Youngsters Tune in to Radio Stations for Kids Preteens Listen to and Participate in Programs Especially Tailored to Them
Laurel Shaper Walters, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
THE old-fashioned medium of radio is reaching out to young audiences again after decades of virtually ignoring the pint-size market.
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 stuff." "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 kids. 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 and under. 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 says. Children's Broadcasting Corp. …