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The Road, the Radio, and Gen Z

By Audacy Team

Driving with the radio on remains a cornerstone of the teen experience

Have you listened to “drivers license” yet? Gen Z has turned the song, written by 18-year-old Olivia Rodrigo, into the biggest hit of the year so far. It’s also a fascinating window into the way we listen to music now. Though “drivers license” has a uniquely modern origin story—it went viral on TikTok thanks to drama among teen Disney stars—it’s also a timeless American pop song about young love and learning to drive. No matter how we listen to music or what genre is most popular at any given time, these are themes that will always speak to young Americans. And when Gen Z is behind the wheel, they’re listening to radio more than anything else.

These days, more teenagers are getting their driver’s license, and sooner, too. 60% of people get a license before they turn 18, when just a decade ago less than half did.1 On top of that, a recent study from Edison Research found that Gen Z listens to AM/FM radio nearly 50% of the time while driving. That’s more than they listen to streaming audio, YouTube, or other music platforms.2 Driving remains an essential part of our daily lives, and there’s no better way to reach Gen Z than catching them while they’re on the move.

Radio play is also a landmark achievement for emerging musicians. Consider the 22 year-old musician Boy Pablo, a 21st century global star who, like Olivia Rodrigo, rode a digital wave to success. A young Chilean-Norwegian musician who sings in English, he first found success when his song “Everytime” became a hit on YouTube—today it’s been viewed over 36 million times. But when Los Angeles alt rock station KROQ 106.7 interviewed him, he wasn’t shy about how special it was to hear himself on the radio. The emotional and symbolic meaning of airplay to artists is a reflection of the medium’s undeniable reach, which Nielsen reports as a formidable 80% among teenagers.3

It’s also worth noting that Gen Z appreciates music from different eras and genres. In that same KROQ interview, Boy Pablo talks about his influences from the rapper Tyler the Creator to iconic bands like the Beatles. Olivia Rodrigo released her follow-up single this month, another infectious track about love and the road, where she sings about loving Billy Joel. Today’s youth appreciates all kinds of music from all times and places. Audacy sees that reflected in strong Gen Z listenership across a wide range of our stations, from those that play classic rock to those that focus on today’s hits.

Audio is an essential part of the youth experience, and radio is an essential way of listening. Gen Z in particular is an engaged and omnivorous demographic. As young Americans hit the road, brands have an opportunity to connect with this key audience over the airwaves. To capture the attention of teens today, there’s no better way to reach them than by partnering with Audacy.

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1 AAA, 2019. “Number of Licensed Teen Drivers on the Rise.”
2 Edison Research, July 2020. “Radio’s Roadmap to Gen Z Listenership.”
3 Nielsen, November 2020. “The Nielsen Total Audience Report.”

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