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Where Have All the Baby Boomers Gone?

Baby BoomerBill Thomas, a media and branding idea expert and broadcast & radio veteran (@BillThomas), shared a link on Twitter to an Ad Week article about three brands that bought ads in Super Bowl 54, targeting the 50+ demo. It’s not surprising, as the author of the article points out, that this is the age group that is most active and ready to spend online. Any guess on what the three brands are, that were targeting this Baby Boomer age group? Do you think it was iHeartMedia, Cumulus, and Entercom? Stay tuned.

Citizen Insight Academy

The City of Winchester holds a Citizen Insight Academy annually, and I signed my wife Sue and I up for the 2020 edition. We’re only nine weeks into this 16-week program and Citizen Insight Academyit’s been illuminating learning about our city and the way it operates. The other evening, we had a session with the city’s Emergency Management and E-911 departments.

You can imagine my reaction when the head of the E-911 department began her talk with “People don’t listen to the radio anymore, but they’re really into social media.” She went on to say how she grew up listening to the radio but how other forms of communication, like social media, have replaced that habit. Much like smartphones have replaced people’s landline telephones.

She told us that most calls into the city’s 911 switchboard come from wireless phones versus landlines. The percentage was something like 75% wireless to 25% landline. I myself have been a cellphone only household for over a decade, and our class of 35 had only about four people who still have a landline.

Traditional Radio Stations Have Lost Faith of Listeners

If I thought our city’s 911 Director was tough on radio, the BBC’s head of radio and education, recently said “Radio as we’ve always known it, has lost the faith of listeners.” He explained that “where once it was everything, now it is not. In fact, for many listeners, it is no longer their default.”

BBC Chief

BBC Radio Chief, James Purnell

In 1920, when commercial radio service began in America, you were lucky if you had a single choice for wireless communication. In many localities, you might have only had radio service after sunset via the AM skywave phenomena.

As more radio stations came on the air, Americans began to develop a radio habit. Radio listening was something we did while working, riding in the car or while we were at play. It provided the audio accompaniment to our lives. But everything’s changed. Now radio stations need to create an experience that earns a place in someone’s day.

NuVoodoo on Media Addictions

I wasn’t surprised to see NuVoodoo releasing some data from their latest research that shows all age groups today are addicted to their Smartphones. But what caught my eye was how Millennials, Gen X and Gen Z groups were more addicted to a favorite FM or AM radio station than Baby Boomers.

NuVoodoo Addiction to Media 2020

Which got me to thinking, why were the very people who grew up with radio and few other choices, be the age group least engaged with the medium today?

Boomers Know Great Radio When They Hear It

Real Don Stelle

The Real Don Steele

Baby Boomers grew up during a time when great radio personalities dominated the airwaves. Broadcasters like Harry Harrison, Robert W. Morgan, Larry Lujack, Dan Ingram, The Real Don Steele, Ron Lundy and so many more filled our lives with information, entertainment, community and companionship. It was a time when radio stations had local news teams, great promotions, exciting radio jingles, stationality and air personalities. Personalities, so important in our lives that we wanted to meet them more than the recording artists that created the music they played.

Radio for Baby Boomers isn’t like that anymore, so they’re moving on.

The boomer generation now embraces smartphones, smart speakers and social media with a vengeance, taking all their dollars to spend right along with them. Baby Boomers hold around 70% of the disposable income in the United States and they make up 50% of sales for all consumer package goods.

The Big Three

So, who were the media companies that want to gain a larger share of the 50+ demo? The ones that know that Baby Boomers are the most active and ready to spend their dollars online?

Google, Amazon and Facebook, that’s who.Facebook Amazon Google Logos

Facebook advertised during a Super Bowl television broadcast for the very first time in 2020. They hired as pitchmen, Chris Rock (54) and Sylvester Stallone (73). Both men are iconic celebrities and are part of this powerful consumer demographic, the 50+ audience.

Meanwhile, radio continues to jettison the very people that connects them with their local audience, the radio personality.

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Don’t Let Radio End Up Like Yahoo!

49I just finished listening to Jason Jennings’ podcast about how Yahoo went from being a company worth $120 Billion to its sale to Verizon for $4.8 Billion. I think the wisdom that Jason shared is very applicable to the radio industry’s journey through consolidation since the Telcom Act of 1996.

Jason says the selling of Yahoo is like a train wreck; you don’t want to look, but you just can’t help yourself. I know many who’ve said similar things as Wall Street invaded radio with its goal of “increasing shareholder value.”

So how can radio learn from Yahoo’s mistakes? What are the lessons Jason shared that apply to radio? Let me share with you the Top 5 Lessons of Yahoo:

#1) Know What You’re All About

Yahoo never really defined itself and the revolving door of CEOs contributed to this with each one bringing a different vision – or no vision – to Yahoo. Or as Jason puts it, the company didn’t have a purpose; they never knew what they were all about.

As radio was deregulated and its original mission of serving the public interest, convenience and necessity was abandoned, nothing replaced radio’s reason for existing except for “increasing shareholder value.” Not surprising as radio people were replaced by Wall Street investors.

#2) Have a Set of Guiding Principles

Radio’s guiding principles were first established by the FRC (Federal Radio Commission) and then by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission). Under President Ronald Reagan – and his government is best that governs least approach – radio’s deregulation began. President Bill Clinton would open the flood gates of consolidation with his signing of the Telcom Act of 1996.

With no guiding principles, investors were free to move in all directions; and they did, buying up not just radio stations but many of its manufacturers and service providers for radio.

It’s like the old saying, if you don’t know where you want to go, any road will take you there.

#3) Using a Business like a Personal Piggy Bank

Radio investors and many top radio executives began using radio as a personal piggy bank, only taking care of themselves and focusing on the immediate quarter with no long term vision, strategy or investment. Too many just lined their pockets and left.

#4) Trying to Be All Things to All People

Jason says “great companies stick to their knitting. You can’t be all things to all people.”

Radio was originally about serving their community of license via over-the-air broadcasting. It delivered local news, local sports, local community events, local bands and more by local radio personalities who lived in the communities they served. It was focused like a laser beam on local, local, local.

#5) Don’t Copy the Competition

Radio today is trying to copy Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music and others. Radio today is trying to also copy YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and SnapChat. Radio is trying to copy just about every other business advertising model and without any guiding principles has been economically treading water.

Yahoo’s SVP Brad Garlinghouse wrote his infamous “Peanut Butter Memo” in October of 2006 that pleaded with the company to narrow its focus and clarify its vision.

Brad felt that Yahoo was spreading its resources too thinly. Business Insider recently wrote “This internal memo from 10-years ago shows Yahoo still hasn’t solved its biggest problem.”

If Yahoo had a culture problem, radio by way of mass consolidation had an even bigger one. First, as Wall Street money flowed in and radio stations were bought up, each of those stations represented its own culture that would need to merge into a larger culture. Then these new larger radio groups would try to change the culture from a local scope to a national scope. National radio personalities like Ryan Seacrest, Rush Limbaugh and many others would replace local personalities. National radio contests would replace local ones. Live and local for the most part would soon only appear in the history books on radio.

Culture is created at the top. Over the last twenty-years, radio’s consolidation has seen a revolving door of top leadership. The culture of radio has been a moving target for both industry professionals and listeners alike. Culture is built over time. There is no “quick fix” for building culture.

Absent a company culture, what fills the vacuum is one of everyone for themselves.

Now twenty-years later, there are signs of new growth as people who believe in live and local, and operating in the public interest, convenience and necessity are entering the business.

In many small markets, this way of operating never got sucked into the vortex of consolidation.

Even some of our country’s biggest radio companies are focused on getting back to the core principles radio was built upon.

Radio, the first broadcast transmission system to reach a mass audience, almost 100-years later is still the leading way to reach a mass audience.

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