Mr. Zapoleon believes music moves through 10-year cycles. Years like 1956-when Elvis, The Drifters and Chuck Berry caught fire-represent the start of the cycle. That gives way to more extreme music "because active people get bored with pop." And then that, in turn, tends to alienate the mainstream.
That time of alienation is where we are right now, says Mr. Zapoleon, who advises radio stations via his Houston-based Zapoleon Media Strategies. "We hit the doldrums about a year ago," he says. "In another year or two, we'll move out of it musically."
That may help explain why the amount of time men in the 18-24 demo spent listening to radio declined nearly 6% between the winter of 1999 and winter of 2003, to 191/4 hours a week. And in the male 25-34 demo, the decline exceeded 8.5% in the same period, to 211/2 hours a week, according to Arbitron statistics. Still, 18-to-34-year-old males spend a bit less less than 2 hours a day listening to radio (see AdAge.com, QwikFIND aap28n).
What, then, are the best success strategies? Spanish-language radio has really risen in the rankings of genres that attract young men-a phenomenon that reflects a rise in the Hispanic population base as well as the number of Hispanic radio outlets. Other popular music categories, like rock and contemporary hits, have created subcategories in recent years to appeal to more niche musical tastes. Some of them strike the right chord; others suffer the fate of go-go boots in a second-hand store.
"We're a business littered with two-year formats," says Fred Jacobs, a principal of Detroit-based rock radio consultancy Jacobs Media.
Broadcast radio isn't the only medium testing new formats. Sirius Satellite Radio, for example, has come up with entirely new genres to lure young males away from traditional radio.
What's more, "it's very easy with our system to create your own radio station" by cherry-picking selections off a variety of channels, says Jay Clark, exec VP-programming. And Sirius' advertising-free music channels also refrain from censoring lyrics the way commercial broadcasters do.
Many radio stations have expanded into the business of staging local concerts or other events as a way of attracting young listeners, says Paul Jacobs, brother of Fred Jacobs and also a principal at Jacobs Media. "It closely aligns [the stations] with music and puts them in touch with the audience ... They've gone beyond just delivering a signal, and into the concert and street marketing business," he says.
Mr. Jacobs mentions KNDD-FM in Seattle as one such station. "It's one of the icon alternative stations in the country," he says. "Their concert event is branded as Endfest." In the past, the station " did a snowboarding event that also has bands. ... They also have a street team of 15-20 people ... They hand out samples of station merchandise, CDs or [advertiser samples]."
Entercom's KNDD has been No. 1 or 2 among persons 18-34 for the last 41/2 years, says Phil Manning, station manager and program director. The events aren't so much to raise ratings as to maintain KNDD's dominant status.
"We're in the business of young men," Mr. Manning says. The station's street team members, whom it calls "mods," show up at venues including nightclubs, ski slopes and movie premieres.
Jimmy Steal, VP-programming for both KPWR-FM in Los Angeles and Emmis Communications' radio station group, says he believes that one of the most important hedges against new media alternatives is getting "back to the basics."
"Personalities are an extremely important component for a station's success," he says. "And selecting the right music and rotating it correctly is a huge science that allows us to `pierce the scream' [of competing media options], as [TV personality] David Letterman calls it."
"I think the best radio stations-regardless of format-are not heard, they're felt," adds Mr. Steal.