Monday, December 17, 2018


On his blog, Fred Jacob’s provided an interesting discussion about the value of listeners over the age of 55 to commercial radio stations [link]. 

Advertisers want to reach folks in the younger demos. 

Because of this, commercial stations have often resisted providing programming for older demos. 

Fortunately, public radio doesn’t depend on ad revenue, some people assume public radio is immune to this kind age-ism. But, there have been concerns that the audience for public radio stations has gotten too old.

Jacobs says that some commercial broadcasters are venturing into programming for people over the age of 55. 

According to Jacobs, a few commercial broadcasters are going against the grain and designing programming to reach folks age 55+. As an example, Jacobs cites a new commercial radio format being designed by consultant John Sebastian (not the Lovin’ Spoonful guy) that targets age 55+ consumers. Jacobs says the new format has caught the interest of iHeartRadio and Entercom. But, advertisers remain skeptical.

Jacobs focuses on the gap in logic between what listeners want to hear and what ad agencies will buy. Jacobs created the Classical Rock format in the 1980s. Now the Classical Rock audience is increasingly older than 55+.

In recent years the PRPD’s Content Conference has spent ample time and money learning about the habits and consumption of people in the millennial age demo. This is important, but some program strategists (including us) feel that too little attention has been paid recently to older public radio listeners.

The chart on the right comes from Jacobs’ Public Radio Tech Survey 10 (PRTS 10), released earlier in 2018. 

Listeners to the stations  participating in PRTS 10, tended to be older.

70% of the participants in  were over the age of 55. 

Is this a problem or an opportunity for public media?

We believe it is an opportunity.
The advantages of public radio’s older audience are obvious:

• Older listeners have a tradition of listening to radio. For many, it is a habit.

• Older listeners have greater financial resources than people in your demos and many have previously donated to philanthropic organizations and causes.

• Commercial radio’s lack of interest in older listeners has created a vacuum for people who are not interested in younger-appealing formats.

• Anecdotally, an older audience is more stable and they are more likely to be radio listeners. Having an older audience is better than having no audience.

But still, even public radio programmers fall victim to prevailing notion that older listeners just aren’t cool and therefore lack value.


Podtrac’s November chart of the Top Ten podcast publishers has mixed news for public media organizations. 

NPR remains number one, PRX is up by double-digits and a new season of Serial has boosted the audience for the This American Life cluster by 37% over November 2017. 

However, the November 2018 audience for WNYC Studios dropped 26% compared to November 2017.

Commercial publishers continue to be a bigger factor in podcast publishing. Wondery had a 49% jump in measured audience during the past year.


  1. I don't think too many public radio programmers think "older listeners just aren’t cool and therefore lack value." I think what public radio programmers are worried about is that there's older listeners listening today but what's in the pipeline? In the old days, you could safely assume that as people got older, got the two kids and the house in the suburbs with the Volvo in the garage, that they would "age into" the public radio audience on their own. That assumption is fraught with danger today as fewer and fewer thirtysomethings and fortysomethings know that radio, as a medium, even exists. Much less that public radio is there for them when they're ready to discover it. Focusing TOO much on your prime demographic of older listeners today is to set yourself up for failure in ten years.

    1. Agree, you do need to bring in younger listeners, and that can be done. Thing with ads as that the younger demos are not brand loyal and they are open to switching brands unlike the older demos. That is why commercial radio and TV love those respected demo.

      Public Radio and TV may not have to worry about that factor, but they still need to make the audience aware of a product and/or service without pushing a call for action (a big No No in American Public Broadcasting).

  2. 9 of the top-10 publishers on this list are concentrated along the Amtrak line from Grand Central Station to Boston. Please tell me I'm wrong, but it *feels* like podcasting is taking the place of paperbacks and magazines, both very much NYC-focused enterprises. Just wondering if this is the same old Seaboard-centric publishing mindset with a new set of groovy clothes.