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Monday, July 9, 2012
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Radio and Its Stations of the God

Ironically, this topic had its genesis with a walk on the beach. My wife and I visited Ohio's largest last Friday. This mile long stretch of sand along Lake Erie - Mentor Headlands Park - is our equivalent to Huntington Beach in California. Though, with reverence to "The Euclid Beach Band" and its 1978 hit song, it's true: "There is No Surf in Cleveland."

How'd a walk on the beach, with quick dunks in the lake, work out to be an article on faith-based radio? During our time there I heard only one radio station and saw only one radio.

"If anyone in the radio industry needs a little jolt, remember the "Music of Your Life" format and how its audience disappeared through attrition." My wife and I started talking. (She's a 17-year veteran of WMMS, a well-known Cleveland rock-n-roll radio station of the 70s and 80s - "The Buzzard"). Both of us wondered how a beach walk could go from once hearing several radio stations in an industry battle on the beach, when nearly everyone by the water had a radio and stations like WMMS offered a reminder slug line of "It's time to turn, so you won't burn," to only one radio with its volume turned somewhat low.

Perhaps the answer has something to do with what radio is offering today. So I visited the Arbitron's "Radio Today 2011" report just to get a feel for what radio industry formats are left to do battle today. I found quite a surprise.
Of the 15,146 stations appearing on this "Arbitron" matrix, 18.45% were "faith-based" formats.

Note: There are approximately 400 more stations added in 2012, with a slighty higher number of "faith-based" (percentage-wise) in the mix.
If you remove formats serving upper-end demos and those serving specialty formats (Hispanic, Ethnic, Variety, etc.), 35.57% of the stations left are "faith-based" formats. That figure is even higher if you remove "Oldies" formats, which I didn't.

We know older folks are still in tune with radio. This quote comes from Talk Radio WHKY's media kit, sourced to Scarborough Research: "The median age of listeners is 52, and almost a quarter (24 percent) of News/Talk listeners are ages 45-54. Adults between the ages of 55 and 64 are 47 percent more likely to listen to the [talk] format and seniors 65+ are 50 percent more likely to tune in."

Arbitron confirms radio's audience being older, as reported by Joel Denver's "All Access" (Feb. 2011): "Arbitron Reports Radio's Median Age Is Still 42 Years Old."

What's left for the radio industry? Here are the formats remaining on the Arbitron list after removal of what I consider "faith-based," "upper-end demo" and "specialty formats."

The remaining formats used in these calculations.
Radio industry supporters will say that this list is proof of the diversity that's left in radio. Yet on our walk on the beach, on one very hot Cleveland day, we heard/saw only one radio in use. If this is a sign of demanded diversity in today's audio world, it isn't pulling in a great deal of use on the beach.

Those who want radio to remain strong, to be carried into the next generation, need to look at the above numbers and start drawing up a plan. They are a long way from having a battle of radios on a beach, where every blanket has a boombox or transistor, and each is cranking up the volume.

If this high a percentage of stations is devoted to serving a faith-based audience (and I'm only "supposing" this as an answer), is it possible that the radio industry has quit serving youth in a way that drives a battle of radios?

If anyone in the radio industry needs a little jolt, remember the "Music of Your Life" format and how its audience disappeared through attrition. Which is why it's important to consider whether the radio industry is turning into a pulpit, or grandstands for people over 40. That would explain a lot because the vast majority of people on the beach that I saw were under 42 and didn't appear to be looking to the heavens to end the heat wave.

Most of the people were youth, just out for a day at the beach and listening to nothing!

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