertainment is frowned upon.

What has changed about today’s youth that is different from previous generations? The variety of audio and entertainment options. There is a seemingly endless array of choices and these younger listeners do not necessarily view radio as the prime choice.

What should radio do? I believe that if we do nothing, we will lose these future Adults 25-54, radio’s bread and butter. Our goal, as an industry, should be to make sure that radio is perceived as a desirable option. While our industry may never get 100% of their attention, we need to compete for our (un)fair share.

So, how do we do it?

Be where they are: Many studies show that traditional radios are becoming rarer. The youth of today have never known a time without the internet. While just about every radio station streams its terrestrial signal, often the stream does not get the attention it deserves from the radio station itself. This results in a poor user experience. If you want them to listen to your stream, make sure it is a clean and enjoyable experience.

Think like they think: Develop a language that appeals to them. Don’t use the phrase “new music.” It may be new to the radio, but it will not always be new to them. Use phrases like “trending now” or “from your playlist to ours.”

Establish your station as their local resource: One place where radio can outflank the national platforms is local. What local issues will get their emotional juices flowing? Spotify and Pandora cannot have their van outside a venue to greet the listeners. Be the voice of their community.

Best of all, these things can be done in “non-prime” dayparts when younger folks have more opportunity to listen, and all of these things can be done without alienating your station’s core demo.

We need to attract the next generation of listeners for the long-term success of our industry and we can do it while still maintaining our 18-54 audience to secure next month’s billing.

What other ideas do you have for attracting today’s youth to radio? We’d love to hear your ideas below. And as always, feel free to reach out to us here.

-Charlie Sislen, Partner