August 7, 2022

AARP Begins an Internet Radio Service, Mixing Familiar Hits With New Artists

Last month AARP quietly introduced a free Internet radio service for listeners 50 and older, with 18 channels programmed by the Concord Music Group, an independent record company that releases music by baby boomer stars like Paul Simon and Paul McCartney. The idea, according to Hugh Delehanty, editor in chief of AARP’s publications, is for the organization to act as a guide for millions of older listeners who are curious but may be intimidated by digital music.

“We’ve always been trying to reach this audience, because we know that boomers are so passionate about music,” Mr. Delehanty said. “We also feel that because of changes in format and whatnot, a lot of them have gotten lost in terms of how to find their music.”

The player is embedded into AARP’s site, and its design was kept simple for ease of navigation, with buttons only for playing and pausing a song, and skipping ahead to the next one. The channels, which will each have about 500 songs in rotation, will also be restricted to a handful of recognizable genres, like jazz, classic RB and coffeehouse folk.

Eighteen channels of AARP-approved music might conjure endless hours of innocuous oldies. But with the Woodstock generation now entering retirement age, rock and soul of the 1960s and ’70s loom large on the service. Marc Morgenstern, Concord’s chief market and asset development officer, said his goal was to mix new music with the old.

“Older people get a bum rap, that they’re kind of frozen in time,” Mr. Morgenstern said in an interview at Concord’s office in Beverly Hills, where the walls are lined with posters of Creedence Clearwater Revival and Elvis Costello as well as some of the label’s younger stars, like Alison Krauss.

“Everyone has a certain affinity for the music of their youth,” he added. “But people really do want to find something new, something that may not stray far from what they’re familiar with but bring a huge gust of fresh air.”

One channel, Modern Hits, includes current chart-toppers by acts like Katy Perry and Kelly Clarkson (“you heard these hits on the radio or at a friend’s house,” reads the description). And in a bit of generational irony, the player was created by Slacker, a fast-rising Internet radio company that recently signed a deal to power AOL’s online radio service.

The costs of AARP’s service, which include royalty payments for music as well as editorial expenses for a section of the site dedicated to articles and interviews on music, will be paid through advertising. AARP and Concord will share any profits.

Older listeners have long been recognized in the music industry as the demographic group most attached to physical CDs, which tend to be much more profitable for record companies than digital music. People 36 and older are responsible for about 60 percent of the revenue from CD sales, according to a study last year by the NPD Group that was commissioned by the Recording Industry Association of America.

That tendency has benefited Concord, which in addition to its current releases controls large catalogs of RB and jazz. The company has grown rapidly as much of the rest of the recorded music industry has shrunk; last year Concord had a projected $100 million in revenue, 10 times the level of 2003.

But with Apple’s iTunes now eight years old, and digital services like Pandora finding mainstream success, older consumers are becoming more comfortable with digital music. And with 37 million members, AARP provides a huge potential audience.

“We’re still early on with online music and content in general,” said Mike McGuire, a media analyst at Gartner. “People are now starting to think of how to mine some of that mass of data and how to segment audiences.”

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