THE old-fashioned medium of radio is reaching out to young
audiences again after decades of virtually ignoring the pint-size
Teenagers are well known for their penchant for music, and every
major city has radio stations targeting the teen set. Meanwhile,
younger children are left to rely on tapes or CDs.
"It is kind of baffling that of the 11,000 radio stations in the
United States, none of them seem to think that kids are an
audience," says Christopher Dahl, president of the Children's
Broadcasting Corp., a Minneapolis company that has started a
children's nationwide radio network.
If we want our kids to turn off the TV, we need to provide an
alternative, says P.J. Swift, producer of Pickleberry Pie, a weekly
children's program that airs on about 80 public radio stations.
"That was our motivation in starting to make kids' radio nearly 10
years ago," she says.
The small amount of existing radio that targets preteens seems
to have appeal. Marcus Alvarez listens to Mr. Dahl's Los Angeles
affiliate every day. "I used to watch TV a lot, and I got kind of
tired of it," says the 12-year-old. "So now I listen to the radio
more. I'm in my room, and I can listen to the radio while I do
"There's this perception that children don't listen to radio,"
says Gary Ferrington, an instructor in media technology at the
University of Oregon. "Television provides all the visual
information; radio allows you to create your own imagery. It's a
much more interactive medium."
Viewed from a marketing standpoint, "kids have an incredible
influence in terms of purchasing power," Mr. Ferrington adds.
This is helping to fuel a resurgence of radio programming for
Ms. Swift estimates there are about 120 locally produced radio
programs for children around the country. FOX Broadcasting has a
syndicated radio program, "The Fox Kids Countdown," that airs
Sunday mornings on 150 stations nationwide. Meanwhile, several
organizations are working to spread full-time kids' radio from
coast to coast through syndicated programming.
Radio AAHS, which is produced by Children's Broadcasting Corp.,
is a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week radio network now on 30 radio
stations nationwide, including New York City, Los Angeles, Dallas,
and Denver. The flagship station began in Minneapolis in 1990. The
format is about 70 percent music, Dahl says, supplemented by
call-in games, story times, and news geared for children aged 12
Marcus confirms that he listens mostly for the music. "I call in
a lot of times to request a song," he says. A friend introduced him
to the station. "He told me it was kid radio, and I never heard of
a kid radio before so I really wanted to listen to it."
In fact, young voices make up a large portion of the programming
on Radio AAHS. Young disc jockeys known as the "Air Force" take
over the airwaves after school, and there is a regular morning show
called "The All-American Alarm Clock."
But 24-hour programming for kids? Shouldn't little ones be in
bed instead of listening to the radio in the wee morning hours? "We
want to be there if a child wakes up at night and wants to turn on
the radio," Dahl says. "Some kids go to bed with it on and wake up
to it. It's kind of a background to their lives like radio is for
most of us."
David Bolling of Englewood, Colo., bought his sons AM radios so
they could listen to Denver's Radio AAHS in their bedrooms. "I know
the songs will be appropriate for them," he says. "When I get
tired, I just go upstairs and listen to it," says six-year-old
Jake. Everyone in his play group tunes in to the station now, he
Children's Broadcasting Corp. …