Radio’s Money Problem

Abandoned Radio StationFor the radio listener, your next break is all that matters. Does it speak to your listener? Does it have relevance to your listener’s life right this second? How do you know?

Homogenized America

With the growth of fast food establishments, big box stores and online shopping, one might think that America is now homogenized. That we’ve become a “one size, fits all” society. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

Defining Generations

Before we discuss what specific age group goals are, let’s first define those groups.

  • Millennials (ages 18-34)
  • Generation X (ages 35-52)
  • Baby Boomers (ages 53-72)
  • Greatest Generation (ages 73 and older)

I’m part of the Baby Boomer generation, so let me speak about a group that I personally know something about.

Boomer Goals

Harris Poll surveyed 2,002 American adults to learn what we want as we get older. The number one thing was to travel abroad (57%). I know that travel is #1 on my list and that’s why this spring I set out with Sue on a cross-country trip across America that racked up 11,175-miles on our Honda Accord.

The next bucket list item the Harris Poll found was that American’s want to take up a new hobby (52%). In my case, that has manifested itself by working on my blog and volunteering at my church.

The other items on the list were tracking one’s health using a wearable, joining new social circles, living abroad and participating in extreme sports (28% to 3%). What these things all say is that growing older doesn’t mean we have to stop having fun.

Boomer Priorities

I really can identify with what the Harris Poll found as the top priority of aging Americans, spending more time with friends and family (62%). Previously my radio and teaching careers had been my primary focus for over 50-years, but not any longer. Now, being a grandpa is Job One.

Other priorities we have as we age, is the desire to seek out new experiences (51%), which explains our desire to travel and see more of the planet. To travel, one must be healthy and so health and wellness (51%) is also a priority.

Aging Positives

Americans agree that as we age we gain wisdom (65%) and experience (62%). Which begs the question, why do  companies seem to undervalue their senior employees or try to unload them with offers of early retirement and buyouts.

Other positives of growing older are that we feel more trustworthy, independent, are more comfortable in our own skin and feel more in control of our lives.

How Old is “Old?”

I think the answer to the question “How old is old?” has always been a moving target depending on the age of the person being asked that very question. The Harris Poll found that Millennials think old is 67, Generation X thinks it’s 72, Baby Boomers think it’s 79 and the Greatest Generation think it’s 82.

Usually the day after my fitness class, I think it’s my current age.

“Between now and 2029, one Baby Boomer will turn 65 every eight seconds,” says management guru Tom Peters. In his new book, The Excellence Dividend, Peters says “Most firms seem clueless – or worse, even seem to turn their back on the opportunity (of serving this huge population).”

Radio & “the Oldies” Market

Tom Peters is pretty adamant about what companies need to do to serve this segment of the American population.

  • Do a stem-to-stern assessment of the skills, assets, and culture that are needed to serve this market
  • People aged 50 or older have 47-times more net wealth than households headed by a person under age 35

It appears that some companies have done this and are enjoying the profits of their efforts. SiriusXM’s Q3 Conference Call saw that company’s CEO Jim Meyer telling analysts that audio is thriving like never before saying “the entire pie of audio consumption is actually growing.” Net income is up 24%, margins are up 40% and they plan to increase their dividend to investors.

Willy Sutton robbed banks, he said, because that’s where the money was.

The money is with the Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation, the very population that was raised on radio.

I’m not saying every radio station needs to cater to this senior segment. Obviously, if radio is to be relevant to the generations following the Boomers, it needs to offer programs that are relevant to this age group too. However, in my travels around this country I’ve heard a minuscule number of radio signals appealing to the money age groups. In my opinion this is a missed opportunity, for the radio industry’s future and its current economic stability.

Another Place, Another Time

I started my radio management career back in early 1980, still in my twenties, as the general manager of an AM daytime radio station that programmed Al Ham’s “Music of YOUR Life.” Next to Rush Limbaugh, Al Ham’s music format was the next best thing one could program on an AM radio station to attract the older audience of that time.

Our FM station in that AM/FM cluster was programming the current top hits of the day, and between us, we pretty much covered all the demographics. The hardest part of attracting new advertisers to my daytime radio station, was convincing them to try it. Once they did, they quickly became regular advertisers because the people we attracted to our programming had the money to buy everything our advertisers sold. My company president always liked to say, “money makes honey,” and my success with this little 1,000-watt daytimer led to my promotion to market manager in Atlantic City running a news/talk AM radio station and a 50,000-watt FM Bonneville Beautiful Music radio station. Both stations were programmed to an older, well-heeled, audience. We were a million dollar cash flowing property.

The Time is NOW

Tom Peters pretty much sums up radio’s action plan by saying, “Cut the B.S. Can the excuses. Forget the fancy reports. Get moving now. Get the job done. On this score, nothing has changed in 50-years, including the maddening fact that all too often a business strategy is inspiring, but the execution mania is largely AWOL.”

Pay attention to the culture inside your radio operation. IBM’s turnaround CEO Lou Gerstner put it this way, “culture is not just one aspect of the game – it is the game.”

And finally, train your people.

“Training is any firm’s single most important capital investment.”

-Tom Peters


Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales

23 responses to “Radio’s Money Problem

  1. Bob Harlan

    As usual, you’re spot on!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Huge! Boomers Bring Dollars!! We’re also the Experienced Curators! Immediate turn-arounds for broadcasters with wit & will to win.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Curt Krafft

    Could not have said it better myself. Older demos are like a ship at sea looking for a port to dock in. They bring a cargo of gold to any radio station smart enough to turn on the harbor lights.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mike Buxser

    Great article Dick. You nailed it. The boomer audience grew up with music radio and it’s not surprising they continue to be huge listeners. That the ad community clings to the old 25-54 and younger demos shows how out of touch with today’s demos they are. My concern is that many stations have forgotten that the connection between the personality and the audience is so important. That connection is non existent on most stations. Kudos to satellites 60’s on Six. Phash Phelps, Pat St. John, Shotgun Tom Kelley and Cousin Bruce have that connection and over the air radio is rapidly losing boomers to the 60’s on Six. I hope the powers that be of today’s radio groups wake up before it’s too late.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike, you’re so very right about the importance of having radio personalities that complement the music.

      When I put the “Music of YOUR Life” on the air, I realized that the successful stations (only 8 at that time) were the ones that used known personalities to go with the songs of Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, etc.

      So, I sought out those known local personalities in my area and persuaded them to return to the air on my station. They did and we found great success playing music that was for the generation of my father.

      The radio personality is very important and I quite agree that the 60s on 6 is so good because this channel gets it.

      Thank you for adding to the discussion.


  5. You can have all the listeners in the world, but if no one is buying the advertisers product it means nothing.

    I’m 52. When I watch TV and listen to radio, most of the products I see and hear have zero value to me. Why? Because I am set in my buying patterns and I am stubborn to try new things.

    When I was younger I would buy or try many of the items that I now consider worthless on radio and TV.

    Even being a former tech junkie. The new cell phones, and electronic gadgets don’t excite me anymore.

    Forget about programming. The challenge is how TV and radio is going to increase revenue with a aging money demo that will have the buying power, but has no interest for products and trends pitched.

    Remember when you were young and you told your parents about the coolest stuff you just got, and the response was “rubbish” ?

    Note: I also had MOYL on one of my AM stations in 1988. It did okay, but nowhwere the numbers that my CHR did.


    • Thank You for sharing your perspective Damon. I’m 66 and I do try new things and would not say I’m “set in my buying patterns.” Others my age and older tell they aren’t either. So maybe it’s not an age thing.

      My roller skate bag has a badge on it that reads: “Growing older is mandatory. Growing up is optional.”

      One of the big changes in my life is traveling. Not something I had a whole lot of interest in when I was younger, career oriented and raising a family, now it’s become a passion.

      I’m also loving learning about history by visiting the places where those events occurred.

      I have been a cellphone (really smartphone) household for years and cut the cable TV bundle and use a cable only for internet.

      And as far as MOYL is concerned, if you just played the music and didn’t combine it with personalities that were known and loved in your local area, you didn’t fully enjoy the benefits of what this format could deliver.

      Thanks for stopping by the blog today. -DT



    In a lot of markets, the Baby Boomer market is under-served due to automation and (to a lesser degree) satellite-delivered programming. There may be an oldies signal, but it’s almost exclusively music with no personality, or at best a disc jockey in a distant city who cannot possibly relate to the local audience.

    We Boomers grew up listening to stations that employed witty, well-spoken professionals who could relate to us, their audiences. Where are the new generation of people like Cousin Brucie, Dick Biondi, Gary Owens, Rick Dees? Our generation tuned in originally for the hits, but often we could choose from at least two or three stations that all played the same music; it was the air personality who determined dial position in every daypart. Without an entertaining “master of ceremonies” presenting the music, we might as well just listen to our oldies collections — and sadly, many of us do just that.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Oldies is one of those formats where you do need personalities to really make it click. But, they can be voice tracked. It’s always been about what you say, rather than how it gets there. A voice tracked station CAN sound live. The problem is, as I’ve said before, certain major companies do NOT allow their employees time to do it correctly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Smooth Jazz format I put on the air in Ocean City, MD was voice tracked BUT the personalities were excellent at knowing what was coming up and it was always very timely, PLUS they fed us local cuts for our station’s use only that were freshened weekly about people, places and events in our area. Combined with a local news team and a PD that worked in local SJ artists/songs and we were very in tuned with our audience and coverage area.

      We also brought the satellite people to town to appear at key events.

      I agree Kevin that it’s possible to do but it’s not plug it into the bird and walk away. It takes people who will dedicate themselves to the presentation and are given the time to do just that.


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  9. Damon Collins’ perspective is clearly understood, it’s precisely what I’ve been told ad infinitum for decades. I keep asking, “at the very least why haven’t agencies changed their target demo to 35-64?”

    CBS TV is ridiculed by many as being a geezer network. Most of their shows have older appeal. And they are the most watched of the big 4. AND, I think they are monetizing quite well.

    And, Dick, I imagine your answer will be “they need better training,” but I’ll ask anyway, WHY is is “impossible” to sell a 49 plus audience?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Because to create advertisers for the 49+ age audience, you actually have to SELL your radio station’s programming. This is not a format for order takers.


      • Kevin Fodor

        Very well put, Dick. Especially when now the push is on to automate the sales process (to, most likely, eliminate many sales people). But, you are correct in that IF sales people were taught anything other than conventional wisdom and what agency people want to hear, perhaps an outcome might be different.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Until advertisers are using radio to reach 55+, all the good words are in vain. There is an age where most people have their “stuff” and aren’t buying housefuls of furniture and household goods. Yes, to be sure, there are discretionary purchases but then, what’s the cost per sale?
    Pharmaceuticals are out for radio because of the long disclaimers required. You can do that with TV by showing the happy older couple walking and participating in activities while the disclaimers are going. We have another problem—every boomer isn’t wealthy. A frighteneing number have nothing saved for retirement, and that social security check isn’t much.

    If we’re going to do oldies on major signals (or even . minor ones), our work is cut out for us.

    Liked by 1 person

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