It's worth studying both Census Bureau population projections as well as Nielsen's annual Radio Today historical trends to stay ahead of the curve.
More than half of the country radio audience today is over 45. The country radio format's 35-44 composition percentage has been slipping for the last decade as Gen X has aged into that demo cell right in the center of our target. (click the link to see Westwood One/Denver VP/Programming John Paul's prescient post and stats on this) "It could get real ugly" between now and then, he says.
Fortunately, country still ranks #1 18-24. 25-34, 35-44 and 45-54 in 2013:
Last week, Inside Radio talked to a number of smart programmers managing to beat the national averages:
So, what's the big deal?
- Keeping 35-44 year-olds tuned in isn’t an issue for “93Q” KKBQ-FM, Houston. The Cox country station was tops in the demo in September. More often than not it’s the station’s best-performing demo. PD Johnny Chiang attributes that to a carefully balanced music mix that’s big on common denominator records. “You have to go by what the song sounds like and the lyrics still matter a lot,” he says. “The biggest advantage country has over every other format is how the music and lyrics connect with the audience.” Keeping country radio a family affair starts with the research, he and other programmers say.
- Entercom country “106.5 The Wolf” WDAF-FM, Kansas City PD Wes Poe says the station keeps Millennials and Gen X-ers satisfied by testing its music across the wide 25-45 demo. Consultant Jaye Albright says it’s important for country stations to include men and upper demos in their research — not just younger women. “I would target 22-44 so you don’t get dragged too young and blow off upper demos,” she says. “The 35-44 demo has the potential of being country listeners for the next 20 years.”
- Clear Channel EVP of programming Clay Hunnicutt says country radio continues to have broad demographic appeal and that it has attracted 18-34 year-olds organically. “We have to convert them, not target them,” he says. “I don’t want to make someone like me. But if they’re coming to the party, I really want to show them a good time.”
To overcome the smaller proportion of 35-44 in both the general population and country's audience comp, the format must increase it's share of both Generation X and Generation Y listening above current levels.
The national country format average share 35-44 was up from 2011 to 2012 from a 12.2 to a 12.8, but then slipped to a 12.6 this year.
The majority of country stations tracked by Nielsen this year cut a smaller slice of a shrinking pie.
Turning that slight dip around by the time the next annual format report emerges in 2014 will lay the necessary groundwork for both a solid medium- and long-term future.
Failing to do so will mean we'll need to wait for the average age of 18-49 and 25-54 to come down, which census data forecasts won't happen for a decade.
Getting it "right" between now and then requires targeting more discretely than the standard ten year demo cells, growing new coalitions based on more than the mix of age or gender that worked for the format in the past.