‘Why you don’t listen to Triple J anymore’

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Triple J has lost more than half of its target youth audience since 2015, as Zoomers flee to TikTok, Spotify and even SmoothFM.

In a YouTube video – titled “Why you don’t listen to Triple J anymore” – Stuart McKay from audio company Nura explained the “downfall” of the taxpayer-funded radio station.

“It’s kind of a rite of passage to get to your late 20s and start to complain about the declining quality of Triple J,” he said.

“But Triple J’s not for you. It’s a tax-funded entity with a specific mandate to reach 18 to 24-year-olds. So Triple J frankly isn’t supposed to appeal to a 26-year-old dinosaur like myself.”

Over the past seven years, however, Triple J has lost 55 per cent of that audience – from an average of 22,000 listening at any given time in 2014, to just 10,000 in 2022, according to media analyst Tim Burrowes.

Over the same period, the number of young people listening to radio overall declined by 17.5 per cent – still a large drop, but nowhere near the collapse in Triple J’s audience.

“Now, a much bigger proportion of that young listening audience is choosing commercial radio,” Burrowes wrote for his Unmade Media newsletter earlier this year.

Triple J has lost more than half of its target audience since 2015.Triple J has lost more than half of its target audience since 2015.

“There’s been no moment since the modern radio ratings survey began when fewer 18 to 24-year-olds have been listening to Triple J. Back in 2014, 16.1 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds listening to the radio across the five metro capitals were tuned to Triple J. Now the number is 8.8 per cent.”

Triple J’s actual audience has always skewed older than its target, and the problem has only become worse over time.

In 2014, nearly half of the “youth” station’s listeners were aged 25-39, and only 22 per cent were aged 18-24. That share has since fallen to 14 per cent.

Last year, Triple J sparked widespread backlash with a tweet that read, “Did it hurt? When you aged out of the youth radio station.”

One popular reply said: “Did it hurt? When you became a carbon copy of a top 40 station? When you became a caricature of yourself? When you lost what made Triple J unique? When you just now turned your back on people who support you? No? I didn’t think so! Take a look at the people you just alienated.”

In his YouTube video, McKay argued Triple J artists now “all sound the same”.

Similar to the “Triple J voice” that characterised Hottest 100 artists like Lisa Mitchell, Julia Stone and Sarah Blasko in the late 2000s and early 2010s, today’s “Triple J sound” is a “kind of hooky guitar band” in the vein of Spacey Jane, Ball Park Music or Lime Cordiale.

He pointed out a number of unnamed Australian musicians have previously told The Age that they would cater their songwriting to chase airplay on Triple J.

“I don’t think it’s crazy for me to posit that maybe Lisa, Julia, Sarah, all sounded like they had a frog stuck in their throat because that was the sound that got played on Triple J at the time,” he said.

“But the sad truth is I don’t think Triple J has the popularity anymore to homogenise anything.”

Artists used to cater their songwriting to the ‘Triple J sound’ to get airplay.Artists used to cater their songwriting to the ‘Triple J sound’ to get airplay.

And it shouldn’t come as a surprise that commercial radio is siphoning off Triple J’s target audience.

“What does it say about the relevance of the Hottest 100 if Justin Bieber, Lil Nas X, Billie Eilish, Olivia Rodrigo, Jack Harlow, are top 10 artists?” he said. “Why would you listen to Triple J if every other station is playing the exact same thing?”

Additionally, Zoomers have grown up in an era of personalised music recommendations via TikTok, YouTube and Spotify.

“So by the time this audience age into Triple J’s demographic, their music taste is fully formed,” he said.

Ultimately, “something’s got to give”.

“Management seems complacent with Triple J’s plummeting reputation,” he said. “The brand hasn’t changed in 10 years.”

Meanwhile, McKay noted, community radio stations like Melbourne’s 3RRR and PBS are doing a “better job at spotlighting Australian artists” with a fraction of Triple J’s budget.

A number of commenters agreed, arguing Triple J had lost its edge.

“Honestly it is embarrassing that artists like Peach PRC need to get big on TikTok before even getting a look-in from Triple J,” one user wrote.

“They used to have their finger on the pulse for upcoming artists before they got big, but they seem to be playing catch-up these days, only giving artists a spin if they have already made it.”

Another added: “Basically the normies came for our stuff. You were outside of the mainstream if you listened to Triple J in my high school years (97-02), but circa 2014 it crossed over and it just never felt the same.”

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He said Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ Thrift Shop winning the Hottest 100 in 2012 “felt like a line in the sand”.

“I put it down to me ageing out, but maybe it got too big, too cool, less nerdy, and more accessible,” he wrote. “It’s not an alternative station anymore.”

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