“There Will Be No More Music Formats for Radio.” Really? I Can Think of One–Sort Of.

Radio consultant Mark Ramsey published the following in his blog yesterday.

If you’re waiting for a new music format – a knight in shining armor – to save your flagging ratings, then you will be waiting for the rest of your professional career.

Because there never will be one ever again.

What’s the next big new format?

Radio has been asking that question forever.

Most recently, the answer was Classic Hip Hop. Is it the next big thing? Maybe not (from Radio Ink):

If you listened to Radio One CEO Alfred Liggins on his earnings call you might come to the conclusion that he believes the Classic Hip Hop format — or BOOM, as Radio One calls it — has run its course. Radio One created the Classic Hip Hop format and yesterday Liggins said, “We invented the format and we’re the first to exit the format. It is not a sustainable long-term ratings getter.”

Think back to the last successful new format that swept America and found a permanent place on many Nielsen rankers…

You have to go back to the Variety Hits format, “Jack.”

And that format is 15 years old now.

Let’s talk formats. New formats come from two places:

  1. New tastes from young consumers
  2. Unserved tastes from the audience at large

Let’s review each in turn.

Before we go any further, read the whole thing here.


Mark brings up some good points, but I beg to differ. There is room for a new radio format–but it’s an anti-format.

North American radio long ago segmented into specific offerings: CHR, urban, rock, country and so on. Each of these formats has since splintered further. Rock, for example, has been divided up into at least five separate sub-formats, classic rock, mainstream rock, alternative, AAA and active rock. The thinking behind this is to guarantee a specific and consistent kind of listening experience. In the mood for Beatles and Stones? Then you’ll get that from your market’s classic rock station. Feeling like Green Day and Arcade Fire? The alternative station will handle that. Avenged Sevenfold and Three Days Grace? Then you’re looking for an active rock station.

Radio in other parts of the world isn’t quite so granular. BBC stations, for example, cast a much wider musical net than typical North American stations. While BBC Radio 1 is a mainstream pop station, its playlist goes far beyond, say, a pop station in Toronto or LA. Many radio stations in France and Germany have music mixes that we’d call eclectic. This got me thinking that perhaps they’re on to something.

Having spoken to many young wannabe broadcasters in universities and colleges across the country, I’ve been mulling the idea of Millennial Radio, although I’m not exactly sure what it would sound like. It’s not a format so much as it is a philosophy and an aesthetic. Here’s what we know about Millennials.

  • Their musical tastes are far more ecumenical than any generation since the 1960s. They love all music from all genres from all eras.
  • With their smartphones and always-on Internet access, terrestrial radio fails them when it comes to instant access and interactivity.
  • They’re not necessary going to grow into radio listens. In fact, they probably won’t. That bodes poorly for the long-term future of the radio industry.

Our industry needs to experiment with Millennial-friendly programming. I’d love to convince a radio station to do the following.

  • Reserve blocks of programming–say, 10pm-1am a couple of times a week–for experimental programming. Let them determine musical policy and content (with adult supervision, of course.)
  • Find some smart, motivated and talented young broadcasters–raid the broadcast schools if you have to–and help them come up with programming that they believe will mean something to their peers.
  • Have at it and see what happens.

No, this isn’t a format, but that’s the point. The idea is to find a style of radio broadcasting that appeals to this generation. Again, I’m not entirely sure what it would sound like, but wouldn’t you like to know?





Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

2 thoughts on ““There Will Be No More Music Formats for Radio.” Really? I Can Think of One–Sort Of.

  • November 9, 2016 at 5:53 pm

    Yes, but … it’s the commercials. (THAT’S commercial radio’s biggest problem. So, short of solving the revenue-model conundrum, they’re not coming in droves … for a “Millennial-friendly” format, or anything else.)

    • November 9, 2016 at 6:49 pm

      It is an issue and will always be one. But all forms of media have to be paid for somehow.


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