2012 - Tuned To The Future
January 3, 2012
Older Listeners ... Younger Tastes
The year is 2012. The world didn't end (yet.) But before we charge ahead into this brand new year, we need to examine what the future holds -- many challenges. They come from inside and outside. There are many among us for whom 2011 was a tumultuous year. This year, an election year, promises to be even more challenging. Many new voters are paying more attention to politics and now believe in the kind of politics they used to ignore. They're in better physical shape than their parents and admit to being more self-centered and materialistic. And as the new generation replaces the aging one, they are once again defying those who thought they would have gone quietly into retirement or some other format.
This year, approximately 3.4 million Americans will turn 50. These boomers are part of the first generation to really patronize Urban music and to reject, however briefly, such evils as materialism and corporate ethics. Because of this and despite the sagging economy, there is a growing market for things such as funeral preparedness, retirement village real estate, exercise equipment, health food and Medicare supplemental insurance. Yet on the other hand, there is an entire generation that expects (and demands) new products.
They are fascinated by and want this new stuff -- new electronic toys, new fads, new car styles and new music. The growth of smaller and cheaper digital and online portable and wireless music delivery systems capable of delivering content on demand in any location has increased tremendously and means more competition for our radio stations.
What is also gradually changing is the fact that Urban AC is no longer an artist-driven format. It's now a song-driven format. So let's hear it for the sad songs, the tragic laments and the minor key music that doesn't always cheer our moods. And let's not forget the feel-good fun jams with love lyric integrity.
What is not going to change in 2012 is both formats' dependency on females. It's long been my contention that today's woman wants to hear today's music along with her favorite songs from yesterday. To make sure we're on point here, we have to revisit the "tipping point." That's a sociological term which refers to that dramatic moment when something unique becomes common. This is especially true for Urban AC stations. As a format, in addition to the gold and recurrents, we need to look at new artists and songs, which includes some that may not be worked to AC radio by record labels and even songs that may not be worked to other formats. We have to be in touch with what our female audience wants. And we have to be very careful not to insult their intelligence or offend them.
One of the easiest ways of offend today's female listener is to imply that she is aging. When you do that, you're saying she isn't as attractive as she used to be. The 40-year-old woman of today is far hipper that the 40-year-old woman of 10-15 years ago. If she's married, working and caring for her kids, she needs to be energized by her favorite station. She is driving more. She's into the latest fashion, the hot television shows, self-help books, learning new things and trying new foods. If she's single, she's into going out to the clubs with her girlfriends. She is active and happening. Will your station reflect this in the music and content it offers? Are you telling this target female listener that she is relevant and hip ... or that she is past her use-by date? We must learn to move forward and bring the people with us who we really need to stay. They could get a meter or a diary.
Finally, let's just touch briefly on my favorite subject -- research. We must realize that if we were to do the same research the next day, it might be a going in another direction. We need to note when interpreting research that there are built in variability factors that are always going to occur. And you can't make long term decisions based strictly on single results. What is between the jams must change as well as the music itself. Your target listener has evolved.
As we unwrap another busy year here at All Access, and even as the economy struggles, the demand for skilled professionals will continue. The problem is companies will need fewer of them. Unfortunately, there are far fewer young broadcasters getting in the business and even fewer mentors. We've become an industry where people have to get good quickly and then get noticed because of the rapid pace. Today it's possible for someone to get into the business and three years down the road they've moved up three or four market sizes.
How is that possible, you say? Because most companies have a limited number of candidates. But if we're going to bring new people into the profession, we need to give them access to opportunities. We have to empower the talent that will empower our audience.
Change is not something that is done simply because a new technology exists; change is taking place because it is a response to the shifting needs of the market. In spite of the competition from various new sources, radio is still more personal than any of them. It has the unique potential to build an intimate relationship between the listeners and your station. Much like an outstanding barber, bank or favorite breakfast place, if we dig deeper, work to keep reflecting the tastes and meet the needs of our listeners, we can remain useful regardless of the listeners' demographic group.
Stations that are good at being edgy will always find a way to thrive. The sure way to tank is to attempt to compromise that affinity for edginess. Our job as programmers is to weave these outside threads together faster, smarter and better than the competition.
Just remember the ride from here on out may not be smooth. But if your mind and vehicle are equipped, you can take the bumps in stride.