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This story first appeared in the Aug. 23-Sept. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The good news for those who like radio is that reports of our untimely demise are not only premature but, well, just plain wrong. These kinds of stories conveniently fail to take into account that, according to Arbitron, more than 92 percent of the U.S. population still regularly tunes in to over-the-air stations, with millions more listening online and via mobile devices.
Innovations by the medium actually have increased the number of people who listen to radio on a monthly basis. These include streaming, apps that allow the listener to interact with a station, new formats targeting younger demographics, HD radio and the use of video to present what has traditionally been an audio medium.
Granted, the formats and personalities that are most popular today are not the same as they were 10, five or even just a few years ago. But that shouldn’t surprise anyone, as audience preferences change.
In fact, talk radio formats targeted to the 18-to-34 and 25-to-54 demographics are still thriving, with hosts of similar age taking the leading role engaging listeners in topical discussions about news, sports and pop culture and exposing them to new music. Did you know that 660 Sports Radio WFAN in New York broadcasts one of the most popular morning talk shows with men 18 to 49? CBS Radio’s WBZ-FM in Boston and WXYT-FM in Detroit are both No. 1 with men 18 to 34 in morning drive. More important, if you look at the median age of listeners to CBS Radio’s sports stations, you’d see they are 44.
There are plenty of examples of rising DJ talent on this country’s music stations. THR already pointed out Ryan Seacrest and Carson Daly. Just last month, CBS Radio hired Ty Bentli to host morning drive on our Top 40 station in New York — the No. 1 radio market in the U.S. I’d point out that Ty just turned 31.
Changing directions is never easy, but ultimately it must be done. You might never hear another Tom Leykis, Howard Stern or Rush Limbaugh on your local radio station. That’s not to diminish their long history of success or their loyal followings. Programming that appeals to those audiences might very well find a new home on satellite or via podcasting or online streaming. It’s great that those options exist.
But when it comes to the entire radio marketplace, our job is to create content that appeals to a wide range of listeners and advertisers — whether that’s talk, music or news. Our future is not determined by one specific format or the people who pioneered a genre. I’d say it’s just the opposite: Our diversity and the ability to adapt to the changing environment will always put us in a position to win.
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