The (very) few times I’ve listened to Triple J over the past decade, the once springy, hyper-relevant “Australian Youth Broadcaster” sounded less like the daring tastemaker it once was, and more like a march of sycophant death desperately trying to play cool with an attention-deficit generation.
Admittedly, at 35, I am far from the target audience (18-24 year olds) of this taxpayer-funded radio station which, for many years, during my 20s, positioned itself as a truly effective cultural force. But I’ve never felt alone in thinking that Triple J is no longer the arbiter of what’s considered fashionable among Australian youth. And absolutely not a viable alternative to commercial radio.
Whether or not Triple J is losing its target audience has been a hot topic in the music industry for years. A recent article published by The Guardian, however, seems to have reignited the discussion and dragged the increasingly obvious atrophy of ABC’s youth broadcaster under the microscope. Right now, there’s no question whether or not Triple J is losing his power with his target audience. Although there are some differing opinions as to why this is the case.
The “Triple J Sound”
We’ve always talked about a “Triple J sound”. This similarity threatened to homogenize what you heard on the air and turn the once genuinely diverse and provocative radio station into nothing more than another generic broadcaster.
The threat was real and the changes were slow, but the transition from a trendy alternative radio station to something bland and repetitive should be obvious to everyone by now. Those seeds that Triple J ignored when accusations of homogenization circulated in 2014 have now sprouted into incredibly boring houseplants.
The “Triple J sound” was less about day-to-day radio sound and more about the kind of style allowed to pass through radio gatekeepers. The station has played an important role when it comes to promoting new Australian music and shaping the culture. Triple J’s ability to make or break young careers was powerful. It’s the kind of hegemony that governments would kill for — or create a hyper-engaging social media app to exploit.
Having a specific type of sound meant these bands had to adapt if they wanted to be exposed on the station, forcing them to creatively warp in order to appease whatever Triple J decided was cool.
In a way, it’s a lot like what TikTok is doing to the music industry right now. Pop singer Halsey recently made headlines because her label wouldn’t release her new song unless it had the potential to go viral on TikTok. Drake made one of his worst songs yet to go viral on TikTok. It’s starting to become apparent that the easiest way to go viral on the Chinese-owned social media platform is to create a song with at least one catchy phrase that TikTokers can use to cook up a viral dance trend.
This is how marketing works. However, that’s not how art works. And if we continue to want to refer to music as art, then we need to stop allowing these hyper-commercialized processes to stifle artists who want to do more than just fall back into a bullshit circle that, quite frankly , is a heavy burden for the music industry. . At least in Australia.
Requiring artists to conform to a specific type of sound in order to take the easy route to success will never end well.
Otherwise, why would Triple J be losing listeners?
You don’t have to fly far on the internet to uncover the negative conversations surrounding Triple J over the past few years.
Another thought surrounds the next generation of Triple J presenters that ABC has invested so much in. Long gone are Linda Marigilano and Zane Rowe – some of the friendliest personalities on the air. Now, what we seem to have is a quagmire of overzealous progressive politics and child-wagging explanations disguised as education for us toxic plebs.
Why would you listen to presenters who can barely string a sentence together without peppering in whitewashed African-American vernacular English and at least one trending sentence pattern (he’s a 10, but he’s…) that’s already been whipped to death in every Instagram and TikTok caption weeks before? I will not do it. You wouldn’t. Obviously, you’re not…fam.
Others believe Triple J’s accumulated ill will is purely assumed by arrogance. Anyone who paid attention to Triple J last year would know that this radio station was accused of tone-deaf ageism at some point for a simple tweet that was sent playfully joking with a pattern sentence (“it makes wrong when…”) and turn that into an attack on older generations.
does it hurt? when you came off the youth radio station
— triplej (@triplej) August 31, 2021
“Does it hurt? When you got off the radio station for young people,” a cool social media manager tweeted a little over a year ago. Almost immediately, the broadcaster was charged ageism and the kind of smugness that instantly repels a lot of your audience. It would have been nice if Triple J was too good to give up at this point. But it wasn’t.
Maybe it’s the predominance of more overhyped pop music on Triple J? Lizzo is a prime example. Lil’ Nas X is another. I realize that the lines that once separated pop music and more musically believable (and interesting) production have become increasingly blurred thanks to a changing of the guard from one generation to the next. Pop bloggers now have an equal voice with music journalists, and fandoms are louder than before. But there’s only a limited amount of overproduced, watered-down, made-for-TikTok music one can pick up before the third listen makes you nauseous.
An “alternative” radio station seemingly sucked into insane trends by naïve, naïve pop bloggers and social media personalities will never survive.
A more practical and obvious reason would be the changing world of technology. No one really needs to be told what to like about radio anymore; streaming services like Spotify do a pretty good job as-is, and the (actually very impressive) algorithm works well when it comes to discovering new music. If you can get that kind of hyper-focused, personalized listening experience, why would you bother scouring a swamp of boring Aussie “drill” and cute garage-pop to find something you actually like? Nowadays, people listen to Spotify in the car. Not the radio.
That is, of course, unless you want to listen to presenters and segments like Hack – which has been accused of hypocritical and politicized interviews in the past. But why would you when you can just stream your favorite podcast and listen to something that actually interests and challenges you rather than relaying the same “woke” talking points you would see on your feed every day? Facebook news? “Straight white men” would miss being told how bad they are to the point of nausea. And no matter how loud Twitter is, most people don’t like the obnoxious overcorrection that has come to define the zeitgeist holier than you.
All of these reasons why Triple J is losing listeners are valid. And I would say a million times that they are fine. But above all, the main reason seems to be this:
Triple J was a leader, now he’s a follower. What use does he have left?
The fall of Triple J – By the numbers
A brilliant analysis of Fact was recently published after the aforementioned article by The Guardianpainting an equally bleak picture for Triple J. Digging deeper into the numbers, Fact showed that between 2014 and now, the number of targeted listeners (remember, ages 18-24) that Triple J attracted in five metropolitan capitals represented a 55% drop. In 2014, there were an average of 22,000 members of Triple J’s mandated target audience listening at the same time. By 2022, that number had dropped to 10,000.
To reframe it, Fact data reveals that 16.1% of Triple J’s target audience in the five major Australian capitals have been connected to Triple J at any given time. In 2022, that number is now 8.8%.
The numbers indicate that radio still attracts listeners, but Triple J’s target audience now chooses commercial radio over what was once considered alternative radio. And they don’t just jump on the more “mature” Double J. Could it be because Triple J is now no better than any other radio station?
So where are these young listeners jumping ship? The ratings seem to suggest that many have turned to Nova Entertainment’s Smooth FM, a largely apolitical broadcaster that is more concerned with curating music by mood than anything else.
How can Triple J recover?
Honestly, I really don’t think they can. Triple J’s main selling point – that is, the Australian music quota, where 40% of broadcast content must be local – no longer appears to be selling the station. People also don’t need to be told what they like anymore, they have enough platforms to get a more personalized experience, without the judgmental dribbling between songs.