By Mark Wainwright
If you’ve spent any time on social media recently, you probably noticed that long-time programmer and consultant John Sebastian has been working to generate interest in his proposed 55+ format. While the idea has received quite a bit of positive feedback, much of it is focused on the music mix. Yes, the right music is important, but the real key to this format’s potential has been overlooked, and it’s something that applies equally to both music and news/talk stations.
This is what the radio business needs to remember:
The 55-72 “Boomer” demographic is the last generation that genuinely cared about radio. They grew up with radio, they were actively engaged with it, and it was an integral part of their lives. At a time when our industry is struggling to stay relevant, we need to reconnect with listeners who still care about us and what we offer.
Boomers didn’t grow up with iPhones, tablets, laptops, and the internet. They grew up with the clock radio on the nightstand, the table radio on the kitchen counter, the dashboard radio in the family car, and the transistor radio in the pocket. Radios were as ubiquitous then as wireless and streaming devices are now, and they served the same function for young boomers. Radio was a portal to new and different music, a source for the news and popular culture that was important to them, and a focal point for a shared listening experience that connected them with their peers. Radio was their generation’s social media.
Moreover, their relationship with radio was reinforced in their families and households every day. While the growing boomers were listening to their favorite top-40 or FM album rock stations, their parents were likely tuned to one of those powerhouse full-service stations we all remember. The younger folks may have preferred WCFL or CKLW, but they were certainly aware of WGN and WJR. They understood how much it all meant back then: Radio is important. Radio matters. Radio matters to everyone.
I’ve spent years (both as an active broadcasting professional and an outside observer) watching stations in all formats try to mine the diminishing resources in the 25-54 demographic. Year after year, the upper end of that cohort ages out while the incoming younger end cares less and less about our medium. Yet, year after year, our industry keeps chasing the 25-54 audience. Do the people in charge understand the inevitable result of insisting on this approach?
And it’s not as if listeners lose their economic value at age 55. Today’s 55-72 adults are generally healthier and more active than previous generations of that cohort, and they are typically the movers and shakers in their communities, the folks at the peak of their professional and financial lives. That means they have a lot of money to spend, and they don’t mind spending it. Why are radio stations, advertisers, and advertising agencies leaving all this money on the table?
If we’re really lucky, some smart person might someday figure out how to get younger adults connected to radio again. In the meantime, our industry should stop fighting a chronically losing battle and pick a fight it can win. There are a lot of Boomers out there. They’re active and engaged in life, they’re willing (even enthusiastic) spenders, and they still remember what radio meant to them. They just need us to make an effort.
The two-part formula for reaching this audience is straightforward:
Personality, Engagement, Local
Hire experienced hosts who are genuine personalities– performers who are entertaining and creative, who know how to keep and hold a listener’s attention, and who present adult content tailored to their local community.
Combine that with…
Content and Relevance
For music stations, play the right music mix (and don’t be afraid to go back in time). For news/talk stations, go beyond the basics of news, weather, and traffic– present features and information segments that are meaningful to older adults.
Your station can sound bright, upbeat, and entertaining… and appeal to a 55-72 listener without sounding “old.”
As a lifelong radio professional who’s loved the medium for as long as I can remember, it frustrates me to see the radio business missing an obvious opportunity… especially at a time when it seems our industry could really use one.
The 55-72 audience is there, and it’s ready. This is an opportunity we cannot pass up.
Mark Wainwright is a radio pro who was most recently morning drive host at news/talk WSYR, Syracuse. He can be emailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org.