Are We Taking Older Listeners for Granted?


(By Ken Benson) Older radio listeners are telling us “Radio used to be better.”  We heard this sentiment over and over in a series of focus groups we conducted nationwide this summer from adult music radio listeners ages 35 to 54.

We already know Radio has its challenges with younger demographics, but now our older listening may be in jeopardy too. Nearly every Focus Group participant told us they believe “Radio is not as good as it used to be.”

Digging into what’s driving this dissatisfaction, here’s what we heard over and over:

  • Radio plays it too safe
  • Radio has a very little visibility in the market (they felt this way even before the COVID pandemic)
  • Radio doesn’t have very many local DJs or shows and even fewer that cut-through
  • Most contests are national and less interesting
  • Radio used to be more fun

The assessment of our performance from radio’s most valuable audience should keep us all up at night.  Our present-day tactics and strategies aren’t fooling 35-54s, and, in fact, they are leading to lower product satisfaction from radio’s heaviest and most loyal listeners. And less audience satisfaction results in lower engagement and less time spent listening.

We can choose to ignore what the radio audience is telling us or take the feedback seriously and use it wisely to produce a more engaging experience, on-air and off.

Our most coveted and lucrative older audience members are asking us to do better. So, what’s stopping us from doing more of what we used to do and what listeners are craving?  Our recommendation is to spend less time on the music and more time on the content between the songs. Focus more on why people tune-in and less on why they may tune-out. Hire entertainers, encourage risk-taking, be active in the community and turn up the fun!

Ken Benson is co-founder and partner of P1 Media Group and can be reached at [email protected]



  1. But now to the point of the article. Is radio ignoring older listeners? In most cases, damn straight it is…and it has been for over two decades now. I know. I worked for a station in Illinois as PD. A college town. We were the #1 station in town for a couple of years and we lost 50 cents on the dollar because the agencies and advertisers said the audience was “too old”. I was just talking about this with my big boss yesterday. Oldies radio, as it was always done well, can and SHOULD still be on the air, and NOT just relegated to top of the dial AM stations with a cheezy satellite feed. The audience for 60’s and 70’s music is still very large in number and can be profitable if you have a sales department who knows how to sell it.

  2. Well, I am in Dayton, Ohio…working for a company who believes in local radio with (mostly) local personalities who each work about 5 jobs. Yes, we voice track…but personality and show prep is insisted upon. Two of our stations typically out rate and out bill the guys in town who think it should all be syndication and out of town voice tracks with little if any local information at all. The music decisions are made locally by the PD. We have a good sized local news anchor staff backed up by our sister TV station whose studio is right outside the door to OUR studios. And, incidentally, there’s still small market stations in our area who can give a young person a start in the business. Yeah, we’re kind of old school here. But, I am still having fun with 48 years in the business.

  3. Brilliant thoughts, Ken. Trouble is entertainers cost money. Revenue is way down. Technology is supporting more centralized programming. When any part of life is fun and compelling, people talk about it and discover it. With the number of choices we have today it’s more difficult for any medium to “cut through”. It’s gotta be better and more relevant than ever-and you point out — it’s NOT.

  4. In broadcast school, the one tip that always stuck with me was to imagine one person in your vast audience, and talk to him or her.

    My first day on the radio was in 1966, my last in 1993. Whether I was on a 250w directional daytimer or a national network, I was talking to one person; could be an old friend or maybe someone I’d just met. It was between us, listening to music we like and having a nice time.

    I always answered the control room phone and might talk to fifteen people every hour.

    In a real conversation, you certainly wouldn’t end every sentence with, “I’m really smart and funny, right?” and laugh or clap your hands to prove it. These multi-person shows with their fake synergy are just plain boring.

    Radio is boring. Satellite radio is radio at its worst.

  5. Older people remember the greats of radio, many of them have died or retired. That’s when we had real talent. Older people remember when radio wasn’t generic. Many country music formats are the same, programmed by a few people who think because it worked in Orlando or Dayton, Ohio it will work everywhere. It might, but it’s boring. AM talk radio is religion, right wing talk or sports talk. Much of it is negative and I don’t need another dose of negativity in my day. Real radio talent is hard to come by. The pipeline from small to medium market has dried up because of network programming and voice tracking. And some at the top think this is okay because they’re saving money. Saving money now, losing money later because of it. It’s not going to get better, it’s only going to get worse and radio is doing it to itself.

    • I agree totally Mike .
      In a day where the saying is … “we all matter”…Radio fails .
      It’s sad to see entire age groups swept under the rug .

    • Agreed on talk radio…this is why the station I work for now has a two hour daily local talk show. NO POLITICS ALLOWED. It’s all entertainment…funny, irreverent. Sometimes, the host even plays music. I would say, though. It’s not voice tracking that is the enemy…because you can do a lot with a track IF you work at it. The enemy, though are some companies who “dumb it down” so a single track can work across all time zones and markets. That does not and will not save their bacon.

  6. When I worked in radio, for SAGA, the mantra was “make it local”. Syndicated morning shows is not the way to go. Most of the advertising on the Radio Ink website is for syndicated shows. Especially morning shows. Hiring “entertainers” is a nice idea, ignoring the fact that audiences are not stupid is another thing altogether. The morning male host with the female newsreader and the dumb guy 3rd wheel is stale radio. Listening to hosts constantly guffawing over really dumb content marginalizes and pretty much insults your audience. Radio programmers used to be smarter than that. “Hey, the numbers are good…when the content stinks is not entertainment. It’s laziness


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