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Public Radio's
Generation X Audience

When we think of the people best served by public radio’s programming, we think first of Baby Boomers – the most highly educated segment of American society today. We also think of older listeners served by public radio’s mix of classical music, information, and entertainment.

We often forget that their 21-to-32 year old children and grandchildren are also listening.

There is no shortage of these Generation X listeners in public radio’s audience today. Nearly three and one-half million of them listen to public radio each week.

But these are not your stereotypical Gen Xers. They distinguish themselves from their contemporaries in the same way that older listeners distinguish themselves from others in their age cohort.

Gen Xers who listen to public radio are better educated than their peers. They are more than twice as likely to have a college degree.

Most are Actualizers or Fulfilleds – VALSTM 2  types associated with mature values.   Public radio’s Gen Xers are three times more likely to be Actualizers and five times more likely to be Fulfilleds than the general Gen X population.

Many have grown up with public radio, and all have grown into it.

In fact, Gen X listeners have more in common with older public radio listeners than they have with their peers. The reason, of course, is programming – the service we provide to listeners of all ages.

Two Programming Paths

Public radio’s programming embodies certain social and cultural values that distinguish it from other stations on the dial. These characteristics distinguish its listeners from their cohorts who don’t listen – whatever their age may be.

That said, Gen Xers enter public radio through two distinct programming paths. Each path attracts a different Gen X character.

The first path is paved with programming highly identified with public radio – primarily news and information, and to a lesser extent classical music and jazz.

The vast majority of Gen X listeners arrive via this path of hallmark programming on "mainstream" stations.

Both Gen Xers and older listeners spend half their time with public radio tuned in to music. However, while classical music dominates listening by older persons, other types of music are more attractive to Gen Xers.

In fact, music less commonly associated with public radio offers an alternative pathway for some Gen X listeners.

Stations with high concentrations of Gen Xers typically offer schedules devoid of news and loaded with "alternative" forms of music far from public radio’s norm.

Gen Xers tuned into these stations are less likely to have college degrees; they’re less apt to be Actualizers; Fulfilleds are nearly nonexistent.

What we see here is just another manifestation of the old maxim: programming causes audience.   If we play for them and play well, they will come.

Yet the great majority of Gen Xers come to us via our hallmark programming.  Programming differences cause audience differences.

It is unknown whether these two paths can ever find confluence.  It is known, however, that doing so on "mainstream" public stations would have a negative impact on the vast majority of current listeners and givers.

– Jay Youngclaus       
– Leslie Peters       
– David Giovannoni       
UDIENCE 98 Core Team       

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For More Information

Jay Youngclaus, AUDIENCE 98 Core Team, and Ingrid Lakey, NPR, presented this report at the 1998 PRPD Conference in St. Petersburg, FL.

David Giovannoni explores the ramifications of these findings in his Adagio.  If nothing else, the results of this Gen X study should remind us of the most Basic Principles of radio and our niche in it.

Leslie Peters treats public radio's two types of Gen X listeners as Cases From The X Files.  Stations with high concentrations of Gen X listeners ("Strong X" stations) serve a somewhat different flavor of Gen Xer than other public stations.

Many Xers grew up listening to public radio in their parent's homes and cars.  Associate Ingrid Lakey, and Core Team member Jay Youngclaus, recount their earliest public radio memories in I Want My NPR.  Ingrid brings her perspective up to date in her essay, I Am Not A Slacker.   What?  Produce special public radio programs for Gen Xers?  Not!

Of course not every Xer grew up with public radio, but all have grown into it.  Wait 'Til You're Old Enough takes a fresh look at historic data to compare the entries of Gen Xers and Baby Boomers into public radio's audience.  The finding: As they mature, Gen Xers are entering the audience in numbers similar to their Baby Boom parents 10-20 years earlier.

For a snapshot of their development as listeners, check out How Gen X Uses Public Radio.


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Navigate the Report

arrow.gif (139 bytes)     Public Radio's Generation X Audience
navblue.jpg (647 bytes) transpxl.gif (67 bytes)     Basic Principles
navblue.jpg (647 bytes) transpxl.gif (67 bytes) transpxl.gif (67 bytes) Cases From The X Files
navblue.jpg (647 bytes) transpxl.gif (67 bytes) transpxl.gif (67 bytes) I Want My NPR
navblue.jpg (647 bytes) transpxl.gif (67 bytes) transpxl.gif (67 bytes) I Am Not A Slacker
  Wait 'Til You're Old Enough
  transpxl.gif (67 bytes) transpxl.gif (67 bytes) How Gen X Uses Public Radio

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Examine the Statistical Analyses Behind the Report, Part 1
(55 pages; 148,031 bytes)

Statistical Analyses, Part 2
(55 pages; 130,650 bytes)

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All statistical files require Adobe Acrobat Reader

Audience Research Analysis
Copyright ARA and CPB.  All rights reserved.
Revised: September 01, 2000 12:38 PM.