Generation Z does not connect (with) the radio

The radio audience is aging. The medium has to transform and rethink its content to attract a younger audience

Maria Fitó-Carreras

MARIA FITÓ-CARRERAS Associate Professor of Radio at the Faculty of Communication Sciences, International University of Catalonia

The sound that the dial emits when we try to tune in to a radio station on an analog device is surely part of the lives of many boomers. But technological changes are one step away from stealing this hypnotizing sound from the generations that precede us.

There is no more curious experiment than exposing the students of any Faculty of Communication, the first day of radio class, to the sound of the dial. Although it may seem like a lie to us, a quarter of them do not recognize it as such. It would be easy to blame it on a cultural deficit or a lack of interest in what surrounds them. But before reaching erroneous conclusions, we must put ourselves in their shoes.

Generation Z was born with a cell phone under their arm and has been raised on social networks. In addition, as Carlos Scolari points out, they move in the so-called «snack culture», consuming short communication formats and jumping from one content to another. In this scenario, who puts a transistor in their ear so that they listen to a four-hour radio program, full of advertising, with men and women who always talk about the same thing and, moreover, sound like analog?

Will radio continue to be radio after FM?

Some of us romantics continue to listen to the radio through the airwaves. The creak of the dial reminds us that the radio medium is still alive despite the proliferation of podcasts, audiobooks or playlists. Everything indicates that consuming digital audio in small doses is the future of the sound medium.

But let's start by analyzing the state of digital radio in Spain. Despite having been one of the first to develop the DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) system, its implementation has been abandoned due to the lack of infrastructure and the little interest of the institutions and companies involved in carrying out the full transfer of analog radio. to digital.

The truth is that two decades later, the global market is preparing for an inevitable blackout, which will force radio stations to gradually abandon their analog broadcasts. The automotive sector, for example, following the European Electrical Communications Code (EECC) indicates to manufacturers that they must equip vehicles with digital audio receivers as standard, without being optional. Or in the field of mobile telephony, the new smartphone models no longer incorporate the FM audio chip, so listening to Hertzian radio is no longer compatible with the latest generation devices.

The question is when it will happen. Putting an expiration date on airwaves is like trying to put a date on the end of the world. And doing it in Spain is even more complicated, since we do not have sufficient infrastructure to guarantee total coverage of the national territory. The only certainty we have is that radio continues to be radio in the countries that have transferred their broadcasts through the DAB system, in the same way that television remains the same after its transfer to the DTT (Digital Terrestrial Television) system. Only the way of consuming audio changes and a disadvantaged group is born: that of transistors, which are becoming obsolete in the drawers of our homes.

What should concern us is the health of the radio, not the way of consuming it

Digital broadcasting improves the reception and sound quality of content and in some way contributes to rejuvenating the radio audience by the mere fact of carrying the "digital" label.

Leaving aside the unsuccessful implementation of the DAB system in Spain, the radio has been offering its live content for years in digital quality via streaming on the internet, through the medium's website or through applications. It is even gradually adding to the production of native podcasts that allow it to complete the programming it offers on the airwaves.

But, even if Hertzian radio remains in force and maintains its loyal audience, it must look to the future with digital eyes. It is necessary to attract the new generations to rejuvenate your aging audience.

New (young) listeners find themselves in the digital environment. It allows them to listen to audio content when they want and where they want, without being subject to a listening schedule and constant advertising interference. There they unfold comfortably and naturally, picking at sound content at ease and interacting with the media and brands.

If the radio company wants to maintain the results in the audience studies and, as a consequence, preserve its source of advertising income, it must be where the new audience is. It must work to catch the youngest using transmedia strategies that drag them from the digital medium to the dial. But to keep them, the radio will have to give them something else. Because the traditional radio model does not go with them.

Despite the exponential growth in the consumption of podcasts, audiobooks or streaming music, radio remains the most listened to audio medium worldwide. According to data from the latest All Audio Study global report, 75% of the population between the ages of 35 and 54 listened to the radio in the week prior to the survey. For participants aged 18 to 34, the percentage dropped to 55%, with streaming music being the content they listen to the most. Almost half of the young people do not tune in to the radio but the medium awaits them to guarantee their survival.

Radio has to reformulate its traditional model

Just like matter, the media never die, they only transform. The first and only great transformation of radio has been at a technological level as a consequence of the digitization phenomenon. This conjunctural change has allowed listening to the medium in digital quality and has led to the expansion of its channels. But we must not forget that digitization has also changed consumers, especially younger ones, who have naturally incorporated new consumption habits. You are now a new empowered listener searching for audio content on demand, deciding what, when and where to listen. Although, apparently, it is focused on music and podcasts.

Despite the digital turn of radio, the content it offers remains the same since its birth as a mass communication medium a little over a century ago. Its temporal and thematic structure is repeated on most stations every day and at all hours. In short, traditional radio does not respond to the new demands of the digital generation.

Perhaps the future of radio lies in offering rejuvenated content that speaks in your language and in producing small doses of specialized radio that can be consumed both on the air and in digital repositories. Be that as it may, if the radio wants to stay in shape, it must reformulate its model. There is not much time left for him to connect with a generation with great potential. It has to use the digital medium to feed and rejuvenate the audience.

In any case… the last one to turn off the radio.

This article has been published in 'The Conversation'.

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