Country radio is cool again for younger listeners.
Attracted by an edgier, more energetic sound, listeners aged 18-34 are flocking to country stations in droves. Already radio’s dominant destination among 25-54 year-olds, country is now second only to top 40 in the 18-24 demo, up from fifth place two years earlier, according to new Arbitron ratings data from the top 48 markets. Country’s share of 18-24 listeners grew a whopping 41% from fall 2010 to spring 2012, while 25-34 ratings experienced a 27% increase. In an encouraging sign for the format’s long-term growth prospects, 18-34 year-olds now make up nearly one third of the country radio audience.
A wave of rock-flavored songs with a dash of country’s rebellious roots are attracting a new generation of young listeners without sacrificing the format’s core older audience, programmers say. “There is a very distinct changing of the guard in terms of the style, texture and themes of what country is right now,” says Clear Channel executive VP of programming Clay Hunnicutt, who also serves as brand manager for the company’s country stations. Albright, O’Malley & Brenner partner Becky Brenner says the consulting firm’s research shows “high passion” among the Millennial Generation for new country artists, such as Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Eric Church, among others. “They’ve brought an energy and vitality to the format, with lyrics that speak to that younger listener,” she says.