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Alabama getting older as baby boomers approach senior years

Posted: Tuesday, June 05, 2001

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- The radio listening audience in Alabama has gotten old along with disc jockey Joe Cook.

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Cook was spinning top 40 hits by rockers Paul Revere and the Raiders and Lou Christie at Montgomery radio station WBAM, known then as ''The Big Bam.'' More than 30 years later, thanks partly to Alabama's aging population, Cook is still playing the Raiders and Lou Christie at oldies radio station WQLD, known as ''Cool 104.3.''

''I get calls every day from people who say 'Hey, man, I remember you working on the old Big Bam. I want to hear that old song by the Raiders.' It's such a good feeling that people still remember you after 25 or 30 years,'' Cook said.

The growth of oldies music radio stations and interest in Alabama icons that baby boomers grew up with -- George Wallace, Martin Luther King Jr., Bear Bryant -- is reflected in the latest U.S. Census figures which show that Alabama's population has gotten considerably older in the past 10 years.

Census data shows the median age of Alabama's population went from 33.0 in 1990 to 35.8 in the year 2000. While Alabama's elderly population, 65 and older, grew slightly, the largest growth was in the baby boomer age groups of 35 to 44 and 45 to 54.

The Census also shows almost 1.3 million residents, or 29 percent of the state's population, in those two age groups, compared to less than 1 million residents, or about 25 percent of the population, a decade ago. The Alabama numbers reflect the nationwide trend of an aging population.

Nationally, the median age grew to 35.3, the oldest it has ever been. The largest population increase nationally was seen in the 45 to 54 age group, which grew 49 percent.

The changing demographics are causing changes in the way industry sells its products for everything from entertainment to banking, and has those who provide services for the elderly wondering how the state will care for all those baby boomers when they reach 65.

''There are real economic implications here for all services,'' said Annette Watters, manager of the Alabama State Data Center at the University of Alabama. ''Banking services are going to be tailored differently. Clothing and fashion are going to change. When we were teen-agers, we wore blue jeans and we didn't quit wearing blue jeans. Levi now has to make them with elastic waists and expanding fannies.''

AmSouth Bank's senior vice president of marketing, Michele Elrod, said most banks have been preparing to offer services to the aging population for at least 10 years.

''Almost every bank today has a silver service or 50 plus account. Ten years ago it was 55 plus,'' Elrod said.

Cook said oldies radio stations, which have popped up in almost every market, are popular with the aging population because the rock music of the 1950s and 1960s reminds them of a simpler time -- of cruising the drive-ins and listening to the Beach Boys on the car radio.

''When you hear songs like that it makes you remember all the good things and forget the bad,'' Cook said.

Remembering youth for many in those expanding demographic groups in Alabama means remembering the turbulent 1960s, when the civil rights movement gained momentum on the streets of Alabama, George Wallace governed the state and, in Tuscaloosa, football was the reigning king thanks to coach Paul ''Bear'' Bryant.

But for those who provide services for the elderly, the aging population means looking forward to the time 10 to 20 years from now when the number of senior citizens in Alabama could double.

''We are going to need to set up more senior centers and those centers are going to be different,'' said Melissa Galvin, commissioner of Alabama's Department of Senior Services.

Galvin said while senior centers today provide mostly lunches and board games, the baby boomer generation will expect centers that cater to the needs of the computer age.

''We have several centers that offer computer classes for seniors,'' Galvin said. ''Those classes are booked. We can't offer enough of them.''

End advance for Thursday, May 31



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