Sunday, June 8, 2008

GenX is 25-44

Remember when being a GenXer equaled being a slacker listening to grunge and making Starbucks your second home drinking endless double frappes? Today GenXers are home owners, squarely in the middle of their work-life, raising kids, and they sit in the sweet spot of the “money demo,” representing two-thirds of 25-54. It’s not a stretch to say that both the 25-34 and 35-44 demo cells are the two most important in our industry.

The Boomers and Millennials seem to get all of the attention. If you are a regular reader of this blog you know I have spent a lot of time writing about how imperative it is for the radio business to figure out how to entertain today’s under 25’s. The Boomers, partly because the of the sheer numbers they represent, still receive a great of attention. Hey, that’s OK. But unless something dramatic happens (like advertisers deciding that 45-54 is a demo they care about) Boomers will have all but aged out of the money demo in less than a decade. That sounds like a long time, but consider we are coming to the close of the first decade of the 2000’s and to me the new millennium feels like it began much closer to yesterday.

As GenX aged-in we experienced numerous changes in radio programming:

  • Mainstream AC left “soft” mostly behind
  • Hot AC was born with GenX women in mind
  • Top 40 did what it always has done—play whatever is currently popular but now with three distinct blends: rock/pop/rhythm or rock/pop or pop/rhythm
  • Urban radio saw Hip Hop take center stage
  • Urban AC saw exponential growth
  • Traditional Oldies died
  • Rock radio splintered into Classic Rock, Active Rock, Alternative, Mainstream Rock, and Triple A
  • Classic Hits format umbrella targets Oldies, Rock, and AC refugees (depending on station and market)
  • Talk radio’s popularity exploded—largely conservative leaning and more recently expanding to the FM band

Amidst all of these programming changes the business of radio changed very significantly as well:

  • Ownership rules changed—first expanded ownership and then unlimited ownership
  • Consolidated local and regional clusters
  • Group think within companies and clusters
  • Clusters of stations see station pecking orders develop—the big stations, the secondary properties, and the weak signaled cluster mate
  • Staff reductions
  • Reduced marketing and promotion budgets
  • Digital automation comes of age
  • Voice tracking
  • Expanded spot loads
  • Expanded availability and proliferation of syndicated programming.
Fortunately for us in the radio business GenX grew up with radio and still like it, use it, and feel some connection to it. Still, we are seeing declines in cumes and time spent listening especially with the younger end of the Xer generation despite all of the programming changes targeted at this generation. Have the changes in the industry had a lasting effect on the listening behavior of the Xers? We can't discount how much has changed. Certainly technology has played a role in some of the decline but to a lesser degree than with the Millennials.

We are going to have to be sure we stay on top of the tastes, trends, and attitudes of GenX since they are our success or failure in the years to come. And of course, continue working overtime to develop some lasting and significant connection with Millennials since they begin crossing over the magical demographic line in just 3 short years.

I came across an article in the Harvard Business Review –The Top 10 Reasons Why GenXers Are Unhappy at Work and found a few of the top 10 insightful and useful in the context of radio programming and management.


Anonymous said...

Boomers love radio because it always superserved them -- at least in the 20th century

Xers hate radio because during their teen/young adult years it all but ignored them to superserve the boomers -- still better than Y, because at least they care

HARVE ALAN said...

Anonymous wrote:
"Xers hate radio because during their teen/young adult years it all but ignored them to superserve the boomers"

The writer is correct about radio's Boomer obsession, however, in most cases Modern AC, Hot AC, and New/Alt/Modern Rock were all formats geared towards Xers. Whether all those stations were good and best fit their target is certainly up for discussion.

Anonymous said...

I can't help but think of the plot of the movie "Airheads" -- the Gen-X metal types trying to get their cassette on the air and turning to a hostage situation because the station was changing format to "The Rain" (takeoff on the KMET-Wave switch in LA). That movie sums up the whole Gen X relationship with radio in a nutshell. Interesting to note that all the "Rain" clones are drying up now around the country. All these years later, the Xers get their revenge...