Gray heads in the pubradio audience, quantified by format

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An analysis of aging among public radio listeners put numbers behind Garrison Keillor’s observation that every year there are more gray heads in the audiences for live tapings of Prairie Home Companion.

Long dominated by Baby Boomers, the audiences of public radio news, jazz and classical music stations in the top 50 markets are aging at slightly different rates, but the lifestyle changes of retirement loom for this sizable group. In fact, nearly half of classical listeners are already out of the workforce.

Over the past decade, spring 1999 to 2009, the audience of news-format stations has aged more slowly than those of classical or jazz stations, according to George Bailey of Walrus Research. News-station listeners’ median age climbed five years from 47 to 52; for jazz, the median aged seven years, from 48 to 55; for classical, the median also grew seven years older, going from 58 to 65.

Bailey notes that “half of the classical audience are not Boomers, rather they are seniors on Medicare.” The percentage of classical music listeners who are employed dipped to 47 percent this year. That’s a 16 percent drop from spring 1997, when 63 percent of the classical audience was in the workforce. As for the retirees, “the end of employment may have some impact on their willingness to contribute money to the station,” he writes.

Percentages of news and jazz listeners who are employed are 70 and 61, respectively, but the portions have dropped 7 points or more since 1999.

Bailey attributes slower aging among news listeners to those stations’ successes in recruiting listeners, including younger ones. “In fact, the NPR news stations that we analyzed in this study nearly doubled their audience from 2007 to 2009.” Some of these new listeners are younger, college-educated folk.

Walrus used AudiGraphics to analyze 51 public radio stations broadcasting focused formats in 2009. Stations had to air the format during morning, midday and afternoon dayparts to be included.

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