Why are we so hung up on ages?

While that might sound like the legal defence of a secondary school teacher caught with one of his pupils, it’s actually a wondering about the media I’ve had for a while.

Apparently, BBC Radio 2 is no longer serving it’s older listeners properly.
Although reported here by The Guardian, this has been discovered by a not-at-all biased organisation called “The Radio Centre”, the trade body of the commercial radio industry, which doesn’t seem to like something the publicly-funded BBC has done. Surprise, surprise.

The Radio Centre is bickering about what it considers proper “news”. As far as I’m concerned, while “newspaper reviews, a discussion about snoring, a Monopoly championship and discussions about teleshopping” definitely sway towards the “Sun spot” edge of news, they ARE still news. If you want high brow continuing debate about Afghanistan, you can tune into a higher-brow station such as Radio 4.

Traditionally, presenters that remain at Radio 1 for a very long time, then shift to Radio 2. It has been described more than once as a kind of retirement home for Radio 1 presenters.
Keeping that in mind, is it any wonder that Chris Evans, and Mark Radcliffe have ended up working there? They’re both fine broadcasters who were successful on Radio 1, so why not move to Radio 2 afterwards?
This isn’t a new idea. It’s what happened with Steve Wright years ago, and nobody is harking on about him bringing younger listeners to Radio 2 along with a dose of the factoids.

The Guardian article both agrees that the BBC isn’t filling it’s remit for different types of music, while berating them for hiring Mark Lamarr. This is the same Mark Lamarr, who was hired to present specialist music shows on Reggae, and alternative sixties music.
Ignoring his age, and the fact he was once on Shooting Stars (which was presumably only popular with young people?), he’s a well-known broadcaster hired to talk about a specialist subject. Why has his age got anything to do with it?

This is where the real problem lies. The obsession with age.
This isn’t the BBC’s fault, or the Radio Centre’s fault. It’s a bigger problem than that. Every media organisation is obsessed with the ages of viewers, readers or listeners.

At what point did someone decide that 16yr olds like one thing, and 46yr olds like another?
I’m 27, and according to Ofcom, Original 106.5 (an FM station in Bristol) is aimed at “35-59year olds”. My music taste hasn’t changed dramatically in the last few years, and I can tell you that it is much more to my taste, than say, Kiss 101 which is specifically targeted at the “under 30s”.
I occasionally even listen to Radio 4. It’s got some comedy on it, I’ve recently discovered.

Maybe it’s just me? Just me flouting the predetermined age-based entertainment formats?
Well no.
My girlfriend has been listening to Absolute Radio (and previous incarnation as Virgin) for years. Her gran is in her 80s but still reads The Guardian, with all it’s swear words and young writers.

Adam Fawcett (@fawcett94), somebody I follow on Twitter due to our shared interest in radio broadcasting, regularly tweets about his tv viewing habits. He’s 15 years old.
So what should a 15yr old be watching? MTV? BBC Three? E4 perhaps?
The majority of the time it appears to be Gold. Classic comedies from yesteryear.

Clearly ages don’t link well to formats. TV critic Charlie Brooker, proved this during an episode of Screenwipe, about “Yoof Tv”, where he put together a young focus group. Here it is:
Young people hate what they’re meant to like. Weird!
This is because, as Charlie puts it, “they’re not weird and they’re not young people – they’re just people”, and “they just want decent programmes”.

This is why Radio 2 is successful. It’s got presenters people like, it spends money where it’s needed (undoubtedly a lot on the popular presenters), and it’s got a big pot of gold to spend. It can tweak and alter program types, and styles and doesn’t seem to get told off.
If it wants to play latino music at breakfast, and soul music in drivetime, it seems to be able to.

Meanwhile, commercial radio stations continue complaining about the BBC’s more varied content.
Heart Bristol (previously GWR) were given a good telling off by Ofcom recently, for straying outside their agreed format. That is, they described themselves on the official station paperwork as being a “contemporary and chart music” station, and over the course of several days, played around 50% of songs “over 2 years old”. I can’t help thinking that seems ridiculous.
Ofcom are silly for holding them to it, and GWR/Heart are silly for going along with it in the first place.
While I’m sure the last 24 months have been the high-point of music history to-date, surely even people obsessed with the charts might like to hear Beyonce’s and Shakira’s songs from previous albums.
This might go some way to explain why some stations seem to play the same 20 songs all day, every day, in a different order.

If you ask me, they all need to look to the BBC’s example for inspiration, and maybe lobby Ofcom for less fixed rules, rather than berating them for attracting more listeners, while plugging on with the same 30mins-non-stop r’n’b with adverts in between, long after anyone cares who is number one in the top 40 this week.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *