Jacobs Media alum, Keith Cunningham, made his reputation by being on the cutting edge of music and pop culture. He's gone on to high-profile programming gigs in Seattle, and now runs the show for Meruelo Media's KLOS, one of the most iconic Rock stations in America.
Heading up a media brand in L.A. is an exciting, but often a humbling experience. When you're living in the entertainment capital of the world, you're living in a media bubble like no other.
Keith reached out to me the other day, after his most recent epiphany about music, pop culture, and the so-called generational divide. Here are his observations about a recent media kerfuffle. – FJ
At some point, whether one is older or younger, everyone will have their own Billie Eilish moment.
If you’ve somehow been off the grid over the past week or so, you’ve missed out on an explosion of activity that when asked by Jimmy Kimmel, new music sensation Billie Eilish indicated she wasn’t aware of Van Halen. You can watch the entire interview (it's a good one), or just skip to the 3:50 mark.
I’m not surprised she isn’t familiar with Van Halen. Billie is 17. Van Halen’s biggest hits came out more than 17 years before she was born, and they haven’t done anything truly relevant for many years, let alone anything that would make Millennials notice them. A dispute between Sammy Hagar and David Lee Roth? Who are they?
This isn’t an indictment of Billie or Van Halen, and while this story could spark all kinds of other blogs about the state of Rock or Classic Rock with the younger set, to me, this is more about keeping up with the Joneses (another phrase most 17 year-olds probably haven’t heard of) and the need for “mature” radio programmers and veteran air talent to be aware of what’s happening with younger people – they are our future (and the kids of many Classic/Rock listeners).
None of this means Rock stations need to start playing Billie Eilish records or be buzzing over Millennial tea, but I’d venture to guess there are some adult readers of this blog who didn’t know who Billie Eilish was until they heard she didn’t know who Van Halen was.
However, she can sell out arenas in most cities in a matter of minutes.
And while not everyone needs to know who the hottest artists are for teens and early twentysomethings, the point is that even if 12-34 isn’t the target of a brand, all of us in radio should know who and what is driving pop culture so when the time comes for us to be a part of something really big that’s outside our normal circles, we can choose how to best do so.
Call me crazy, but if an adult-focused morning show had Billie Eilish tickets to give away and it was imaged as “Send your kid to see Billie Eilish,” I’ll bet you’d see an increase in TSL from parents trying to do something cool for their kids.
It's not easy keeping up with everything – it takes effort. As someone who has always been tapped into pop culture and the latest trends, I’ll admit I need to do a better job paying attention, as I had my own Billie Eilish moment this past weekend and I have never felt older.
My wife and I took our daughters (and their friends) to see Trans Siberian Orchestra the other night. Just before the show was about to start, my 6 year-old and her friend started squealing and almost hyper-ventilating with excitement. This is how the conversation went for the next several seconds:
Me: “Hannah, what is going on with you? Why are you screeching?”
Hannah: “That’s JoJo Siwa! It’s JoJo Siwa!”
Hannah: “JoJo Siwa…right there, Dad.”
Hannah: “Right there!!!” (as she pointed behind us with vigor)
Me: “Who is it?”
Hannah: “JOJO SIWA!!! AARRRGGGHHHH!!” (she was getting very frustrated with me)
Me: “I can’t understand you … can you spell the name.”
Hannah: “DAD!!!!! It’s JoJo Siwa, she’s a famous YouTuber, and I love her videos.”
At this point, my 8 year-old, Presley, intervened and explained everything to me.
Then it all made sense. There’s a whole world out there that I know almost nothing about. So I sent Hannah down for a selfie with JoJo, peace resumed, and now I know I have to do a better job of paying attention to what is making noise out there.
If you’ve had a Billie Eilish moment, we’d love to hear about it.
Post script: By the way, KLOS's metro cume is 1.7 million listeners. JoJo Siwa has more than 10 million subscribers on YouTube. We'd all better pay attention. – FJ
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