Radio stations have long held it as gospel that programming that appeals to listeners within the 18-34 and 25-54 demographics will maintain healthy financial returns by reaping the lion’s share of advertising. Most formats are typically tailored to ensure that ad agencies and trusted clients know they are reaching that tried and true audience.
But how about this as a theory: The radio industry is missing a major opportunity. By largely ignoring the 55+ audience, it is missing out on lucrative ad opportunities from the very demo that has the greatest disposable income. In addition, Baby Boomers listen to more radio than any other demographic.
Case in point: Entercom launched soft AC “The New 94.1 The Sound” KSWD in the No. 12 radio market, Seattle, Dec. 4 (flipping from former CBS Radio country KMPS). Its playlist is decidedly targeted to a Boomer audience: Adele, Mariah Carey, Phil Collins, Elton John, Whitney Houston, Hall and Oates.
“For some reason, media buyers and agencies largely ignore the 35-64 demo, which seems insane to me,” Entercom’s president of Programming Pat Paxton tells Inside Radio. “I’m at that point in life where most of my friends are in their 50s. They spend money. They travel the world. They are early adopters, buying the newest electronics. They buy new cars every two to three years. They are more aware of healthcare issues. They eat out multiple times per week.”
In Ft. Myers/Naples, FL, the powerful 100,000-watt “Wave 101” WAVV (101.1) has been successfully broadcasting its 55+-targeted easy listening format for three decades—spanning from Sarasota to Ft. Lauderdale. Independently owned by Alpine Broadcasting Corp., it is live in mornings, middays and afternoons, “all with multi-decade WAVV announcers,” according to GM Walt Tiburski.
“WAVV targets and delivers adults 50+, which represent more than half the total population of people living in this much older skewing market. Our audience is very active socially, economically and charitably. They have the time and the money to buy and do what they want. And WAVV tailors many promotional partnerships and events specifically for this audience,” he says.
That includes recent gigs in the market with the Beach Boys, the Moody Blues and Barry Manilow. Tiburski adds, “The WAVV 50+ crowd loves to play and party. Our Boomer audience loves to go to concerts and events, and WAVV also sponsors art fairs, exotic car shows, community events, golf and tennis tournaments and other activities.”
Saga Communications, meanwhile, is finding success with 55+ listeners via “Light & Easy Favorites, Easy FM” WOEZ Hilton Head, SC. “That’s been the biggest surprise. The station is essentially a soft AC from the late ‘70s that we’ve been doing for the past six months. I guess what’s old is new again,” Saga president and CEO Ed Christian tells Inside Radio.
The company is also reeling in the Boomer audience via “boutique formats” over HD Radio-fed FM translators, which the company calls “metro signals,” including its Metro retro country “The Outlaw” format in six markets and “Pure Oldies” format in five markets. “We have noticed a couple of unusual trends—with several stations that have gained traction,” Christian says. “We’ve had very good response in attracting non-P1’s of country, but the other surprise is that we’ve found with Pure Oldies, playing music from 1956-1968, surprisingly enough, not only is the 60+ crowd listening, but so are Millennials, who aren’t familiar with the music but like it. Who was to know?”
In Las Vegas, Summit American has made it its business to specialize in a 55+ radio audience, via oldies “Cool 102.3” KQLL-FM (1280/102.3) and its marquis brand “K-Jewel/the Jewel” KJUL (104.7 FM), which proudly serves up Adult Standards/MOR.
“This business is a 25-54 world—and why?” asks Joe Oreb, the stations’ director of Sales. “We’re the David in a Goliath world of corporate radio here—and we love our nice little niche. Most of our focus is 50 and over and we like that demographic.”
The longtime 100,000-watt Jewel was originally the musical home of the Rat Pack, and now also includes Barbra Streisand and James Taylor, “all the way to Michael Buble and a little Ed Sheeran,” he says. “We want listeners and advertisers to know us as the stations appealing to the Boomer-plus crowd. That’s part of our appeal in Vegas, which has a huge retirement community.”
Oreb adds, “People are living longer, they are working longer—and we can keep our listeners engaged longer, simply because there is little competition in the market for them. That’s our focus. That’s what we want.”
For sure, looking at non-traditional demographics, “There are opportunities there—and there can be big ratings in most markets,” offers Dan Vallie, founder of Vallie Richards Donovan Consulting. “The upper demo is another revenue opportunity for radio, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be 55+, but it could also combine with a younger demo, for example 35-64 or 45-64. That could be a music format or a talk format. Yes, there is money in them there hills.”