Youth Countertrends And The Surprising Relevance of Radio DJs

Written by Leah Perlmutter, Senior Researcher & Strategist -  Published on Media Post April 13, 2017

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With all the buzz around new technology, the latest apps and the future of media, it is easy to assume that everything is moving in the direction of on-demand, customizable content. However, in surveying and talking in person with thousands of young people across the country we find that even the latest and greatest new music inventions can never fully replace the connection they feel to live AM/FM radio and the personalities that bring it to them. 

Those of us in New York, in particular, forget that most people in this country drive every day, and while radio may not be the newest form of entertainment, there’s nothing quite like hearing a familiar voice on your way into school or work to set the day off right. When considering certain attitudes and trends among the younger generations, it is not altogether surprising that they have not abandoned this media form, and truly feel it is here to stay. 

Millennials, the less young “youth” generation (now approximately ages 20 - 36, compared to Gen Z ages 0 - 19), are known for being raised in a rapidly globalizing world. However, with every trend comes a countertrend, and this particular swing towards the global mindset leaves many Millennials craving the more human touch derived from interacting with their local community. Even though they can order any and everything online, they often derive personal satisfaction from shopping local, supporting small businesses and putting their money where they feel it will make an impact on their area. Radio hosts help them feel even more connected by providing an insider perspective on where to eat, where to shop and especially events going on around town.

A love for live events among the Millennial generation is another counter-trend to their IWIWI (I want what I want when I want it) attitude. While they are constantly turning to Netflix and YouTube to fulfill their on-demand desires, it can come as almost a relief to not have to make a decision about one of the thousands of entertainment options out there and to actually be told what to watch or listen to at a specific time.

It also feels special to them to know that others in their community are tuning in to the same thing at the same time. This is something that rarely happens in most of their media consumption as it has become increasingly individualized. Radio DJs, in addition to letting them know when some of these larger events will happen, also provide shorter more frequent doses of live entertainment. They help facilitate those in the moment connections by interacting with members of the community and promoting live conversations about what’s going on locally, whether it’s complaining about morning traffic or getting pumped up for the next band coming to perform in the area.

Gen Zers, the younger “youth” generation of today are similar to Millennials in many ways, but also exhibit trends of their own and have their own reasons for appreciating radio personalities. This generation is emerging as the YouTube generation, and while part of this is their love for short form content, an equally large part is their admiration for a new kind of celebrity. They look up to the relatable, self-made personalities who have catapulted themselves into YouTube and Instagram stardom.

It’s the girl in the next town over whom your friend’s friend met at a party once and said was really cool. Even though the radio DJ is not a new concept, they definitely fit into this new celebrity category. They are the type of celebrity you could conceivably know, and it’s easier to think of them as a friend and to be engaged in the same conversations. If you tweet at them there’s a very real possibility that they’ll tweet back.

These factors combine to make radio personalities surprisingly powerful when it comes to marketing to these generations. Millennials, and Gen Zers even more so know how to spot an inauthentic claim when it comes to advertising, but DJs with their local prowess and relatable, almost friend-like nature have the power to authenticate brands in a particularly trustworthy way. 

So, as we see technology continue to innovate, and trends that upon first look may seem to render DJs as obsolete, even the youngest of consumers still sing the praises of radio under the right circumstances. They say that Snapchat is great, but it’s just a fad until the next app comes around — radio, on the other hand, will be around forever.