When’s the last time you listened to WOC?

How old are you?

If you’re somewhere under the age of 65, you probably couldn’t remember your answer to that first question.

And if you’re somewhere over the age of 65, you probably couldn’t remember either, only for a different reason.

I keed! I keed!

In all seriousness though, the audience for local talk radio has been growing older and older over the decades. Most of the shows appeal to a decidedly conservative audience and the demographic for those kinds of shows skews older, and not just in radio. Median age of a Fox News prime time viewer? 68.

Jim Fisher, who was recently let go after 40 years at WOC, was certainly an avatar of those statistics. Fisher was pushing 80 and his audience was in the same demographic.

Fisher was undeniably an extremely divisive figure. After Fisher was let go, I wrote a column saying he deserved to be given a more fitting send-off. In that column I explicitly stated that I wasn’t a fan of his show, I just thought, given that he was a 40 year veteran of the station since it switched to talk in 1980, he deserved to be able to say goodbye to his audience and shuffle off to retirement. But judging by the response, you would’ve thought I had said I thought Ebola was a great thing and should be made into a condiment. The column got TONS of responses on social media and via e-mail and about 80 percent of them were not generous towards Fisher. And by saying they were not generous towards Fisher, I’m being very generous towards Fisher. Most of the responses were pretty damn viciously negative towards him and his show.

That’s a big problem when that person is the most identifiable radio personality on your station. And it definitely was reflected in the ratings. WOC was in eighth place in the fall 2019 ratings book, and, looking at their average over the past four ratings periods, they were getting about a 4.5 share of the market.

Which is strange when you look at talk radio nationwide.

If you look at national ratings, talk is booming. It’s the number one format across all radio, with 10 percent of the overall audience. Not only that, but if you look at podcasts, which are another form of talk radio in a different sphere, it’s doing even better, with 32 percent of people saying they listened to a podcast over the past month according to Edison Research. Online radio? Talk is doing gangbusters there too, and 67 percent of people 12-and-older said they listened to an online radio show over the past month, again, according to Edison.

So if you look at that data, it’s pretty clear WOC has been underperforming.

And if you look at even more data, it’s pretty clear why.

By far, the biggest demographic of radio listeners is from Generation X. BY. FAR.

In second place? Drum roll please…. MILLENIALS.

Yup, millennials.

According to demographic and ratings company Nielsen, “By generation, radio has the largest reach with Generation X (ages 35-54), with 80.5 million listeners tuning during an average month (97% of the Gen X population). This is followed by Millennials (18-34 year olds), with 71.6 million listeners tuning in monthly (95% of the Millennial population).”

So the top two groups listening to the radio are two groups which rarely if ever would’ve listened to WOC if you cross-reference their format demographics with the overall listenership demographics.

What station has been the fastest-growing with that audience, to the point where there are several articles out there like this one talking about it?

NPR.

Yup.

Now, I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be a huge change for WOC to switch up their format. But I am saying that it might not be a bad one.

If you look at national numbers and see how strongly talk radio and podcasts are doing with younger demographics, particularly those like Gen X and the Millenials, which both draw heavy advertising dollars, and then you look at local numbers and see that trend isn’t manifesting here in the Quad-Cities, it’s probably a good idea to shake things up a little bit and see if maybe you can’t do something different and do better. After all, you’re in eighth place at a 4.5 share, it’s not like you’re messing around with a 10 or 15 (for perspective, the habitual number one rated station in the Quad-Cities, WLLR, routinely scores about an 18 or 19 share.)

So what, in my humble and oh so wise opinion, should WOC do?

Come up with different talk shows and different styles to appeal to a wider audience. I’m not saying go the complete opposite direction and become Air America, for the very good reason that the vast majority of you out there after reading that are saying to yourselves, “What the hell is Air America?” (Answer: It was a liberal talk radio company that was created to counter-program to conservative radio. It didn’t last long.)

What they should do is actually try something different. You look at the most popular podcasts and radio shows out there and they’re kind of a mix. They’re not conservative or liberal. The most popular podcast in terms of reach, by far, is the Joe Rogan Show. Rogan pisses off both liberals and conservatives by having guests on that are both liberal and conservative. If you listen to him, he doesn’t really hew to any set side, but, depending on the subject, has opinions that fall on both the liberal and conservative sides of the spectrum.

You know what that sounds like? Most people you and I know. Sure, we all know people that are mega-conservative or mega-liberal, but the vast majority of people hold viewpoints from both sides, and the vast majority of people are smart enough and reasonable enough to want to hear different viewpoints and make up their own mind. For the most part, that’s what you get from NPR. That’s what you get from most podcasts. And, wow, what shows are gaining in popularity again? Oh yeah, NPR and podcasts.

The other thing you get from most popular shows and podcasts is variety. People want to hear stories, they want to listen to various topics. Look at everyone’s social media feed. Sure, you’ll get a lot of people that are hardcore all politics all the time, but most people showcase a variety of things – entertainment, music, things about families and cooking and sports. Why not have shows that reflect that? Why not have shows that are driven by interesting personalities talking to interesting people instead of polemic-pushers shouting into the echo chamber?

That’s what we’ve tried to do here on QuadCities.com. If you look at our podcast lineup, it’s a wide variety of styles and topics and kinds of shows. If you look at our number-one-rated show, my podcast, QCUncut, it features me talking to a wide variety of people – everyone from artists to musicians to politicians to sports figures to business people and more.

That show reflects my own interests. So do the podcasts I listen to. And as a member of Generation X, the statistics show I’m not alone.

Who knows if WOC’s parent company, I Heart Radio, will look at those demographics and consider a move in that direction for their local station. But it wouldn’t surprise me.

Nor would it surprise me if it became a success, or at least drove the ratings up a bit and broadened the audience. After all, if you’re going to try to catch bigger “fish,” you need to look to a bigger pond.

Advertisement

Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer and entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since debuting at age 11 in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide. An honors graduate of the University of Southern California masters program, he has written over 50 books including the best-sellers The Arimathean, Every Number is Lucky to Someone and We Are All Characters.