'Pop pensioners' are scuppering Radio 1’s bid to get down with the kids as over-55s refuse to switch stations


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The Independent Culture

They are the pop pensioners who have gate-crashed Grimmy’s party and are ruining it for the kids. A hard core of listeners over the age of 55 are threatening Radio 1’s reinvention as a cool “youth” brand by refusing to switch off the station.

An analysis of Radio 1’s listeners has found that whilst the total audience shrank last year, including a loss of almost one million since Nick Grimshaw took over the Breakfast show, the proportion of over-55s tuning is has risen.

The BBC Trust has ordered the flagship pop station to focus on a younger 15-29 aged audience, after the average listener age rose to 32.

Grimshaw and a new presenter schedule, including rising star Jameela Jamil who took over the Official Chart Show in January, has been introduced, to target younger dance music and One Direction fans.

The strategy has encouraged a sizeable number of listeners aged 25-55, including a chunk of Chris Moyles’ former breakfast audience, to defect to other, more “age appropriate” stations, including Radio 2. The number of children aged 12 and above listening to Radio 1 is on the rise.

But the over 55s are refusing to leave the party and give up the Radio 1 of their youth. The Radio 1 market share among this age group increased from 1.3 to 1.6 per cent over the past year.

“R1 still faces significant trouble with the 55+ audience - they just don’t want to go,” said Matt Deegan, Creative Director at Folder Media, a radio consultancy which conducted the study.

“The 25-35s have taken a significant hit. Those 55+ wedded to Radio 1 cannot be shifted and their average hours are still good – keeping the station’s average age up.”

Deegan said: “It’s not cool if your dad likes the same youth brand as you. But older listeners are disappointed when they have to give up Radio 1. Listening to a station defines who you are as a person. A lot of people resist moving to Radio 2 and then they finally move in and they are happy.”

Ben Cooper, the Radio 1 Controller tasked with implementing the youth strategy, said evicting the grandparents was a “near impossible” task.

“Radio 1 is one of the most famous stations in the world and it’s a hard habit to break,” he said. “I’m 43 and I will always probably continue to listen to it because I love new music and I want to know what the next big thing is. There’ll always be a section of society, whatever age, who will want to do that.”

“The BBC Trust has asked me to lower the average audience age but there will always be an older section of society who continue to listen. There are more older people than younger people in the UK population and that will affect our average age.  You can’t tell people to stop listening.”

If you can’t shift them, you may as well entertain them, the station has concluded. “You have DJs like Annie Nightingale (73), Pete Tong (52) and Westwood (55), who have that passion for music and represent those listeners.”

The most common age for a Radio 1 listener is now 24, although the average is still pushing 30. Some of those over-55s will be parents listening in the kitchen or car, Cooper suggests.

He is not downhearted at average weekly audience of 10.3 million listeners in the first quarter of 2013, down 7.9 per cent year on year. Grimshaw’s breakfast audience has dropped by 950,000 listeners in six months to 5.8 million, the lowest figure since Sara Cox hosted the show in 2003.

“We are going to lose that group of people who have grown older with Moyles,” Cooper said. “The editorial content, music and presenters are focused on a 15-29 age audience and if that means there’s some listeners we can’t shake off then fine. I’m not in the job of saying you can’t listen to Radio 1.”

The proportion of 15-24 listeners is rising but Cooper would like the figures to include the millions who now access Radio 1’s content through its YouTube channel, a location the over-55s have yet to discover.