Episode 54: Radio Programming for the 55+ Demographic with John Sebastian
This week’s Brandstorm guest has been in radio for more than 50 years and during much of that time, John Sebastian was programming radio stations. He’s programmed almost every format, including Top 40, Smooth Jazz, Kick Ass Rock, Country and Classic Rock, and targeted just about every demographic — 12 to 24, 18-34, 25 to 54 and 35 to 64. John Sebastian joins Brandstorm to talk about his new format for 55+ listeners, a demo he believes is the most undervalued, most underappreciated and in his words, most unexploited demographic in America.
The Radio Programming Mastermind
John’s peers have called him the radio programming mastermind, but John says the “mastermind” is in his mix of music. He thinks of himself as more of a “radio programming contrarian.” He’s always been a rebel in radio programming, taking the road less traveled when formatting music. When he programmed Top 40 music in the late 60s, he’d pepper the mix with edgier music like “Cashmere” by Led Zeppelin, added New Age and European Electric music to the Smooth Jazz format or played Jackson Browne, Bob Seger and The Eagles on Country stations.
Formatting for the 55+ Demo
John says his age, experience and success in programming makes him the perfect person to come up with a format for the 55+ demo, which is primarily those who are age 55 to 72. A Baby Boomer himself, John says historians call 1968 and 1969, when he started in radio as a deejay, the best years in music history. During the 70s, John programmed Top 40 music for the 12-24 demo, who were also boomers. In the 80s, he programmed Kick Ass Rock, for 18 to 34-year-olds. By the 80s and 90s, John was formatting for the 25-54 demo on a New Age and Classic Rock station. As the Boomers continued to age, John found himself programming for a Country station targeting 35-64-year-olds. He literally grew up working for the Baby Boomer generation.
Marketing to Radio Stations
Having just started to sell his format to radio stations, John can’t divulge much about his 55+ mix, although you certainly get the picture. And while he faces many challenges, the biggest being talking to young executives in their 30s who don’t yet see the potential and finding many radio stations unable to invest in new formats due to heavy debt loads, John is optimistic. He believes the 55+ format will help radio execs and ad agencies return to the days when they made money. The Baby Boomers are the largest age population, next to the Millennials, but the Boomers have the most wealth and they grew up listening to radio. On the surface, this all makes perfect sense, right? Listen in to hear more.
Connect with John Sebastian