Exotic City, Can’t You See?

This article originally appeared on Edison Research’s InfiniteDial.com on Feb. 8, 2007

I’ve been meaning to share this observation for a few weeks now: Shortly before the holidays, I heard from T.J. Lubinsky, the public TV oldies show magnate who has been as successful at raising money with Oldies as radio station owners are frustrated. Lubinsky had just started a new doo-wop program on Sirius Satellite Radio’s pre-Beatles Oldies channel, Sirius Gold, and was surprised that the callers were younger (and more geographically spread out) than many of the fans he encounters, often concentrated in the genre’s historical northeastern stronghold.

That says something about the problems that Oldies stations have had attracting younger listeners. In the ’80s, when the format was new on FM, it drew a substantial number of listeners who had not grown up with the records but were enjoying them because they were new, novel, and, of course, great hit songs. But over the past five years, it’s been Classic Rock and the ’80s hits of the Bob- and Jack-formats that have drawn in listeners who appreciate that new song about Jessie’s Girl. It’s now those records that are being handed down from one’s parents–not ’60s music–many have theorized.

But on satellite radio, you’ve got some listeners who are punching horizontally through 100-plus channels with the expectation that they are going to hear something different, and not going to know everything they hear. With that established, doo-wop becomes just another type of exotica, like chillout music, or like a 24-year-old listening to Sinatra. That doesn’t necessarily help the remaining terrestrial Oldies FMs figure out how to attract younger listeners, but it does suggest that it’s not impossible.

This column drew the comment from veteran Buffalo, N.Y., programmer Tom Schuh:  Hi Sean: 11 years of successfully drawing younger listeners to Oldies in Buffalo taught us that they will accept the music (as long as most of it is broadly-based, with the occasional oh-wow cut). The key is what goes on around the music: personalities with wide appeal who talk about contemporary issues (while occasionally hearkening back, after all it IS about nostalgia, even if it’s somebody else’s memories!); state-of-the art production and sound (we used current-sounding jingles and imaging, again with an occasional “blast from the past), and most importantly – plug into the community. We tied in with sports, charities, advertisers, anything that could get us beyond the solely music-based cume.

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Sean Ross is author of the Ross on Radio newsletter and VP of music and programming of Edison Research.

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