Radio's 12-24 Dilemma -- Taking Less To Get More

By Dave Van Dyke, Inside Music Media™ Contributor
"Greed blinded an industry that couldn't see it had a future"
It's always interesting to follow the trades in our business, especially when the stories are old news. I'm referring to the headlines last week about the Arbitron "fly-in" during which was discussed the fact that the radio industry has ignored the 12-24 year old audience to the point that the very future of the business is at stake because traditional radio has offered this generation nothing for over ten years.

This isn't new news! Jerry's been talking about this for years; research projects as far back as 2003 at Bridge Ratings have shown this age group, in general, hasn't felt there's any compelling reason to listen to terrestrial radio. Other researchers have flown this flag, yet the radio industry has just ignores these warnings. Why?

It should be no secret that the answer lies in top lines, bottom lines and senior management's lack of courage and their short-sightedness in placing the almighty dollar ahead of the industry's future. However, the real blame sits with advertising agencies and radio clients who have been brainwashed to believe that 12-24 year olds don't have disposable income and are not worth marketing to. Maybe they do understand that this age group has tons of money ready to spend on everything from movies and music to clothing and electronics; these buyers of radio time have simply following the "lemming law" and inadvertently led the radio industry down a path of self-destruction.

While running radio stations for CBS not so long ago, I recall the frustration we had walking out of buyers' offices when they had explained that this younger generation wasn't their core target for the radio clients they represented, yet they had no problem spending money on youth cable networks such as MTV to promote movies and other youth-targeted products. The buyers just couldn't see the same relationship radio had with this active consumer group and so they wouldn't buy radio. Whose fault was that? Did radio sales people fail in some way?

So, over the years, management at traditional radio followed the money and did not develop programming and personalities that would compel this generation of 12-24 year olds to stay glued to their radios like previous generations have. Their rationale was, "we'll go where the money is: the 25-54 family reunion demo." Obviously, radio is a business and businesses need to make profit. But radio's always been in the business of making money and due to lack of courage the industry has ignored the concept that it needs to develop future audiences.

Consolidation led to ownership concentration which led to the concept of cost savings and the dream of leveraging audiences on multiple stations for increased revenue. Greed blinded an industry that couldn't see it had a future. Wall Street forced traditional radio to focus so much on this quarter, this month - even this week's sales, that radio forgot to 'save for a rainy day'. In the words of humorist Kin Hubbard, "the hardest thing is to take less when you can get more," and traditional radio hasn't worked hard enough to take less. (Dave Van Dyke is President of Bridge Ratings)