Radio Waves: September 3

Radio’s Future Problem

Besides writing about what I love – radio – I also teach high school math classes. This year I teach two sections of statistics, and as an introductory lesson I had my students create a set of questions for a survey. There were few rules, as it were, as I wanted them to discover for themselves the basics of what makes a good survey question.

As an example, I did my own basic survey and asked the students — all juniors and seniors — if they listen to the radio. To my shock, not one did. Two classes, with an enrollment of 39 students each, had not one person who stated that they listen to the radio.

Now, as any statistician knows, these two classes are not necessarily representative of the world at large. Certainly there are young adults who do indeed listen, but the fact that none here do is a problem nonetheless.

So I asked why, and I asked others including the guitarist of local band Law, which had just come back from playing a show in Ventura. The responses were surprisingly similar: in general, radio stations don’t play anything that appeals to them.

This, of course, is not news to me. You may remember my AM Improvement column a while back in which I would use high school and college students to help me program my station by finding what they like, what they listen to on streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music, along with what they find entertaining on YouTube, TikTok, and the like. I’d even hire teens and young adults to both consult and work on the air, and get them out into the community to serve as station ambassadors.

My ideas are not new by any means … that was the game plan for top-40 stations years ago. But somehow this has all been lost in the modern era, when most local stations don’t even have local DJs on the air all day, if they have local DJs at all. And don’t get me started on contests that are run nationally, such that the chance of anyone in Southern California actually winning are lower than winning the lottery.

The problem is, it’s not being done …  so young listeners – radio’s future – are being pushed away to the competition. If something doesn’t happen soon, it’s all over… meaning that radio could be dead within one generation.

What can be done? Stop marketing solely to old folks like me. Or better yet, stop assuming that even someone as old as I am (58) only wants to hear the same music I heard in my high school days. Here’s a clue: I don’t. I like new music. I don’t like knowing every song I hear. But like Law’s guitarist Aidan Palacios explained, “unless you like oldies or one type of pop, you are not going to find anything of interest on the radio today.” Country music excepted.

The great thing is, young people aren’t truly averse to radio listening if they found something of interest. They don’t shun radio because it’s old technology, as so many experts say. They just want to hear something designed for them. So rather than this being a doomsday message, this is actually a message of hope. All it would take is a local owner to start the trend. Now to get that trend started …


“I lived in Southern California for 26 years, moving to Arizona 14 years ago. I continue to listen to John & Ken, John Phillips, and Frank Mottek on-line. I do visit SoCal four times a year.

“AM sounds so tinny compared to online and KFI on KOST-HD2 has dropouts on the 405 around the  Sepulveda Pass and into Ventura County and as you know, on the FM HD2 it doesn’t revert to the analog signal. I listen to both KFI and KABC thru the iHeart app and it does a good job of integrating online ads with the program content. So even if I still lived in Simi Valley, I’m sure I would listen mostly online (especially KABC).” — Bob Bartholomew, Yuma, Arizona

That’s what I’ve found. The extra HD streams on FM drop out way too much to the point of annoyance, while streaming tends to work well in most areas. 

“Thanks for bringing up 88.5 Not enough people know about this wonderful station. Good Job.” — William Dunaway

Thank you. I am trying to promote good radio, so if you know of something I miss, please let me know.

“I love reading your weekend articles, sure brings back a lot of good memories. Back in the late Sixties I remember my Mother always listening to a radio program daily and I believe it was the Bill Balance Show. Do  you remember that by chance?  — Randy Miera

Absolutely! In fact, I interviewed him years ago for the short-lived RadioGuide Magazine. He started in town playing top-40 music, but eventually became even more famous for his Feminine Forum, which brought huge ratings and success to KGBS (now KTNQ, 1020 AM) and later KFMB/San Diego. His best segments ended up on top-selling records, and he even released books giving relationship advice. All with a comedic twist.