I first noted a story on how Kids Today were becoming an increasingly large share of the Classic Rock audience. Via John, I see that the WaPo has picked up this theme. It's a long and fascinating piece, and it left me wondering if this phenomenon may finally be the fulcrum for a few changes at the classic rock stations.
[R]adio stations that play "-rock" prefixed by blues, prog, psychedelic, folk, hard, Southern, acid, country, etc., are recording upticks in young listenership: The percentage of 12-to-17-year-olds listening to classic rock stations increased from 2 percent in the summer of 1999 to 2.4 percent during the same period this year, according to Arbitron, which gathers ratio ratings across the country. While that might not seem like a huge jump, an Arbitron spokesman says that 2.4 percent represents the format's highest level of teen listenership since the fall of 1998, the first period for which data is readily available.
"We've surpassed the level we ever thought we could get to in the ratings, and that's primarily due to younger people making this their music," says Bob Buchmann, program director for the New York classic-rocker WAXQ-FM (104.3). The whole thing happened swiftly, he says. "Five years ago, it wasn't cool for kids to listen to their parents' music. But now all of a sudden, it is."
Says Max Dugan, program director at the Arrow [in Washington, DC]: "It's really come to a head in the last three years or 24 months." He adds: "We're getting all these calls and e-mails, with stuff like, 'I heard a great song today; it started with a guitar and ended with piano and there was something about "Layla." Who is that and how do I download it for free?' " (For the 46 readers who don't know, it's a 1970 song by Derek & the Dominos, featuring Eric Clapton. But please consult your family attorney before pursuing an illegally downloaded copy.)
And the digital data are out there, too. Sort of.
Neither AOL Music, iTunes nor Rhapsody could provide any sort of meaningful demographic information about who exactly has been downloading "Back in Black," "Purple Haze" and "Behind Blue Eyes." But Yahoo Music, which claims more than 20 million users monthly, reports that teenagers, the majority of them male, make up about a third of the "active audience" that's listening to and reading about core classic-rock acts like AC/DC, Hendrix and the Who.
Yahoo cannot provide any historical context to show whether this share has or hasn't grown over the past five years. And online music consumers are generally young, anyway. But still, says Jay Frank, a Yahoo Music executive: One-third is hardly an insignificant fraction.
"When some of these [older] artists show teens reacting at rates of 30 percent or greater, it's quite out of the ordinary," he says.
Digital downloading, legal and otherwise, is among the keys to classic rock's resurgence, as the oldies are now a mere mouse-click away.
The recent resurgence of guitar rock has also helped, as young music fans who like the White Stripes might be compelled to check out the band's most obvious influences, such as Led Zeppelin -- in basically the same way their parents might have discovered Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry via the Rolling Stones.
Well, they're probably still too small a piece of that audience to make much difference, but you never know. In the meantime, I don't know how long this fad will last. It does have one thing in its favor, which is that the music itself is for the most part pretty darned good. There's a reason it endures, and it ain't marketing.Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 16, 2005 to Music | TrackBack