Wednesday, March 09, 2005

This Just In: Radio Stinks

According to, rock radio is in trouble:

Ratings for rock radio have been in decline for at least six years, with audiences shrinking by nearly twenty percent. With urban and Hispanic formats increasing nationwide, rock is getting squeezed out.

...Mainstream rock has been hit the hardest: Album-oriented rock stations that rely on staples like Three Doors Down have seen listenership fall seventy percent since 1998. Meanwhile, stations that play harder bands like Godsmack and Alter Bridge haven't developed a larger audience. The poor numbers have left programmers complaining about the quality of recent music. "Some good new bands are getting airplay," says Dave Wellington, program director at Boston's WBCN, a station that plays a mix of modern and classic rock. "But nothing has really emerged as the new grunge, a single style that creates a massive radio movement."

Rock radio's larger struggle may have more to do with America's shifting demographics. Baby boomers, who fueled FM radio's rise in the 1970s, are aging beyond the twenty-four-to-fifty-five-year-old demographic that advertisers pay premium rates to reach. Rock listenership has fallen close to twenty percent in that demographic since 1998, according to Arbitron, which measures radio play.

Meanwhile, the Hispanic population became the county's largest minority population in 2003, and a February Arbitron report says Hispanic buying power is increasing at twice the rate of other demographics. Spanish-language radio ratings are up thirty percent since 1998. In September, Clear Channel -- which owns more than 1,200 radio stations -- announced plans to convert up to twenty-five stations to Spanish language by mid-2006. "The number-one TV station in most Hispanic markets is the Hispanic station," says Phil Quartararo, president of music marketing at EMI. "Radio broadcasters are applying the same theory. It's 'I've got three rock stations slicing up a ten percent market share, while forty-five percent of the population is Hispanic.'"

Finally, hip-hop and R&B have a stronghold on teens and young adults. Only six percent of teenagers are listening to rock at any given time, compared with nearly twenty percent listening to urban radio and forty percent listening to Top Forty radio stations, which are dominated by hip-hop and R&B.

...Rock radio stations might be changing formats just as the music is beginning a renaissance. A new wave of bands including the Killers, Modest Mouse and Franz Ferdinand are gaining play on stations across the country. "Five years ago, I stopped listening to radio completely," says Franz Ferdinand bassist Bob Hardy. "Now there's dozens of new bands I'm keen to hear. It's all just part of the natural cycle of music."
It seems like I've read the same "rock'n'roll is disappearing" article every five years or so. Some times it's up, sometimes it's down, but it's always around (like pollution). It's worth mentioning that MTV2 has just changed its format to feature more rock, some say because Fuse has been successful with a rock and hip-hop format. So I think the problem isn't that there aren't people out there who like rock, it's just that they don't listen to the radio.

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