The Lowdown on Radio Formats and Demographics

posted by Matt Senne

We’ve already talked about the various radio formats when it comes to marketing your business. This post is going to dive even deeper into the topic of radio formats and demographics. First things first, let’s define each of those terms.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, format is “the form, design, or arrangement of something.”

Also by that same source, demographic is defined as “relating to the dynamic balance of a population.”

So, when the two definitions are strung together literally, we get “the form, design, or arrangement of something relating to the dynamic balance of a population.”

Yuck, right?

While it does sound messy at first, a closer look reveals a simple truth about radio formats and demographics.

A radio format is the arrangement and type of programming that runs on-air. It could be country music, rock music, Top 40, news/weather/sports, or talk radio. Within any of those formats there can be a handful of “sub-formats,” like hot new country or classic country hits, alternative rock, or classic rock.

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The format is chosen based on the demographics the station wants to target. Using the country examples from above, a station playing new country hits is going to pull in a wide array of listener demographics. Those stations tend to focus content towards 25-54-year-old adults with families. Whereas a classic country format will pull in a 54+ demographic leaning slightly to the male side of the spectrum.

Why is This Important?

Your business, just like a radio station, has a target audience. Your ideal customer. While it’s easy to think your business can cater to everyone and their mother, that’s not realistic. Instead, focus your advertising dollars on local radio stations your ideal customers likely listen to.

For example, if you own a beauty salon, you’ll want to avoid advertising on talk radio because those stations cater heavily towards an older male audience. However, if your salon to caters to men, like a local barber shop, then a talk station is a great choice.

Things to Avoid

As a business owner, it can be tempting to advertise with the station(s) you love. I get it. There’s a level of pride when you hear your own commercial while listening to your favorite morning show. It brings a smile to your face. It’s also easy to verify when your ads play if you hear them yourself. That’s all well and good, but not the best way to measure the effectiveness of your ad dollars.

Instead, consider what station(s) your target audience is most likely to tune-in for, and place your ads on those stations. If they happen to be your favorite stations, even better.

A Step Further

Try to determine which parts of the day your ideal customer most likely listens. Want to reach working moms? Advertise during the morning show on an adult contemporary (A/C) station, and then again during the afternoon drive programming.

How about reaching listeners at their office from 9-5 each day? Place your ads on a work-friendly radio station during the midday and afternoon slots.

The Lowdown on Radio Formats and Demographic | A Group of High School StudentsIf you’re targeting high schoolers, place your ads during the night show on a Top 40 station. That’s when kids are out of school, and most likely to tune-in to hear their favorite music and on-air personalities. Why not choose the morning show to reach them on the way to school? Well, think about how most kids get to school. They walk, ride the bus, are dropped off by parents, or drive themselves. With three out of those four, the student has no control over what station is being played, if any at all.

Various Radio Formats to Choose From

As you can see, there are dozens of possibilities of stations and day parts you can target with local radio advertising. This is precisely why radio groups carry stations with multiple formats, and why you’ll almost always find a country station, a Top 40 station, and a news/talk station in every market. Those three formats together can pretty much reach the entire spectrum of listeners.

Your radio rep can help you choose the perfect station (or group of stations) to advertise on. Further, they will know the different on-air talents and what current promotions are going on that you could tie-in with.

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