Through the use of media and technology, the needs of a listening audience can be better met. Public discourse can relate to the general public’s view of societal norms as the public sphere grows and advances in time. “Radio Comes of Age” reflects on these changes. “Adult Contemporary format traces its roots back to the 1950s when stations wanted to play current music, but did not want to play loud, rhythmic rock music. Later on, stations upgraded to a mellower type of format, known by many different names including middle of the road and/or easy listening. Most of the songs were often soft rock songs with non-offensive lyrics.” Habermas adds to this discussion by stating that “Commercial culture uses the commodity form as a way to distribute high culture, formally educated audiences, caring not about how many people it reaches…but only the quality of art produced.” (Habermas, 1989). While this may be true, radio stations like the MIX have proven to care about the art they produce, the numbers of their listening audience, as well as quality programming. In particular, Kachinske comments on how the public sphere is crucial for the station’s success: “In general, the hot ac (adult contemporary) format or the top adult 40 format is lifestyle: very pop-culture and geared to women on what’s happening in the world and here in Chicago. But, younger women are more in tuned to the top 40 where hit songs are played every hour. The beauty of hot ac is that you can play it at work and its not going to pound you over the head with the same songs. Yet, we do have to play the current hits and the most popular ones every 2-3 hours to keep the people interested because when the song does become hit, people want to hear it over and over. Hot adult contemporary formats were geared toward younger women even though as it became more popular in different markets, older women jumped on the bandwagon, too. And I think the key to that is that women and men like to stay younger, longer. So, you can play a rap song that M&M does and you’ll have a
21 y/o women love it and a 55 y/o women love it! And that is the beauty of music today: it’s available everywhere, not just the radio, even though 94% of Americans get their music from radio and listen every week. The MIX, here in Chicago, is/was, a modern ac station and now is a hot ac station, and more of an adult top 40. It is the same format that we play as the mass appeal music for women 24-39, is like our core that we look at and will appeal to people younger and older. We sort of play the best of the pop; we play the best of the rock.”
Psychographics & Lifestyles
In the interest of looking at the objectives set forth by this popular ac station, I conducted a survey to explore the interest of radio among listening audiences in the Chicagoland area. Pre-teens/middle schoolers through non/out of college adults indicated that listening to radio allows them to hear what they want to hear on the station of their choice. Middle schoolers and high schoolers tuned in to “top 40” current hits, rock, and alternative rock stations. Whereas, the adult audiences added country, alternative rock, talk, and sport stations. Radio is targeted as the go-to-source of entertainment, dependent on the time of day. The younger age groups admitted listening to radio that their parents, for example, listen to while being driven to various destinations: school and/or after school activities. Yet, the adult groups used radio for entertainment as well as news, talk, and sports throughout their day at work or while working at home.
The Eric and Kathy Show of The MIX is one of those often “tuned in” stations, making it number one among Chicago’s morning radio shows. The success of radio stations like The MIX is determined by ratings. The rating focus primarily on psychographics as the parameters that constrain and expand the boundaries of public discourse. In this instance, psychographics includes demographics, marketing, personality, values, lifestyles, attitudes, and opinions as motivating factors for listening to a particular radio station. “The main key to success is that this entertainment based, lifestyle driven show, has been able to keep the content engaging to grownups and clean enough to sail right over the heads of youngsters. In addition, they are able to draw the interest from the younger demographics with high school teens and/or middle schoolers with stories of life experiences. This theme continues through the other radio hosts, therefore continuing the success to pull in an incredible listening audience to 101.9, the MIX.” (Kachinske)
“One of the main strengths of adult contemporary music is that the station attracts what is known as the “Golden Demos” of working women and moms. Usually those who are employed outside the home listen on their commute to and from work, and even while they work.” (Media Programming: Strategies & Practices.) In his study, McKee cites Hartley’s reference toward the working-class culture and insists that the popular audience is a group of individuals whose value can neither be proved nor disproved through proof. In addition, McKee’s support of the public sphere parallels the mission of the MIX when addressing that the commitment to equality “be open to the forms of culture with which different members of the public are familiar.” (McKee 97) Kachinske adds to this discussion: “For the demographics, we always think a narrow focus really gives you broad results. I would say it’s women 25-44: you look at them, their lifestyle, what they’re going for, what their music is, knowing that people younger than that will listen, and those women will set the pace for the older women. It’s amazing we’re normally number one with women 35-64 too, as well as 18-34. And then we get a lot of men. That’s another thing we didn’t know before portable people meters. Men never write down that they listen to Eric and Kathy: someone might make fun of them. But we actuality hear a lot of men playing the contest or calling in and being part of a bit with Eric and Kathy. We just need to know we need to be as much mass appeal as possible because that’s how you win the game.”
At the same time, while radio stations make efforts to draw in a large listening audience, they are, at times, unsuccessful in spite of using strategies like psychographics. Modern technology contributes to the downfall of radio since people listen to music on their iPhones and iPods. This is due to the fact that the listener chooses not to be bothered by commercials and chatter from radio personalities. Consequently, one could even ask, “Is radio in jeopardy of surviving?” as Matt Newton does in “The Death of Radio and the Future of Media.” In the effort to defend this type of commercial culture, Habermas states that “the point of the public sphere is for competing voices to come together presenting different positions; …the voices heard in the public sphere must be those of individual ‘private people’. (Habermas, 1989)
Furthermore, Bob McCurdy in “The Future of Radio,” states that radio has heard audio challengers come and go since the early days of crackling static and living room theaters. He makes known that radio has proven to be resilient since it draws its strength from communities, which in turn, defend radio and negate any jeopardy of its extinction. In fact, he states that radio’s future is as exciting as when radio was first born. McCurdy states that radio has proven its resilience and transformational power as a marketing solution that advertisers demand. Due to the fact that radio can be tuned in at any time and place, it remains one of the most powerful and intimate ways to reach mass audiences.