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The Old Folks Boogie

September 22, 2022

For as long as I can remember, the holy grail of radio demographics has been 25-54. The cynics among us have often said this is a family reunion, not a homogenous group of people. To put this in contemporary terms, a 25-year-old is a digital native while a 54-year-old is a digital immigrant.

The fact is that radio’s demographics are aging. Look at your market and you’ll see that one of the strongest demos for radio listening is 55-64. Countless formats depend on – and deliver – rock star-level shares with this group. Classic Hits, Classic Rock, Adult Hits, News/Talk, Talk, Sports, and Urban AC all play extremely well with the age cell.

Yet, the sales target remains the same as it ever was. As a result, programmers do whatever they can to avoid those 55-64 listeners.

We are able to look at the granular data for many PPM markets. As a general rule, the median age of all listening is right around 50. For comparison, the median age of the U.S. population is about 38.

Look at the Average Weekly Time Exposed (AWTE) in your market. You will likely see 55-64s contributing over ten hours of weekly listening to your market. By contrast, we often see that the 18-34 and 24-34 segments listen to radio less than one hour per day! That is ALL radio, not just your station.

The median age of a new car buyer, often the bellwether of advertising, is 53! How many TV ads for new cars are actually aimed at that demographic? Better yet, how many 26-year-olds are buying a $60,000 Tesla? Who do you think is paying $1,000 to see Bruce Springsteen?

There is no doubt that radio is aging. The 35-64 demo is now the primary cell for most listening – at least in PPM markets. They value the medium, they respond to ads, and they are loyal to their stations.

I am not suggesting we ignore the younger cells. As many smarter minds than mine have said on the record, radio needs a younger demo strategy. They are the future of our business.

That said, there is no reason we cannot have a dual strategy. Cater to the younger (potential) listeners and embrace our older base. There are enough frequencies to do this. Rather than be defensive about the aging of our audience, we should be leaning into it. We should hold this up as a strength.

I know there will be pushback – especially from agency buyers – but we cannot continue to ignore the obvious. Those in the 55+ category grew up in an analog world. They formed their entertainment/content habits when there was far less competition for their attention. They still consider what we deliver to be something of value. Isn’t it time we value them in return?

I’ll take this one step further – perhaps it’s time for Nielsen to include a 65-74 demo in their breakouts.

We’d like to hear your thoughts. Please comment below.

-Steve Allan, Programming Research Consultant