Radio Waves: 8/16/19

Using teens to save radio

A tale of two sons: Obviously two people and their friends are not representative of the general population as a whole. But the following stories are both cautionary … And a little bit hopeful

My older son, Sebastian, is in town on Summer break. As a college student who has not seen his friends for a while, he has had a few get-togethers in the back yard. I noticed that they have not listened to the radio at all. Nor have they even used downloaded MP3s. They use Spotify.

I asked Sebastian why, considering he comes from a Dad who has had a longtime love of radio, as well as actually buying first physical, and recently downloaded, music. “We can select the type of music we want, and it just plays,” he responded.

He went on to explain thew college students are able to access Spotify Premium (no commercials, unlimited song skips, curated playlists) along with television service Hulu and movie service Showtime all for $4.99 per month.

“I like that I can hear music I like with some similar-styled new songs,” he said. Asked if any of his friends listen to radio, he responded “no.” Not even his friends back at college. He also mentioned Soundcloud, an online service that many unsigned bands use to promote their music as well. “You can find a lot of things on Soundcloud,” he enthused.

My younger son, Sean, and I recently went on an overnight trip via my truck, in which I have the ability to listen to AM/FM/HD and SiriusXM. He chose to connect his phone and listen primarily to Apple Music, music found on video service YouTube, ands a few downloaded songs. Five hours each way, I listened to a huge variety of songs some familiar, most not.

Now keep in mind, Sean especially, is not a typical teen. He is lead guitarist and one of the songwriters for his progressive band Death of the Author, and a past incarnation of the band — metal Divine Intervention — won the online vote for the year’s Stay or Go contest on KLOS’ (95.5 FM) Frosty, Heidi and Frank Show last year, even though they in the end were passed over for the chance to play at the shows’s birthday bash.

So he listens to music differently than I do. And probably most people. He is listening as a creative artist, looking for things I don’t even hear when pointed out. Yet the playlist he curated could be a modern version of KNX-FM (now KCBS-FM, 93.1) or KMET (now KTWV, 94.7 FM). Songs came from established artists such as Steely Dan, Sting, Emerson, Lake and Palmer; less-known artists such as Gentle Giant and King Crimson; and totally unknown to me such as Tesseract, Haken, Plini and Chon.

How does he find these artists and songs? Not on the radio. “Apple Music and YouTube, primarily,” he said, often from recommendations from online friends and suggestions from other bands. Radio? He keeps the radio in his car on Power 106 (KPWR, 105.9 FM) to remind himself to plug in his phone.

Now you might think this would be a doom and gloom column. I think instead it is an opportunity for a smart, forward-thinking (probably independent) radio operator or programmer to capitalize on this huge untapped audience. I don’t think teens and younger adults are necessarily against radio; they just are not being served. Take a station that is not doing well and play the music that users of Spotify and Apple Music are listening to. Keep commercial breaks short so as to avoid tune-out, and you’re gold.

Sean told me that if he heard music he likes even on an AM station, he’d listen, making my point that programming drove listeners away from AM radio, not the sound quality.

Considering that so many stations have nothing to lose, when will anyone take the chance? Before it’s too late, or perhaps now?