“When you turn 55, you might as well die – advertisers aren’t interested in you,” says Tom Gentry, whose radio station’s listeners might as well be dead.
Gentry is the general manager of WAVO-AM (1150), a 5,000-watt station that broadcasts out of Rock Hill. It specializes in what is called “standards” music, what you would call Frank Sinatra music.
It attracts an older audience, one that mainstream advertisers aren’t eager to reach. Advertisers look at how any medium reaches people in the 25-54 age range and spend their money accordingly. You can have the biggest audience in town, but generally, advertisers only care about people in that demographic.
Conventional wisdom is that people 25-54 years old are in the workforce and have money to spend. Another power demographic for advertisers is the 18-34 crowd, which is growing more difficult for radio and TV to reach because they use the computer or their phones to access media. Younger adults don’t have the long-term shopping habits of their elders, the thinking goes, and are more impressionable to marketing messages.
Anyway, people 18-34 are at WPEG-FM (“Power 98” 97.9) or WNKS-FM (“Kiss” 95.1) – two of the leaders for that demographic in Charlotte – if they’re listening at all. They’re not likely to be at WAVO listening for Sinatra, Glenn Miller, the Andrews Sisters or Louis Armstrong, four of the artists featured on the station.
That is why WAVO is turning to its listeners to underwrite its operations. Gentry says the station may change formats if it can’t raise about $15,000 this summer to pay its licensing fees for the music it plays.
Gentry says WAVO’s audience is loyal, but not many advertisers are interested in them. He is asking listeners to pay $120 a year for a membership.
Gentry knows of no other commercial station that has turned to listeners to help underwrite programming, though public radio stations like WFAE-FM (NPR, 90.7) make it part of their financial plan. But WAVO is not a nonprofit, and listeners cannot take donations as a tax deduction.
“It’s sad that after 55, you don’t matter to advertisers,” Gentry says. “People who like this kind of music have more disposable income. Their kids are out of college.”
If the station doesn’t reach its goal by the end of August and changes to a different format, donors will have their money refunded, Gentry says.
One idea, he says, is to use WAVO to carry the signal of sister station WHVN (1240 AM, 104.3 FM), a gospel station.
WAVO is getting about five checks a day now in the mail toward the goal, some of it small donations and some large. “We’re closing in on $4,000,” Gentry says. “People are responding.”
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