What Would Radio For Teens Sound Like?First Listen: BoomBoxBaby.ca

What would Top 40 sound like if it had the opportunity to target younger teens exclusively?
Would there be more Jojo and Vanessa Hudgens? Would Top 40 have acknowledged the No. 1 sales chart debut of the “Hannah Montana” soundtrack? Or would we find out that teen pop’s appeal doesn’t extend all that far into the teens?
Would the format become very centered, or would it become that sprawling mix of emo, harder Hip-Hop, Rascal Flatts, and even some Classic Rock that represents the current programmer perception of teen tastes? Or would teen punk and power ballads still be the only Rock that mattered, as they are at today’s Top 40?
Would Weird Al Yankovic’s “White & Nerdy” have been a radio smash for at least a few weeks, instead of stalling out in the mid-50s on the Mainstream Top 40 chart?

Even with increased industry concern about declines in young-end listening, there’s shockingly little research into teen tastes.

Even with increased industry concern about declines in young-end listening, there’s shockingly little research into teen tastes. For one thing, Top 40’s fortunes are improving despite music that often should appeal more to moms than daughters. So if a 16-year-old appears to be okay with “Bad Day” and “Far Away,” why rock the boat? Besides, if teens with more extreme tastes leave radio, Top 40’s piece of what remains is even bigger.
Because there’s so little incentive to do so, it’s particularly fascinating when any broadcaster does try to superserve teens, even if it’s not on a terrestrial station. So Corus Radio’s new teen-targeted broadband station, Boomboxbaby.ca, which officially launched Nov. 6, rates a listen from anybody who does regard teen listening as part of radio’s future.
Repatriating teens has been a longstanding issue in Canada, partially because Top 40 radio has almost entirely disappeared there twice in the past 15 years: once in the early ’90s when the last AM Top 40s went away; again a few years ago when a number of prominent stations switched format, including, as it happened, several Corus FMs. Since then, the format has experienced another upturn in Canada. And while many of the current Canadian CHRs are more adult-leaning than their U.S. major-market counterparts, they are hardly sitting ducks for a younger-leaning station, even on the terrestrial FM band.
BoomBoxBaby.ca is billed as “online radio for teens and by teens.” It is being staffed largely by board-ops at sister modern CFNY and N/T CFMJ (AM640), with an assist from longtime CFNY programmer Alan Cross. It’s also being tied in with various other Corus-owned media properties such as youth-oriented cable network YTV (which will contribute personalities for a weekly program and for short-form movie reviews) and Kids Can Press (an author series and on-air book club). Listeners are invited to e-mail the station their own drops. Corus also says there are plans to include the channel on its digital music service, Max Trax.
The initial publicity for BoomBoxBaby.ca promised a “mix of eclectic music-ranging from Top 40 and Indie Rock to Hip-Hop and Rap.” Cross says that will also include roughly 10-15% Classic Rock-positioned here as “the BoomBoxBaby.ca Time Machine” (at this writing, the station has just segued from Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” to “My Generation” by the Who and back into Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”). That makes BoomBoxBaby.ca the first younger-targeted channel to acknowledge Classic Rock’s young-end appeal.
It’s important to note that Cross emphasizes that this is a work in progress. Musically, what I heard during the first few days of the station often reminded me of the British digital Top 40 channels Core and Smash Hits. I’ve heard some stretches that skewed younger and others that were more Hot AC-flavored than the average major-market Mainstream Top 40 in the U.S. In that regard, it also sounded no younger than many major-market Canadian Top 40s, and less so than some, such as Toronto’s CIDC (Z103.5) which mixes rock, hip-hop and dance without much that borders on Hot AC.
Presentationally, a lot of what the station is promising is also only starting to take form. BoomBoxBaby.ca is more produced than some of its Internet radio counterparts, but it’s not yet approaching the level of a Radio Disney. I’ve heard some decent jocking and some that, perhaps by design, wouldn’t sound out of place on a high-school station-one jock’s music teasers began, “Let’s see, what are we going to play next?” Topics have ranged from YouTube’s “invention of the year” award to whether it’s okay to wear socks with sandals.
All that said, you can’t deny the potency of the vision. Somebody needs to claim the next generation of listeners by figuring out how to talk to them. And somebody needs to offer some a bigger-than-life, national listening experience that has some of the same “bright lights, big city” sway that the big AM Top 40s once held over today’s radio people of a certain age (which is to say, mine). As with KMBY (X103.9) Monterey, Calif., the Hip-Hop/Rock hybrid that wants to reclaim young men, it doesn’t have to turn out to be the model, but it should inspire somebody to invent one.
Boom Box Baby.ca, Nov. 6, 2006, approx. 11:30 p.m.
K-Os, “Sunday Morning” (Canadian rapper/singer who, in many ways, anticipated Gnarls Barkley by several years)
Jojo, “Too Little, Too Late”
Jamiroquai, “Runaway”
Karl Wolf, “Desensitize” (Canadian rhythmic pop)
Pussycat Dolls, “I Don’t Need A Man”
Jesse McCartney, “Got Me Where You Want Me”
Shakira, “Hips Don’t Lie”
Jay-Z, “Show Me What You Got”
Simple Plan, “I’m Just A Kid”
Lupe Fiasco, “Kick, Push”
Tomi Swick, “Everything Is Okay” (Canadian singer-songwriter often compared there to John Mayer)
Ciara, “Get Up”
Pink, “Who Knew”
Nov. 7, 3:50-4:30
Christina Aguilera, “Hurt”
Cassie, “Long Way To Go”
Bedouin Soundclash, “Stand Alone” (Canadian act with a world music feel, now having hits in U.K. as well)
Jewel, “Good Day”
Evanescence, “Call Me When You’re Sober”
Snow Patrol, “Chasing Cars”
Fergie, “London Bridge (Oh Snap)”
Gnarls Barkley, “Crazy”
No Doubt, “Just A Girl”
Rascal Flatts, “Life Is A Highway”
Hughes Corporation, “What A Feeling” (dance record sampling the “Flashdance” theme)
Roxette, “One Wish”
K-Os, “Sunday Morning”
Scissor Sisters, “I Don’t Feel Like Dancing”
Nov. 10, 3:05 – 3:50 p.m.
Gnarls Barkley, “Crazy”
Who, “My Generation”
Eminem, “Lose Yourself”
Scissor Sisters, “I Don’t Feel Like Dancing”
Nickelback, “Far Away”
K-Os, “Sunday Morning”
James Blunt, “Wiseman”
Jessica Simpson, “A Public Affair”
Madonna, “Jump”
Ludacris, “Money Maker”
Cham & Alicia Keys, “Ghetto Story”
The Presidents Of The United States Of America, “Lump”
Jojo, “Too Little, Too Late”

9 replies
  1. The Infinite Dial
    The Infinite Dial says:

    Internet Radio By And For Teens

    The debate about the future of teen listening began a decade earlier in Canada than it did here. In the early ’90s, Top 40 finally died on the AM band and, until FM stations began popping up to replace it,…

  2. Mike McDowell/Blitz Magazine
    Mike McDowell/Blitz Magazine says:

    It seems like Radio Disney has already been targeting that demographic for quite some time now. And the “Hannah Montana” soundtrack has been so all pervasive via in store play, TV exposure, etc., that it would be difficult to ignore, even without benefit of a suitable AM or FM outlet. The “Baby One More Time” of 2006, if you will.
    Keep up the good work!

  3. Joel Raab
    Joel Raab says:

    I have thought for a long time that stations directed at teens specifically are needed, if only to lay the groundwork for keeping them interested in radio.
    Joel Raab
    Joel Raab Associates

  4. Greg Gillispie
    Greg Gillispie says:

    Knowing Canada includes younger kids than the US in ratings and reading your early comments, the “teen” group could almost be split in two segments.
    For what it’s worth, my 14 year-old daughter just started high school. Girls her age have the widest array of musical tastes – they know the words to damn near every Beatles song (and really did the “Love” songs released so far), think Jessica Simpson is a twit, but watch that Montana show from time to time, the other day singing the English Beat’s “Save It For Later” (and I have no idea why)…and now the big…uh, thing – often listen to XM Radio’s 40’s channel…they play, as they said, “Retro cartoon music…you know, dad, for black & white cartoons.”
    Now that’s variety! (and radio is afraid to offer that much and market it)

  5. Steve Davis
    Steve Davis says:

    If we don’t get teens into listening to the radio, it is going to be painful down the road.(This could have been a direct quote from Mike Joseph in 1982 as we were launching WBBM-FM [B96] Chicago). He understood the need to “replenish the pipeline.”
    Steve Davis
    NextMedia Group

  6. Rick Welke
    Rick Welke says:

    Interesting stuff Sean. I know research companies like Look-Look do fantastic life-experience oriented research to get to the core of the teen/20-somethings, and throw down amazing information from that.
    Now if we could just capatalize on that knowledge and the fact that there are more than enough companies out there looking to advertise to a true teen-focused programming model – it could be a winner.

  7. Jack Taddeo
    Jack Taddeo says:

    Mike McDowell hit the nail on the head. Radio Disney has been doing this (and cross-promoting like feinds on Disney Channel and Disney Online) to the exclusion of most mainstream CHRs. You sure it makes more sense to add the new Snoop Dog and ignore Jojo, Miley Cyrus and all those songs from “High School Musical”? Keep it up and you’ll be completely out in the cold with your potential future fans.
    Jack Taddeo, Pres.
    Jack Taddeo Communications Consulting

  8. lauren
    lauren says:

    There would probably be more jojo and miley cyrus but not vanessa hudgens. I’m in junior high school and everytime someone mentions vanessa hudgens, which is very seldom, not one person says they like her music. They say it’s lame, too disney sounding, and her voice is computerized.


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