Where did all the under-25’s go?

The New York Times shines a light on radio’s erosion in time spent listening among persons under age 25 over the past few years.

Edison’s Larry Rosin notes a couple reasons: The oft-mentioned proliferation of radio alternatives and “radio’s unwillingness to target listeners in the 12-to-24-year-old demographic.”

But wait.

Before we point the finger of blame at ourselves let’s think about this.

Based on our own research we have clearly seen that radio listeners under 25 have a different relationship to their media tools than older listeners had when they were under 25. That fact in and of itself is enough to account for the decline in listening to radio. And it’s very likely to get worse.

And if that’s so, then is this really radio’s “fault”?

After all, are there fewer Top 40 stations in the U.S. today than there used to be? Are there fewer Urban stations? Certainly there are more Spanish stations, many of which target this demo at least in part.

Yes, some Active Rock stations are ratings-troubled, but the count of Active Rockers has declined because the ratings have declined, not vice versa. And yes, some Alternative stations have disappeared, but what is “Alternative” nowadays? It’s not clear that a constituency exists for that format in every market. And of course, there’s still Hot AC with some fraction of its audience under 25 – and that’s another format with generally troubled ratings.

Isn’t the real problem (if it’s a “problem”) that tastes among teens and college-age kids have atomized into droplet-sized formats no wider than each listener’s iPod and the roster of bands tagged as “friends” on MySpace?

Now, more than ever, under-25’s can get what they want in a way that radio is incapable of servicing.

Should we blame ourselves for not chasing the un-catchable? Should we blame our sellers for not “selling harder” to under-25’s?

I don’t think so.

The fear, of course, is that if young listeners don’t develop a relationship to radio now, they never will.

Maybe. That depends on what’s on it.

Stay tuned.

So to speak.

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