Features

How News/Talk Radio Should Adapt to Attract and Retain a Younger Audience

By Bill Bartholomew
Talk Host/Podcaster/Journalist/Musician

imFolks in the Gen Z and millennial demographics are heavily engaged in political issues, care about news in their communities and the world, and are constantly bombarded with content.  So why are they less likely to tune into and interact with news/talk radio than older demographics?

Talk radio has historically skewed older, and from an ad portfolio standpoint, is often targeted at the coveted 35-54 and 55+ demographics.  However, in a world where social media influencers and podcasters supply information to millions of young consumers, news/talk radio should be able to effectively compete for the ears of younger generations in a comparable, if not expanded way.

For all of the anecdotal and hard evidence that terrestrial radio may be trending in a downward direction, the format continues to have a vast reach.  It is convenient to engage with it in automobiles, and occasionally in home or office settings.  Yet, while younger generations listen to radio, news/talk is not the format that they turn to by and large.

Unlike many digital-first content producers, radio retains a unique quality: authority.  By virtue of editorial standards, FCC regulation and brand – things that social media and podcasts often lack – radio has the unique ability to deliver credible, vetted, nuanced and universally trustworthy content that can instantaneously adapt to meet the needs of the moment.  This is true in everything from natural disasters to rapidly evolving breaking news stories, providing a channel for immediate, reactionary insight and analysis.

There are several steps that news/talk radio should pursue in earnest to adapt to the current climate of content consumption, particularly by younger listeners, that can reach, and most importantly, retain broader, younger, more diverse and more engaged audiences.

  1. Introduce younger people into the conversation.

Too often, Gen Z and millennials are skewered by older hosts, mocked for their perceived naivety, unchecked optimism and me-first approach.  While some of these qualities can be accurate, that approach reflects a disconnect between older generations and the experience of younger ones.  Millennials and Gen Z have grown up in a post-9/11 world replete with “endless wars”, the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis, runaway student debt, a massive housing crisis, the mental health stressors of social media, Covid19’s impact on traditional youth experiences, climate change, a deeply bifurcated political environment and a constantly evolving quest for social justice.  Through these experiences, younger generations offer an important perspective that should be assigned the same news value as experts from older generations.

Are you discussing shifts towards electric vehicles?  Bring on someone from Gen Z to share their perspective on why steps towards carbon neutrality are important to them.  Engaging a conversation on the president’s approval rating?  Perhaps younger conservative and leftist voices should be included in the conversation.  Discussing immigration?  How about the perspective of a younger member of a Latino organization?

By giving younger generations and more diverse guests a platform, stations can simultaneously expand their content and reach.  With consistency, the station’s brand will become more familiar to younger potential listeners who may be inclined to tune in to hear someone who shares their identity and perspective on – here’s that word again – a platform of authority.  Let the guest do the work of establishing the credibility and importance of your station or talk show to younger audiences by posting about their appearance on social media, sharing audio clips and mentioning to their peers.  It will build familiarity and trust among those generations, who in turn, will begin to tune in on a more regular basis.

Stations should also consider bringing more younger, competent voices into on-air roles, whether that be through reporting, segments, fill-in hosts, weekend shows or full-time hosts.

  1. Meet the audience where they are: their phones. 

As mentioned above, the convenience of simply turning on AM/FM radio is highly appealing in automobiles, though as Apple Carplay continues to adapt and evolve, digital-first content is likely to become as simple and convenient in the near future.

Talk radio needs to make consuming their product on smartphones as simple and direct as turning on a traditional radio.  This means no clunky websites, no lengthy pre-roll spots, a reliable stream connection and a “one touch” means of turning on and off the station.  This should also mean expanding talk shows to high-quality video livestreams, following in the footsteps of the top YouTube and Twitch performers; developing unique content for TikTok and Instagram; building podcasts that are focused on specific issues, and; providing interaction via text and chat.

Radio has the ability to be the ultimate livestreamer, social media influencer and podcaster, but rarely harnesses these platforms in a meaningful way.

It is not enough to simply strive to “expand a digital presence”; stations and shows must engage in the hard work of building platform-specific content with their brands.

  1. Music, cultural references and themes for the modern age.

A few weeks ago on a seemingly benign episode of the TV show FOX NFL Sunday, panelists Jimmy Johnson and Terry Bradshaw offered an example of the type of cultural adaptation that sophisticated writers and producers provide their brands.  While describing a fight between two football players, Mr. Johnson said something to the effect of “when it comes to these two, what’s that Taylor Swift song?”, and then in synch with Mr. Bradshaw, “bad blood!”.  It is highly unlikely that these two 70+ men listen to Taylor Swift’s music with any regularity or would simultaneously pull the “Bad Blood” reference.  Yet, with excellent preparation that played into the greater cultural moment as well as the specific, current Taylor Swift/NFL overlap, in a six-second span, FOX NFL Sunday was able to give the illusion that their panelists are contemporary, hip and plugged into “what is going on”.  Is your station or show plugged into what’s going on?  Do you use contemporary music for bumps?  Are your images – including headshots and social content – modern, interesting and engaging or are they more akin to a miscellaneous real estate agent?  You are a performer in an entertainment business that, while certainly paying homage to the past and lineage of the industry, must be contemporary in aural and visual presentation.  This goes for everything from wardrobe on video and in photo to fonts on graphic design.

How often do you or your producer read Pitchfork to learn about new music that is breaking this week?  How often do you or your producer read Variety to understand major trends that are happening in the broader entertainment industry?  What live events are you broadcasting from, covering and building partnerships with?  You should strive to be cutting edge.

  1. We need a friend now more than ever.

This is something that goes for all audiences, but particularly for younger ones.  It’s OK, in fact, great to be yourself, present yourself from your generation and retain the authoritative stance that has built your brand.  Take a look at the success that sports talker Mike Francesa enjoyed by leaning into his persona – and in turn – developing legions of younger listeners that fell in love with his dad-like delivery and frequent meltdowns.

Few things are as uncomfortable to see as a 40+ person dressing or acting like a teenager.  Younger listeners want that senior, experienced, trusted friend to entertain them, inform them, and at times, tell them that everything is going to be OK.  You can help make sense of the world for younger audiences, something that is absolutely essential in the modern era.

Through attracting younger listeners by including them in the conversation, effectively delivering content on smartphones, presenting a cutting-edge entertainment product and continuing to serve as a trusted friend, news/talk radio can greatly expand its reach, relevance and revenue.

To that point, some younger listeners who discover a radio station or show via any of the above entry points will likely work backwards to the traditional AM/FM dial.  Like the resurgence of vinyl records, AM radio in particular has the opportunity to become a hip delivery format for discerning younger listeners.

The big question is: are radio companies, stations and hosts prepared to do the hard work of reimaging their product?

 

Bill Bartholomew is a talk radio and podcast host/producer, journalist and musician based in Providence, Rhode Island. Email him at: william.f.bartholomew@gmail.com. 
Industry News

Jerry Del Colliano is This Week’s Guest on Harrison Podcast

Noted media industries analyst Jerry Del Colliano is this week’s guest on the award-winning PodcastOne series, “The Michael Harrison Interview.” Del Colliano is publisher of the daily newsletter Inside Music Media that serves radio and music professionals with behind-the-scenes happenings at the highest levels in these industries sparked by his hard-hitting and often controversial commentary. Del Colliano has served as Professor of Music Industry at the University of Southern California and currently holds the position of Professor of Music Business Program at New York University’s Steinhardt Department of Music and Performing Arts Profession. These positions have given him insight into today’s youth culture and its potential application in both the radio and music businesses looking to appeal to younger demos. Harrison and Del Colliano engage in an extensive discussion about “generational media” and the professor’s first-hand observations about the habits and mindset of “Gen Z.”  Not to be missed! Listen to the podcast in its entirety here.

Industry Views

Pending Business: A Little Change Can Do You Good

By Steve Lapa
Lapcom Communications Corp
President

imLast week, with little time left on the clock, Disney and Charter Communications made a deal so that Charter customers could continue to watch Disney programming. Phew! Just in time for 15 million Charter cable customers to have access to that 53-year-old American institution called “Monday Night Football.”

It’s amazing how the two sides came together just in time to preserve the TV viewing habits of millions of football fans and all those millions of ad dollars sold into the broadcasts. Although both Disney and Charter lobbed streaming options at viewers to help ease the temporary pain, in the end, cooler heads prevailed, and a deal was struck.

Not so fast, somebody buried a headline.

Just before Labor Day, the Charter guys were claiming the current cable TV bundling model ain’t what it used to be, in effect acknowledging the nearly 5 million people a year who cut the cable. The cable bundle value proposition is changing before our blurry gameday eyes, and more options are becoming accessible every day. Does any of this “I can get this somewhere else” ring familiar?

Try this at home. Ask any Gen Z people you know how often they listen to the radio. (Gen Z are roughly between nine and 26 years old.) Now ask the Millennials you know (roughly 27 to 42 years old). The results will frighten you as you realize the greatest freebie electronic entertainment ever invented is losing the future faster than cord cutters on steroids.

If you have been in the terrestrial radio business for longer than five years, you are aware of the melting ice cube future of radio. Even our friends in the newspaper business are changing with the times, looking for writers who will report specifically on Taylor Swift and Beyonce. They tour the world generating crazy numbers in ticket and music sales. Their appearances and social media impact everything from fashion to politics. How is that for changing a future value proposition?

Sports fan or not, are you in touch with the Coach Prime phenomenon happening at the University of Colorado? The story was featured on the soon-to-be 56-year-old “60 Minutes.”

Deon Sanders is changing college football in Boulder as fans gobble up seats at over $500 a piece.

The point of this column is simple. From cable to pop culture to Coach Prime, leadership is innovating, finding new ways to re-invent and re-package a premise as old as song and sport, a premise much older than the terrestrial radio business. Maybe we can all learn from what we sell.

Steve Lapa is the president of Lapcom Communications Corp. based in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. Lapcom is a media sales, marketing, and development consultancy. Contact Steve Lapa via email at: Steve@Lapcomventures.com.

Industry News

Edison Research and SXM Media Release Gen Z Podcast Study

Edison Research and SXM Media release the Gen Z Podcast Listener Report. The report notes that Gen Z (ages 13-24) has an estimated online population of 24 million Americans. Some of the takeaways from this report include: 1) Podcast listening has grown among those age 13-24: In 2018, 30% of those age 13-24 had listened to a podcast in the last month. Today, 47% of those age 13-24 have listened to a podcast in the last month (24 million Americans), a 57% increase; 2) Gen Z got an early start with podcasts: 16% of Gen Zim monthly podcast listeners started listening as a child, 57% started listening as a teenager and 25% started listening as an adult. This means 73% of Gen Z monthly podcast listeners began listening before the age of 18; 3) Those who began listening earlier in life, listen longer: Gen Z monthly podcast listeners who started listening as a child consume 10.6 hours of podcasts per week; those who started as a teenager consume 7.5 hours per week, and those who started as an adult consume 6.6 hours of podcasts per week. The average for all Gen Z monthly podcast listeners is 7.7 hours per week; and 4) Gen Z act as a result of podcast ads: 82% of Gen Z monthly podcast listeners have taken any action as a result of hearing a podcast advertisement; 70% have either purchased or wanted to purchase the product or service they heard advertised, 61% have visited a company or product website, 44% have used a promo code or discount code mentioned in the podcast, and 42% have recommended a product to a friend or family member. See the study here.

Industry News

Edison Research’s Top Podcasts for October ‘22 – March ‘23

Edison Research publishes its latest podcast rankings from October 2022 through March 2023 based on weekly reach among those age 13+. Edison notes that the top four podcasts in this list of 50 did not change from its previous ranker. Those are: 1) The Joe Rogan Experience; 2) Crime Junkie; 3) The Daily; 4) Thisim American Life. Other radio related podcasts that placed in the top 50 include “The Ben Shapiro Show” (#8), “The Ramsey Show” (#17), and “The Dan Bongino Show” (#25). The latest ranker from Edison Podcast Metrics shows the Top 50 Podcasts based on weekly audience reach and reflects two significant updates to the service that were implemented last year. The sample has been expanded to include weekly podcast listeners age 13-17. This measurement allows podcast producers and networks to understand the teen segment of the Gen Z podcast listeners. The ranker also includes increased sample size, which allows for more recency in reporting and robust cuts of data. The latest ranker includes measurement from the previous two quarters with a total sample size of 10,797 weekly podcast listeners age 13+.

Industry News

TALKERS News Notes

— NPR promotes Michel Martin to new a role as co-host of “Morning Edition.” Martin, who has been the host of the weekend edition of “All Things Considered” since 2015, takes over for Rachel Martin who is exiting to pursue other media opportunities. She begins working alongside Steve Inskeep, A Martínez and Leila Fadel on March 27.

The Los Angeles TimesJames Rainey writes a profile piece this week about Tavis Smiley, former PBS personality and current owner of KBLA, Los Angeles – a talk station targeting the Black community. The piece addresses Smiley’s legal battles with PBS after he was accused of sexually harassing multiple women, the court case he lost and one he’s still involved in. It also looks at his efforts to reach the Black community via KBLA and its talk hosts. Read the LA Times story here.

— Edison Research is presenting a four-part series through its Edison’s Weekly Insights exploring the “power of traditional AM/FM radio in the U.S. This week’s edition reports, based on Edison’s Share of Ear study, “Listeners age 13+ in the U.S. spend 59% of their daily, ad-supported audio time with AM/FM radio, more time than with all other ad-supported audio sources combined, including YouTube, podcasts, and ad-supported streaming services. AM/FM radio is the top ad-supported audio source for all ages in the U.S., including Gen Z (age 13-24) who spend 33% of their daily ad-supported audio time with AM/FM radio, more than for any other ad-supported platform.” Read the story here.

Industry News

The Joe Rogan Experience Tops Edison’s 2022 Q4 Podcast Metrics

Edison Research releases the 2022 fourth quarter results of its Edison Podcast Metrics that ranks the most listened-to podcasts in the U.S. Keeping the hold on the #1 spot is “The Joe Rogan Experience.” Podcasts with a commercial radio connection that made the top 50 include The Daily Wire’s “The Ben Shapiro Show” atLogo - Text #6, Cumulus Podcast Network’s “The Dan Bongino Show” at #19, and The Ramsey Network’s “The Ramsey Show” at #22. This latest ranker shows the Top 50 Podcasts based on weekly audience reach and reflects two significant updates to the service. Edison says the sample has been expanded to include weekly podcast listeners age 13-17. This measurement allows podcast producers and networks to understand the teen segment of the Gen Z podcast listeners. The Q4 ranker includes increased sample size implemented last year, which allows for more recency in reporting and robust cuts of data. The latest ranker includes measurement from the previous two quarters with a total sample size of 10,597 weekly podcast listeners age 13+.

Industry News

Edison Research to Present Boomer and Gen Z Podcast Reports

The company announces that it will present two podcast studies in the first quarter of this year. “Hit Play, Boomer: Podcasting’s 55+ Opportunity” from NPR and Edison Research focuses on podcast listeners age 55 and older. The study explores what Edison terms “this oft-overlooked but highly influential demo” and theirLogo - Graphics podcast listening behaviors. “The Gen Z Podcast Listening Report” from SXM Media and Edison Research “provides an in-depth look at the podcast habits and motivations of the elusive and much-desired Gen Z listener.” Edison vice president Megan Lazovick says, “Everything we do at Edison Research works to drive the audio space forward with the highest quality data. We believe these two studies will help advertisers understand the opportunities for audio to reach these two important generations and of course help the media companies who can deliver these audiences.”

Industry News

TALKERS News Notes

— Talk radio pro Gary R’Nel is named Saturday afternoon host (3:00 pm – 5:00 pm) on Audacy’s news/talk WPHT, Philadelphia. R’nel tells TALKERS, “I think it’s imperative that talk radio present shows that are entertaining and informative. Connecting with the listener one-on-one in some capacities has become a lost art. Those who do engage are among the most successful.”

Edison Research is presenting its first webinar of the year, “Media Habits of Gen Z,” next Wednesday (1/18) at 1:00 pm ET. Edison says, “This custom study, examining media habits of Gen Z through survey research and qualitative interviews, was originally commissioned by the PRPD and presented at their annual conference recently. The findings are now being made available in a webinar. Discover how Gen Z see themselves, how they consume media, and how they share with their peers.” The webinar is being presented by Edison Research VP Megan Lazovick and senior director of research Gabriel Soto. Register here.

Omaha Productions and ESPN announce the launch of a new podcast called “Lead By Example” hosted by Golden State Warriors president of basketball operations and general manager Bob Myers. The podcast features Myers speaking with leaders in various walks of life – from sports and entrepreneurship to politics and entertainment – to share in their experiences and the lessons they’ve learned on their journey. The first guest is Warriors star Stephen Curry and drops on Tuesday (1/17).