If Pope John Paul II represented Irish Radio Station bosses (I know, quite the stretch. Stick with me… ), this is what they would say. They love you youngsters! (cue awkward cheek-squeeze) They especially love that you are tuning in despite general opinion that you don’t!
I was chatting with my 21-year old niece Ailbhe recently. (Well, she’s my husband’s niece but I like to claim her because she’s clever, beautiful and smart, tee hee.)
I asked Ailbhe does she listen to the radio.
To my delight (and surprise if I’m honest), she listens all the time. Wahoo! So contrary to opinion, all is not lost; and it looks like we’re not giving enough credit to young folk for not all being consumed by social and digital 24/7.
Me? I love music radio. From the days spent listening to The Red Hot Sound of Sunshine 101; and waiting by my clock radio every night to catch Love Letters In The Sand on Atlantic 252, music radio really has built the soundtrack of my life. I found myself dipping into Radio 1 and Newstalk in the past year or so (life’s subtle way of telling me that I’m growing up. At 40, I guess it’s time.) I’m still however loving music radio with most of my attention these days on 2FM, Today FM, FM104 and Spin, depending on who’s on air. So am I listening to the ‘right’ stations? And do these stations want me tuning in? I went digging to find out more…
HOW OLD IS A TYPICAL IRISH RADIO LISTENER?
The average age of a radio listener in Ireland is 45 (With 35 to 44’s holding the biggest piece of the radio pie). The average age of a radio listener in the UK is much higher; in their 60s in fact; so that’s a good start. (To the UK’s credit, digital radio listening is streets ahead so listeners under 60 in the UK simply consume their radio slightly different to us). With these figures in mind, you wouldn’t be blamed for wondering just how good a job the youth stations are doing at recruiting under 30s; even under 25s.
SURELY THE SPIN STATIONS ATTRACT ALL YOUNG LISTENERS?
Not true. In fact the average age of a Spin listener is 30. Not 18 to 24 as you might think. Right, let’s try another. FM104? Average age 36. Okay, that’s a little better. Today FM? 39. Yipee, I’m still relevant! 2FM? 37, wahoo, looks like I’m not as off-track as I thought I might be (although 2FM are aggressively; and very successfully gobbling up 15 to 34 year olds so they would probably be happy enough for this old lady to move on!)
The ‘Youth Music stations’ (Spin, Beat, iRadio and so on) are showing average ages of 27 to 32 (iRadio North East is the ‘youngest’ of these with an average age of 27).
Mark Cunning, General Manager of iRadio spoke recently on the challenges Irish radio is facing with young listeners… “There’s no doubt we’re in a busier market than ever before. Streaming services provide plenty of challenges – the good news for radio is that we’ve for the secret sauce that Spotify and iTunes haven’t managed to replicate yet – personality. My feeling is ‘screen time’ is the biggest challenge in recruiting younger listeners – there are so many opportunities for distraction; On-demand, social networks, even messaging apps, we’re fighting with them all for some attention; and if you can’t beat em, join em! That’s why iRadio has become so much more than just radio – it’s a go-to brand for young people.”
SO HOW DO YOUNG LISTENERS IN IRELAND CONSUME RADIO?
I wasn’t completely convinced that Ailbhe’s thoughts on radio fitted in with the research; maybe because my perception is that 21 year olds spend their audio time on Spotify/ Soundcloud and so on. So I asked her if she could persuade a bunch of her pals to get together and exchange a box of Krispy Kremes for a good old brain pick to get a slightly bigger picture of how young adults view this ‘traditional’ medium. I had 10 young adults in the room on Monday evening; aged 21 to 25. Here’s what they told me:
- All ten listen to the radio; ON a radio! (only one person said they listen on a smartphone; and only sometimes)
- The stations they listen to most? Spin 1038, Spin SouthWest, 2FM, Beat, FM104 and iRadio
- They mostly listen to radio in the car; with the radio at home a close second (most agreed that they turn on the radio if they’re cleaning or doing jobs around the house)
- Music is the main reason why they put on the radio
- Three of the ten I spoke to said they would tune in to radio for new music; but all ten said they would generally go to Spotify as they have to “wait for new tracks to come on the radio”
DOES THE AGE GAP WIDEN WHEN WE LOOK AT TALK RADIO?
Yes, it still holds true that listeners to news and talk-based radio stations are generally a little older. The average age of a Radio 1 listener is 57. On the other end of the FM dial, Newstalk’s average age is 48.
WHAT STATION AUDIENCES ARE GETTING YOUNGER?
The gold medal goes to Dublin’s Sunshine 1068! Sunshine have had a very strong few years with both audience growth and age profile targeting. 5 years ago, their daily age profile was 53. It is now at 49. They are bucking the trend when approximately 60% of Irish radio stations have added a year or two to their average listener age since 2013.
RTE 2FM are also continuing their winning streak with recruits under 30. Their average age has gone down from 39 to 37 in the last 5 years.
…AND WHO’S GETTING OLDER?
Cork’s Red FM takes gold here. The average listener daily on Red FM has gone from 30 to 38 in the last 5 years. This is most likely the result of rapid growth in the Cork market; and some pick-up from their main competitor 96FM (average age 46).
SO WHO’S CHAMPIONING YOUTH RADIO IN IRELAND RIGHT NOW?
Although radio has proven itself as a very resilient medium over the years, there are few radio stations doing a visibly good job at getting young listeners on board who will ‘age’ with the station for the next 20 years. Today FM did a Mammoth job of recruiting young listeners from 1998 to 2004; and many of those listeners are still there and in their early 40s now. But who’s getting it right? Spin, 2FM, iRadio are the stations leading the way in this area. They are working hard at not just building ‘FM’ listening; but also making sure that an iRadio listener for example, is also an iRadio follower (Instagram), friend (Facebook) viewer (video) and supporter (to build all-important brand loyalty and secure the stations future). They are also working hard on getting into the ‘heads’ of Alexa, Siri, Amazon Echo, Google Home and more. These stations know that people still listen to the radio in their hundreds of thousands… but younger listeners have lots more choice on how to consume it.
Mark Cunning also feels strongly that the industry has to work together to hold a strong offering to young listeners: “At iRadio we’ve been actively engaging both with other stations and independently on research projects enabling us to get to know our younger listeners. For us to cater to them effectively we need to know their passions, their aspirations, what they love and what they hate. In arming ourselves with as much information as we can we’re better placed to provide a service that they’ll align themselves with.”
AGES VARY BETWEEN WEEKDAY AND WEEKEND LISTENING
All the average ages mentioned are based on daily listening. There is a strong trend though when we talk about daily and weekly listenership. In many cases, stations appealing to an older cohort on weekdays, attract younger listeners at the weekend, lowering the average age of the listener when measured across 7 days. Regional stations show a similar, but opposite trend, with a small rise in the average listening age at weekends!
DOES THE FUTURE LOOK BRIGHT FOR NEW RADIO RECRUITS?
The argument between agencies and media owners is not going away soon: Just how well is Irish radio targeting 15 to 34 year olds? Quite well actually. It’s much more difficult for the local stations around the country to pull in young listeners as the demand from the older and hugely-loyal listeners is steering the editorial content somewhat. National and Regional stations look to be leading the way at the moment.
18 to 24 year olds may not have money to ‘react’ to advertisers’ messages; but the radio industry needs these recruits to keep the industry alive for years to come. So stay tuned kids!
Until next time!