Here’s a fun game to play. Ask your kids to name a radio station by the call sign or frequency number in your area.
My guess is you will be hard-pressed to get a response. Kids today do not listen to radio. There are simply too many other relevant and entertaining options.
When I was growing up, radio was a key part of my music-listening experience. In fact, it was the core of it, even after MTV launched. I vividly remember sitting and listening to the radio, locked into PYX 106 or FLY 92 in upstate New York, with my boombox cued up so I could record the new Prince song when it played (hopefully without too much witty banter from the DJ). I felt lucky to capture it, and never disappointed to have waited two hours for my success.
Fast-forward to when I was an adult first living in the Bay Area, and radio stations were the core of local entertainment with their holiday concerts like “Not So Silent Night” or the “KFOG Kaboom.”
These were community events. Now that community has changed.
Kids don’t listen to radio. They listen to Soundcloud. They listen to Spotify. They may even listen to Pandora, but for the most part Soundcloud is the core of where they go.
No more time-sensitive listening. No more trying desperately to capture a song, because it’s all there all the time. It’s a more consumer-centric approach, and it works.
For artists, it’s easy to post your music, and it’s easy to promote through social media. You can be viral, generate millions of listens and establish an audience long before any label ever even hears your name. Artists get the leverage and consumers get exactly what they want.
The challenge for radio is that it’s not as much a life-stage medium as other types of media. For example, Facebook is a website that works great for established yet distributed families who want to keep in touch. It’s not great for friends who see each other every day — they have more immediate options.
If you broaden out further, TV has evolved to direct-to-consumer streaming and is heating up dramatically. Newspapers have found a way to remain relevant by downsizing but focusing on the audience they serve. Movies has shifted their focus to be about the experience more than simply the content. Radio, unfortunately, is still trying to find its way.
I used to love radio, but even I find myself unsure of how it fits into my daily regimen of media consumption. I use radio for audio content, but it competes with podcasting and my own streaming music. I focus on local news and traffic more than anything. The only saved stations in my car are local news and a local morning show that entertains me on the way to work.
Radio needs to find a way to resonate with the younger audience who multitask in a digital world. I Heart Radio has done a good job of evolving over the years and reinventing its approach to live music, festivals and artist programming, but that’s only part of its success, which is tied to the ways it has embraced the digital landscape, too. Not every radio company has done so as seamlessly.
I have a heartstring to strum for radio. I hope it can find a way to re-establish a connection with youth. I hope it can become a viable medium for the future.
What are your thoughts on the state of radio these days?