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The Median is the Message

July 13, 2023

Even if you were a communications major, you may not know the phrase “medium is the message.” With apologies to the communications theorist Marshall McLuhan, this week’s missive is about the value of knowing your stations’ median age, or the median is the message.

First, let’s review the basics. Nielsen describes median age thusly: “…if you lined up all the listeners to the station from youngest to oldest the person in the middle would represent age for that station.” This is from the Tapscan Median Age report.

What does it mean and how does it matter?

We know that the radio audience has been graying for a number of years. Older demographics contribute more TSL (or AWTE) than younger demos. This trend is pretty much universal across every market. We also frequently see that the ratings sample used by Nielsen tends to be top heavy by age. Generally, older demos tend to over index while younger demos are less represented.

For quite some time we have seen the median age for most – if not all – markets hover around 50. It is worth noting your market’s median age so you can compare it with your station’s median age. Are you older or younger than the market? This data point could reveal a strength (or weakness) in your product’s appeal.

You might also consider looking at the median age of your top sharing stations. Are there any patterns here? I say sharing stations because your audience might not be going where you think they are going when they leave your station.

One helpful metric is to compare the median age of your weekly cume with that of your average persons number. This is especially helpful when you look at your direct competitors. Often you will see all the stations in your format group are fishing in the same (cume) pond, but some might be doing a better job of converting that cume into strong AQH.

That said, median age should be taken with a healthy pinch of salt. The appearance of an 85-year-old woman or several nine-year-old children can skew the results. What you may want to do is see where your audience is clustering. Are most of your listeners huddling in your target demo(s)?

We believe median age is a metric worth tracking, yet it is better used as a comparative number, not something you would use to make decisions concerning your product.

If you would like help in determining your median age and what to do about it, feel free to reach out to The Ratings Experts. Our mission is to help you know your numbers.

-Steve Allan, Programming Research Consultant