Teens have left the building.
According to Arbitron, 12-to-17-year-olds spent 11.3 hours a week with radio in 1998. Today that number has dropped to 8.7 and is trending downward.
By comparison, men 25–34 spend about 15 hours per week. Whether the kids are listening to their iPods, playing video games or touching up their MySpace homepage, radio is where they are not hanging out.
Greater Media, Boston designed a station to lure the younger demographics back to the FM dial. “Radio You Boston” is the HD2 channel of rocker WBOS(FM) and is also available as an Internet stream at www.radioyouboston.com.
The secret behind the station is who is running the show.
“It’s a grassroots operation,” said Program Director Cindy Howes, age 25. “I’ve gone out into the community and found interested people who want to do their own shows, two hours, once a week. I’ve used MySpace, gone to schools and checked out message boards. I’ve talked to some of my old friends from Emerson College who like music.
“Some of the people we’re finding are not necessarily in the radio business. They might be local club spinners. This is a little like running a college station but we have more resources at Greater Media and we have a clear path.”
In the Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney spirit of “Let’s put on a show!” these newbie DJs are all volunteers. One would think riding herd on so many inexperienced young people would present logistic challenges, but Howes believes she can handle it with a little help from George Veszpremy, who is also a morning show producer at WBOS.
“Cindy and I are working closely,” said Veszpremy who serves as assistant program director for Radio You. “I’m working on the technical aspects while she works with the creative part. We’re not too worried about the security issues of having so many non-station employees. There will be oversight and they will all know what the expectations are.”
But building a station like this may not be trouble-free.
“On the positive side we’ll sound great on the air,” said Veszpremy. “On the negative side, it will be a new experience for all of us behind the scenes. It’s a radically different idea.”
HD2 it yourself
The programming of Radio You Boston will be eclectic.
“We’ll have some documentary shows, comedy and video game shows,” said Howes. “I’ll co-host a midday show called ‘Acoustic Break-Dance,’ and there’s going to be a rock block in the afternoon. It’s a bottom-up format with most of the ideas coming from the people we find.”
The approximately 37 amateur stars will pre-record their shows using the station’s Broadcast Electronics AudioVault system, often at night or on the weekend. Greater Media personnel will oversee them and provide support.
“The air talent will pick the music,” said Howes. “I just ask that what they play appeals to the 18–24 demographic and follows FCC regulations. For promotion we’re going to be out there in the Boston community and rely heavily on MySpace and FaceBook as well as the alternative papers. We’re going to start some noise underground and word will spread quickly. We’re planning Radio You shows at parties, clubs and colleges.”
Because listenership of HD radio is limited, the Internet stream will be where most people find the station.
“We want to have a wicked cool Web site,” she said.
Look ma, no commercials
The HD Digital Radio Alliance is an industry advocacy group that encourages the growth of this new medium.
“For the immediate future, none of the Alliance members will run commercials,” said Buzz Knight, Greater Media Boston vice president of program development. “The motivation behind Radio You Boston is first to try to do something different with a demographic that radio often neglects. Secondly we’ll try to infuse our demographic with interest for our business. We might find the next big star.”
Greater Media also offers an all-Irish station in Boston, WTKK(FM)’s HD2 channel, among several other digital choices.
Peter Ferrara is president/CEO of the HD Digital Radio Alliance, and he believes the medium is poised for a growth spurt.
“We expect that over a million HD radios will be sold in 2007,” he said. “About 81 percent of the U.S. is within range of an HD signal. We know from recent research that consumer awareness is now over 70 percent. Just the same, converting awareness into demand takes time and we expect that sales will accelerate over the next 12 to 18 months.”
In Boston, there are about 21 HD channels available on the dial.
“Greater Media is letting us take a chance,” said Knight. “And it’s fun to see someone like Cindy Howes, who is within our target demographic, take this on. ‘Radio You Boston’ is new territory and we’ll just have to learn as we grow.”