Radio: Home of the Hits (and Misses)

Radio used to be called "Home of the Hits". But not so today as young listeners turn elsewhere for music.

A longtime friend of mine -- a well respected radio figure -- wrote to me the other day that he put the big question to a group of young people 19-24 at the family Thanksgiving celebration. He wanted to know -- where do you get new music?

One young person replied, "...from iTunes, of course". But my friend persisted, "that wasn't my question. My question was where she heard the music that she then purchased from iTunes?"

He reports the answer was radio -- good, old fashioned terrestrial radio. He added that she professed to be a huge fan of radio. The other young people joined in and agreed that radio was a primary source of hearing the product that they wanted to buy.

This got me to thinking.

I emailed him back -- this is not my experience at USC, but I could be wrong. God knows, I have been wrong enough to not jump to conclusions.

So, I took it to my classes yesterday. Asked them point blank, "is it the water out here in LA or am I misreading your relationship with terrestrial radio?"

Here's a sampling of what I heard -- and keep in mind that this means nothing statistically although I believe the answers to be honest and somewhat representative:

1. A student from Iowa -- Iowa -- said radio is her last resort for music.

2. "There's no new music on radio".

3. "Internet radio is radio and when I say I listen to radio I mean Internet radio".

4. "I learn of new music from watching TV".

5. "Pandora" (the online radio that learns what you like and suggests more of the same).

Not one person said terrestrial radio was their source for music let alone new music.

My own view is that radio's problem with the next generation reflects their defection from the FM dial. While I respect my friend -- and he may well be reading it right -- I have a less optimistic view of music radio and Gen Y from my experience.

They steal music.

They share music directly and through social networks.

They buy music (usually from iTunes).

They even buy an occasional CD (occasional).

But they don't get their music from radio and definitely don't get their new music from radio.

I know it may seem hard to believe from me here on a university campus, but I can tell you that as bad as I say it is -- it's actually worse.

While iPod fatigue seems to be setting in, radio is not in line for a comeback with this generation.

The reason?

Radio broadcasters don't understand this generation. It's a generation that wants control. They are used to getting control. They want what they want when they want it. Baby boomer parents gave it to them that way. The same parents, by the way, who still run America's radio stations. Ironic.

Now baby boomer managers who failed to get a handle on this new dynamic are on the outside looking in.

If you're up for a "Hail Mary" then look to new content, large playlists (against your better judgment), no traditional djs and local origination.

Or, you could attend the next radio convention and wax eloquent about the good old days because that's all you will have left with this demographic.

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