For years, the digital tastemakers cried out about the death of radio. This was one medium that would surely die out as the internet revolution took hold. I used to counter this by asking the room how many of them listened to radio in the last week. Inevitably, in a room full of digital trailblazers, about 90-95% of the hands would still go up. The truth came out: people still listened to radio even after they adopted digital.
But that’s the older crowd. Many people cite personal experience at watching their 14 year olds dive into headphones on portable devices or spend hours on end on YouTube. These people are surely growing up not caring about radio and it will clearly be phased out of their lives. Instead, we’re seeing the opposite. Top 40 radio, the traditional go-to format for teenagers, is having one of their best years ever.
Over the last few weeks, trade publications have been reporting on Top 40 radio getting record ratings all over the country. Z100 in New York, considered the format’s biggest, got its best ratings in nearly 25 years. Top 40 topped the ratings in Washington DC for the first time in 33 years. High numbers for Top 40 are also being posted in Chicago, Dallas, and San Francisco.
What’s intriguing is that these are not a concentration of internet neophytes. They’re actually more digitally savvy than non-radio listeners. In a webinar to be given later today, Alan Burns & Associates will be diving into many of these facts. Among them is an analysis of women who are “Heavy/Deep” Top 40 listeners are 28% more likely to have sent a tweet. Nearly 3/4 of them use Facebook daily.
It’s worth noting that the Burns webinar will focus on a study of women, because it appears that female music fans are the revenue drivers of the modern music business. Surveys have found that men steal more music than women. Meanwhile, only one of the artists in the top 10 selling albums and singles so far this year has a male-skewing audience. Top 40 radio has traditionally had a female-leaning audience. But what’s making it so big right now?
First is the repetition. This audience wants to be entertained by music. I’ve heard numerous complaints from women that they dislike music thru subscription services because it’s too much work to hear their favorites over and over. I can point out they can thru playlists and radio-like functionality. But that doesn’t diminish what they feel, and most people don’t have access to someone like me to point these things out. The truth is the overwhelming variety of musical choices is desired more by males than females. On average, women have 25% less music in their collection than males. At the same time, they remember 28% more lyrics by heart than men. Internet radio is generally proud of the fact that they have more variety and don’t repeat songs every hour. The numbers seem to show that this may be a liability to a strong segment of listeners.
Then there is the data. The beauty of the internet is that the world can see what songs are truly becoming hits before they are actual hits. So the tastemakers can anoint specific songs to a top visibility. Then those songs can be heavily promoted to radio. Where that audience falls in love with the song via repetition and consumes more of that song online, generating a brief continuous loop of self-fulfilling hitdom. Think Gotye and Carly Rae Jepsen, both of whom started on independent record labels, blew up online, and then went on to multi-week #1 song runs.
Finally, there’s the tastemaker influence. While the internet crows about its need/ability to be the music tastemaker, most people don’t want to work for that. They want it at a push of a button. They also want it obviously and they want it crowd sourced. My music recommendations that only I post get 1/5 of the activity that I get from recommendations that everyone else also puts forth. The internet also thrives on a 24/7 need for “new”, while radio steadily hums along with a constant drumbeat. And it turns out that people want that drumbeat because it seldom sticks without it. And they do want music to stick.
So rather than obliterate antennas and making tuning of a decimal-delineated number obsolete, we are actually seeing the two entities working symbiotically. Radio needs the internet to surface the hits. The internet needs radio to establish hits that bring traffic. Maybe it turns out that what we needed all along wasn’t a war between two mediums, but a solid peace treaty to work together.