Triple J Staff are probably scratching their heads at their worst performance in the ratings since before they went national.

Yesterday’s Newcastle result, which saw a near halving of its audience, finally means the argument that Triple J is more relevant for regional audiences than the city is laid to rest. Triple J rated just over 6% in Newcastle, in their last big regional test in Darwin they rated 5%, in Adelaide their Audience has halved, and in most capitals they are drifting down the bottom of the pack.

Does Triple J care about ratings? And should it actually be worried? Well the answer is yes and no. Triple J really shouldn’t care about its overall audience, but it should care about its 15 to 24 year old numbers, as that is it brief. And its performance in the demo, well it’s been beaten by MIX, which targets 35 plus women. In short, the answer is YES.

Why is a station with Mariah Carey and Madonna in its play list beating a Youth Station in its own territory?

The answer is simple. Triple J doesn’t know young people and has made little attempt to get to know them. A bunch of aging hippies are trying to guess what young people want and they are obviously getting it very wrong.

In my home town, Dance Station Fresh, a volunteer-run youth community station has twice the listeners of Triple J, and all they do is play dance music. It’s not that hard to play music that appeals to young people. But Triple J, in its ivory tower at 700 Harris Street in Ultimo, sees no reason to respond or adjust to its target.

Triple J believes it sets the agenda on what is cool. Every year it becomes obvious that they don’t. That’s when the Hottest 100 votes are counted, and a song played on commercial radio rather than Triple J grabs the gong, a pattern that’s been repeated every year this century.

Compared to its older sister ABC Local Radio, Triple J has not managed to home in and target the very people who need a radio station for just them.

The Arguments that nova (which isn’t on air in Newcastle or Darwin) has taken its audience don’t measure up, since Nova is also struggling at the moment. Neither does the argument that the iPod is making Triple J irrelevant; iPod sales are actually up in the 35 plus demographics too, but you don’t see ABC Local Radio dropping like a dead duck with bird flu.

What are the answers for Triple J? As an ex-employee, who was there in the days when Triple J was Number One in its target demo, it’s really quite simple.

Stop being scared of being mainstream, there is still a gulf of difference between Triple J and everyone else on the Band, narrow it down, play a song because it appeals to your audience, not to the tastes of a desperately aging staff trying the maintain the coolness.

I remember the program director of Triple J three years ago announcing the success they’d had in preceding year: “All the staff are happy”. Pity the audience isn’t.