Industry body Commercial Radio Australia (CRA) claimed in a February report that just under half of 10-17 year olds and a third of 18-24 year olds listen to commercial radio daily (by comparison, among 55 -64- years, the figure is two thirds).
All of this may be true when it comes to ratings agency GfK’s survey sample of 16,000 people nationwide, but plenty of anecdotal evidence suggests that for many young listeners, radio becomes a medium of last resort.
“The only time you catch me listening to the radio is in the car,” says Ruby Vidor, a 23-year-old musician from Melbourne, who discovers new music through TikTok, YouTube, Spotify recommendations and her friends. “And the only radio station you’ll hear me play on in the car is Smooth FM.”
She attributes this to the fascination with all things vintage, and says advertisers chatting away on the radio are a disappointment. “If I want the chatter, I go straight to the podcasts.”
Vidor is however aware of the paradox of an emerging artist who no longer listens to the type of radio most likely to grant her airtime.
“We musicians are desperate for validation from a radio station because historically that’s where you had your chance,” she says. “But the more I dissect how I interact with music discovery as a consumer, the more I change my approach. Yes, radio has its place but not like before. If you were any radio chef trying to join me, I probably wouldn’t listen in. We go to the radio to feel nostalgic, not to discover new music.
ABC’s Loader says it’s wrong to consider Triple J solely as a radio play. She points to the fact that much of the network’s audience accesses it through subsites such as Unearthed, Like a Version, and Live at the Wireless, as well as social media. “It’s Australia’s number one radio station on Facebook (1.3 million subscribers), Instagram (844,000 subscribers), Spotify (450,000 subscribers) and YouTube (1.59 million subscribers), where millions watch our content,” she says. “Our podcasts are among the most listened to at the ABC.”
There is no doubt, however, that this distribution divide is changing what radio means to young people. It diminishes the role of the DJ or content director as a tastemaker, inhibits (for better or worse) the identification of a station and its style with particular subcultures, and makes infinitely more difficult for an emerging artist to gain access to a large market.
Yet the idea that a radio network is no longer just a radio network has also been wholeheartedly embraced by start-up CADA (pronounced kay-da). Launched just two months ago, the youth-focused platform, part of the ARN stable, broadcasts on the FM dial in Sydney only, but nationally on the digital DAB+ spectrum. He also creates content specifically for social media platforms (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook) and podcasts, and sees them less as spinoffs and more as a commodity.
“We felt it was important to create content where 18-29 year olds were consuming content, and in a format that aligned with those places,” says CADA executive director Emily Copeland, who arrived at the position after training in film and video production.
She says radio “is so important to discovery,” but adds that video is just as important. Presenters Flex and Froomes film their show, then audio is extracted to create the radio iteration, while short video clips are posted to social media. “We’re building a media ecosystem so audiences can consume short plays in different formats,” Copeland says.
The challenge for radio, says ARC boss Ford Ennals, “is to always keep content relevant to this age group as they move around”.
To do this, broadcasters are developing more and more podcast content – consumption of which is measured, but not included in radio audience ratings –, audio content on demand, and new multimedia services such as CADA.
“The key is to keep the content relevant,” says Ennals.
The young radio audience has not disappeared, he insists. “You just have to make sure you’re talking to them the way they want to be spoken to and giving them the content they want.”