It’s All About the Millennials

Radio has certainly seen many changes occur over the past decade. The industry’s technology has exploded, moving music from vinyl albums to CDs to hard drives. Music is scheduled by computers, not with index cards. Air personalities routinely connect with listeners via social media sites, not just at remotes. And now, consumers can access radio stations on phones, tablets, and smart speakers. Radio time is now sold programmatically. And on-demand has become a way of life, spurring a flurry of podcast activity.

There’s been a lot of change over the years, which has forced radio veterans to adapt to changing technologies. Yet, there’s one aspect of the radio broadcasting industry that hasn’t changed:


Radio’s addiction to the 25-54 year-old demographic.

The age-old excuse – “That’s what advertisers want” – has become a mantra that virtually every broadcast radio programmer faces. Bonuses are based on this target audience, research has become focused on this 30-year age span, and wins and losses are measured by where stations rank on its yardstick.  It would seem that for radio – the 25-54 ratings are for all intents and purposes, the only demo that matters.

Although it has been theorized by many over the years, that a logical leap to 35-64 will occur, it has never happened, despite the fact that as baby boomers have aged, their spending on homes, cars, medical, and travel has only accelerated.

Despite it all, classic rock and classic hits have had banner ratings results these past 5 years – and despite being designated as the “formats of the summer” by Nielsen, both are on the “endangered formats” list because of their organic, unstoppable appeal to those 55+, therefore falling outside of the only demo graph seen as useful to radio marketers and sellers.

This chart clearly shows just how powerful a force Millennials have become. In just the blink of an eye, they will outnumber baby boomers. And defined as 22-38 years-old, they now sit at the base of radio’s core 25-54 demographic. If a radio’s format doesn’t have solid appeal to Millennials, your ability to hit Top 5 status in this most desirable demographic is strongly impeded.

But let’s look past Millennials to the truly remarkable, but inconvenient truth about this chart:


Generation Z

These consumers – 3-21 year-olds are already the largest generational group of them all. At 71 million strong, they are an up and coming, formidable consumer spending force.  They’re a big reason why companies from many industries are already talking, planning, and brainstorming both strategies and tactics designed to win them over.

Radio for Gen Z?  Sadly, many kids simply don’t know what a radio is. And by the time they’re old enough to drive, that SUV in the driveway will pair their phones, providing them access to media and entertainment from the Internet (or satellite) service of their choice – platforms they have grown up with and way more familiar with.

So, what does all this mean for the future, especially as established broadcast radio formats like Classic Hits, Classic Rock, and even Country hit that “demographic cliff” at age 55?

Maybe it’s a good time to make some choices – either broadcast radio will finally have to justify and support stations that skew 35-64 to a stubborn ad community.  Or the industry will finally have to start getting serious about appealing to Millennials, as well as their younger brothers and sisters.  Radio has a serious Next Gens(s) problem that isn’t going to magically resolve itself when today’s teens become adults.

Public radio is at least cognizant of the problem – and actively trying to do something about researching and understanding young consumers.  While they, too, are often judged by their 25-54 performance in diary and metered markets, many on the network and local levels are actively thinking about future generations and how to serve them.

Until the radio industry makes generational diversity a priority, broadcasters will continue to go their merry way, killing a format or two every few years, and mindlessly chasing a 25-54 year-old demographic no longer interested in its offerings.

It would seem that due to this, radio has a choice – either find a way to make aging baby boomers a vital, viable, and marketable demographic. Or begin a serious focus on Generation Z, and its future.


Content and research courtesy of Jacob’s Media.

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