Young Canadians Tuning Out Radio

Not that it’s much of a surprise, but Canadians are listening to less radio, especially younger demographics 12 to 17 and 18 to 24. I’ve been saying this for some time now. Statistics Canada has all the numbers. Michael Geist agrees.

I worked in the radio industry for ten years before going freelance. I noticed the change in the early part of the decade, around 2000 or 2001. The response to contests was dwindling and the people I was talking to on the phones were over 35. Programmers never cared about people under 25 because they had no money. But the problem is, they will have money eventually and if you don’t form listening habits when they are young, you’ll never get them. Not only that but the money young people have (especially the ones living at home), is almost completely discretionary.

I remember many conversations with other radio guys and I pointed out that by the time the decrease shows up in ratings and surveys and other metrics, it will be too late. Well, now it’s finally showing up. Radio stations are always so focused on competition with other stations in the market, when in fact their biggest competitors are other forms of entertainment. Video games, television, YouTube, the iPod, computers…the list goes on and on. All of these things are contributing to the decline in radio listenership. Many stations haven’t been paying attention to anyone under 35 for years, and they are paying a price today. Music playlists are stale, old and repetitive.

I’m no longer in the business because nobody wanted to listen to my views on how much trouble radio was in. Now stations should be begging someone like me for their input. I’m not alone, many former and current radio guys saw this coming back when I did. Maybe they will start listening when those valuable ad dollars start migrating away from broadcast radio (and television), to online services. People have been predicting the death of radio for years and it hasn’t happened yet, and won’t happen completely for some time to come. But there’s no question, the disruption has begun.



  1. Jason,

    Great insight. CBC, and by implication, Canada, is presumed to be a prospering market for English language radio dramatists. Your post seems to contradict that presumption.

    At the risk of giving away potential consulting revenue, what is the course of action for getting young listeners back to the radio?

    Lit Between the Ears – Celebrating the Power and People of Radio Drama
    # 30 #

  2. Thanks for the comment. I don’t think there is any doubt that CBC radio’s audience is stable and in some demographics, growing. I only have experience with commercial radio, so I can’t speak to how a public broadcaster is programmed. However, CBC is having trouble attracting younger listeners, simply because of the big changes in technology and possibly the perception that the CBC is “what Mom and Dad watch”. As for radio drama, there has never been a better time than now for creating rich audio content. Podcasting enables content creators to reach their audience directly, and with very little start-up costs.

    As for consulting, I don’t think there is any danger of any consulting revenue coming my way. There’s no way to stop the technological shift from taking peoples attention from traditional broadcasters. But they can do things to reach their audience where they are. First, make your morning show available as a podcast immediately following the broadcast. Take out all the ads, and music and maybe add a couple of separate 15 second sponsor messages throughout the podcast. Secondly, stream your station live 24 hours a day. Doesn’t matter what it costs. Also, play new music immediately! (unless you are a classic rock or oldies station) Don’t wait for weeks and weeks to add a song to your rotation after it’s already a hit. The internet is immediate, your station should be too.


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