What Younger Listeners Want

For as long as I have been teaching college music industry courses dating back to 2004 at USC and more recently at NYU, I have asked my students how many listen to radio.

Lew Dickey, whose book The New Modern Media is a textbook in my course, spoke in person to a class a few years ago and asked the same question – he got a few hands to go up.

I average one or two young radio listeners but this semester I got silence until they pulled a Bill Clinton on me and asked “it all depends what the meaning of radio is”.

Radio is not terrestrial radio to many younger people

  • My friend Scott Herman (i.e. The “Hermanator” at CBS) hates the word terrestrial so he’ll be happy to know that the term isn’t recognized by younger demos.
  • Then there’s NPR and Jarl Mohn, the past CEO of the public network would be happy to know that many young people at least don’t consider NPR stations radio – they feel it is a cut above.
  • Besides, public radio is commercial radio in a lot of ways but not reduced to the irritations we will get into that younger listeners can’t tolerate by listening to radio.

Radio is something left on in a car 

  • I’ve heard this before – the radio was on but I don’t know the station.
  • In class, one student finally confessed to listening to Z100 but said it was not her choice – she liked Elvis Duran.
  • Commercial radio is something that many young people do not choose – they prefer their own music, Spotify playlists which are like radio without the irritations.

First turnoff:  too many commercials

  • But as we used to say in Philly “who don’t know that?” Too many (bad) commercials have been a turnoff for a longtime even when stations paid money for research and ignored their listeners’ complaints about them.

Second turnoff:  not enough variety 

  • This is the same old tune and radio stations never seem to take it seriously but it is on the list of complaints when you drill down and dig.
  • A radio station can never offer the music discovery of TikTok or Spotify, but stations offer hardly any new music and today, discovery is everything.

Third turnoff:  djs who don’t sound like the audience

  • This does not mean that they need to sound like Millennials or Gen Xers, just that they should not sound like their teachers, fathers or authority figures.
  • Bernie Sanders is a good example of what they mean – he looks old, seems crotchety and sometimes angry but young people love him because (and this is important), to many of them he is authentic. Sounding like the audience doesn’t necessarily mean being young.
  • Radio is definitely not authentic not because they don’t know how to do it, but because owners are stripping the programming.

Fourth turnoff:  radio doesn’t talk about things their listeners care about

  • In our hearts we all know this is true.
  • Our good buddy David Field likes to push Audacy all day long but it comes off as Odyssey which means nothing to them.
  • Promos and sweepers are commercials to the audience and not relevant.
  • A generation of people under stress and facing mental issues could support a station that deals with this problem if it didn’t sound like a talk station about anxiety relief.

There’s no getting around the commercial problem 

  • As long as 20 years ago PDs (not brand managers then) used on-air positioners that said “fewer commercials, more variety and more music” which turned out to be a lie then and now.
  • But had they heeded the advice of researchers and listeners who really meant it when they complained about what’s on the radio, the medium would not be losing younger generations.

Gen X was the first generation to coin the phrase “radio sucks” and now they are the only target audience left for radio.

Baby Boomers loved their radio with all its faults, lack of authenticity, over the top commercialism but this generation is aging out.

Hedge fund run radio monopolies are not interested in growing audience, they’re interested in getting out with their investment and profit.

Jerry Lee had a license to print money when he aggressively spent money to keep researcher Bill Moyes on top of changing needs.

Since Audacy bought B101 in Philly, it has taken a dive – no research, no helping advertisers to make more effective commercials, no music testing and no license to print money.

The answers are still there as they have been for decades but owners are not asking any questions.

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Jerry Del Colliano is a professor at NYU Steinhardt Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions Music Business Program.  His background includes Clinical Professor of Music Industry at the University of Southern California, TV, radio, program management, publishing and digital media.

My thought for the day is here.

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Sony CEO of Music Publishing Jon Platt (think Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Kanye, and Drake) talks with NYU Professor and Music Business Program Director Larry Miller.  Among the topics:  his early days as a DJ and the competitive advantage of diversity and inclusion and the future of music publishing – Listen to the Musonomics podcast here.