Many of the listeners who grew up with NPR are now reaching retirement age, leaving NPR with a challenge: How can it attract younger and middle-aged audiences — whose numbers are shrinking — to replace them?I gave up on public radio on Labor Day, 1990. Communism was crumbling, most of Germany about to reunify (there is unfinished business in East Prussia), Mikhail Gorbachev within a year of abdicating, and All (Liberal) Things Considered decided to end its broadcast with Pete Seeger strumming The Internationale.
NPR’s research shows a growing gulf in who is listening to the likes of “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered,” the daily news programs that have propelled public radio for more than 30 years. Morning listening has dropped 11 percent overall since 2010, according to Nielsen research that NPR has made public; afternoon listening is down 6 percent over the same period.National Public Radio has long been a place where the most destructive leftists of the Silent Generation and the early Baby Boom -- too young to be called to Korea, too old to be called to Vietnam, and in graduate school just as the public universities went on a fifteen year expansion spree -- congregate to be comfortable with their prejudices. But that's not the America of younger listeners.
NPR’s signal has gradually been fading among the young. Listening among “Morning Edition’s” audience, for example, has declined 20 percent among people under 55 in the past five years. Listening for “All Things Considered” has dropped about 25 percent among those in the 45-to-54 segment.And part of being a stranger in your own country is being unfamiliar with emergent platforms not based on broadcast technology.
The growth market? People over 65, who were increasing in both the morning and afternoon hours.
The graying of NPR, and the declines overall, are potentially perilous to the public radio ecosystem.
But as audiences drift to newer on-demand audio sources such as podcasts and streaming, the bonds with local stations — and the contributions that come with them — may be fraying.That makes for a great tagline. Public Radio, of, for, and by hippie relics.
“It’s a problem, and no one has really figured out what to do about it,” said Jeff Hansen, the program director at Seattle public station KUOW (94.9 FM). He noted that public radio was invented by people in their 20s in the 1970s, largely at stations funded by colleges and universities. “What they didn’t realize at the time was that what they were inventing was programming for people like themselves — baby boomers with college degrees.”
That audience has largely stayed loyal. The median age of public radio listeners has roughly tracked the median age of baby boomers. The median NPR listener was 45 years old in 1995; now he or she is 54.
Some of the other brand-name talent at NPR illustrates the situation: Talk-show host Diane Rehm is 79; senior national correspondent Linda Wertheimer is 72; legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg is 71, and “Weekend Edition Saturday” host Scott Simon is a relative youngster at 63.The article frets about new methods of delivering the content. But the content is the same old, same old, and Kurt Schlichter, an eloquently angry younger voice. nails them.
There is nothing a liberal likes more than huddling with other like-minded cryptofascists in some coastal enclave and bemoaning the moral, intellectual, and philosophical failures of the rubes inhabiting the interior of this barbarous continent. What an opportunity to signal virtue to the world, especially when it can be done from behind walls and armed guards.Or with the imprimatur of "public" (read: left-Democrat) radio.