Talk about irony.
Nick Tehrani was all he was hyped up to be – a 25 year-old student at the University of Louisville, dying to get into broadcast radio. You can bet that me and my team pulled out all the stops, including a trip to Beasley's Detroit radio cluster, and lunch with WRIF master programmer, Mark Pennington.
And for good reason. Yes, Nick's a nice guy, a hard-working, smart, considerate would-be broadcaster with a lot to offer. He's tech-savvy, and enjoyed chatting with Beasley eSports maven, Nate Bender, about games, gaming platforms, and lots of stuff that left this aging Boomer in the dust.
As it should be. Because the whole idea of bringing the next generation into radio buildings is new ideas, energy, ideas, and ultimately, a vision. We need nurture every one of these Millennials – and their Gen Z siblings and offspring – with a scintilla of interest in being on the radio (or marketing it). I
In Nick's case, he's got his mind set on programming. And as someone who grew up with a group of PDs under the age of 30 back in the 70's, I'm excited about the prospect.
So, as we were pointing Nick to the Detroit airport for his return flight, a New York Times story came roaring into my email box – and that's the irony piece. The headline says it all:
And the subtitle: “Now it's war: Gen Z has finally snapped over climate change and financial inequality.”
The fact that three of you emailed it to me is usually a message it's a story worthy of my attention – and yours. The phrase – “ok boomer” – has
become a hashtag, and a viral phenomenon on virtually every social media platform.
While some of the entries, posts, songs, videos, and photos are downright funny, they are steeped in truth – the essence of great parody. We laugh because we know there's a lot there. For years now, Boomers have had their way in the job force, in financial markets, on the golf course, the fitness studio, and just about everywhere else.
And between the changes wrought by 9/11, the Great Recession, and other political, societal, and yes, climate change, the pathway for today's Millennnials, but especially Gen Z's, is not an easy one.
The Times' Taylor Lorenz captures the zeitgeist of the moment perfectly, referring to “ok boomer” as the equivalent of a digital eye roll. Finally, there's a way for teens and twentysomething to take out their frustration in the social space – with a wink and a hard elbow to the ribs.
And they're not wasting any time. #OKBoomer is all over the Internet, an emotional combination of humor, vitriol, and frustration all boiled into a series of posts with a common theme.
#okboomer makes me happy to my very core.
I will never stop sharing. I am getting the hoodie. This is what I am here for. https://t.co/RA1aa1SGBb
— The Bridgetdook 👻🎃💀 (@BridgieCasey) October 30, 2019
— Din0br0 (@Dinobro1001) October 29, 2019
And of course, the merch is flying fast and furious – shirts, hats, hoodies, and other “ok boomer” wearables and signage that palpably illustrate the frustration that's been brewing for a long time now.
But perhaps this Gen Z backlash has less to do with age, and more to do with mindset. Lorenz includes a spot-on quote in her story by 17 year-old Julitza Mitchell about the Boomer attitude responsible for this digital uprising:
“You don't like change, you don't understand new things especially related to technology, you don't understand equality. Being a boomer is just having that attitude, it can apply to whoever is bitter toward change.”
If that mini-tirade has a ring of truth because of what you see every day in your radio station, your company's ownership, or both, we're on parallel paths. For too many years, broadcast radio has ignored what has now become an existential challenge that may one day threaten the industry's health:
There has been virtually no emphasis on attracting and welcoming young generations to this medium, driven in large part to a myopic focus on adult demos dictated by advertising agencies that care less about radio's health or well-being. This malignant neglect is part of what has spawned “ok boomer.”
It's not that radio veterans have no pathway of understanding of America's youth. Nielsen supplies the biggest 48 markets with 6+ numbers, but when was the last time you looked at that column of digits and integers? Who cares, right?
If Gen Z is looking for a spoonful – or a 55-gallon drumful – of revenge with “ok boomer,” their frustration, grumbling, and gnashing aren't surprising or unexpected. As a Boomer who grew up in the “we're not going to take it” 1960's, I've often wondered what's taken so long.
I've been very fortunate – blessed with two Millennial-aged kids who are both in the media business – as well as an entire team of them down the hall at jacapps, our mobile apps development company.
I've watched and witnessed some of the growing pains associated with the blending of the two staffs in the kitchenette and in the conference room. I believe we've navigated the gap well, but it hasn't come without several dollops of patience, understanding, and trust on both sides.
Honestly, we had no choice – but neither do you. We couldn't launch a tech company 11 years ago with a bunch of remnants from the Woodstock generation. If you want an effective startup, you'd better go with what we used to call “digital natives.”
I'm not piling on radio here – the industry has enough challenges to keep corporate executives, consultants, researchers, strategists, and marketers occupied for years.
But making it a goal to reassess, rethink, and understand the inequality in the broadcast radio business, as well as its long-term plan to appeal and market to the 70+ million Gen Z's wandering the streets, highways, and fields of America ought to be near the top of the “Threats” (and “Opportunities”) list in an industry S.W.O.T.
Next year at the Radio Show – in addition to sessions on Alexa, podcasts, data, and programmatic – perhaps there should be even more emphasis on an issue that ultimately may be more daunting than what the industry faced in the early years of television, MTV, iPods, and Pandora.
For lots of morning shows, “ok boomer” will very likely turn into a bit – and maybe even a benchmark. You can hear the setup: the Gen Z producer squares off with the aging hosts on reverse trivia. Or let's get one of each on the phone, and wait for the inevitable awkward jokes.
That may be good for a few laughs and even a few quarter-hours, but it does nothing to address a challenge that is as real as any other broadcast radio faces.
OK, Boomer, what's your next move?
Thanks to the perceptiveness and wisdom of Trip Reeb who should never be on the receiving end of “ok boomer.”
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,200 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.
Fred was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.