Don’t Drop Oldies Before You’ve Read This

by Sean Ross, VP of Music and Programming

It would be easy to attribute Oldies radio’s current crisis to a generational shift among the people who make the decisions at radio groups and ad agencies. ‘60s Oldies probably isn’t their music. ‘50s Oldies definitely is not their music. And even though we like to think that anything recorded after 1956 would always be part of the larger body of “rock and roll” to everybody who came afterwards, how could the 40-year-old music on an Oldies station not sound ancient to a 25-year-old ad buyer? Frank Sinatra sounded ancient to those of us who grew up in the ‘70s. But his early ‘50s hits were only as old as “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees is today.

Before fleeing the format outright, maybe it’s time to consider another option: Oldies without apologies

But as the format suffers one defection after another, the crisis of confidence is clearly spreading to the format’s supporters. The Oldies format disappeared in Charlotte, N.C., Austin, Texas, and Jacksonville, Fla., and nobody rushed in to pick it up. Now, comments about the Oldies format being “over” are coming from programmers and owners who were happily making a living there just a year ago—folks who had seemed not to get the memo about the evacuation.

However, some stations still haven’t gotten the memo. The fall Arbitron came back with WMJI Cleveland again atop the market with an 8.5 share. There were up books at WOMC Detroit, WWSW Pittsburgh, and WODS Boston, and in smaller markets (WKNL New London, Conn., WQLL Manchester, N.H., and KUUL Davenport, Iowa, among them).

There was also one of the oddest success stories of recent months: WLNG Eastern Long Island, N.Y., whose broad playlist, retro jingles, and endless remotes have made it a radio junkie’s favorite for years. Then the market got its first ratings, and suddenly WLNG was No. 3 12-plus—an individually owned station hanging in when the groups were pulling out, or at least getting nervous.

What are your options if you don’t own one of those stations? You can try to go younger. In fact, WMJI, WWSW, and WODS all have a significant ‘70s component at this point. But so did many of the low-rated stations that had pulled out. It’s an even more daunting task when you consider that the Top 40 coalition was starting to splinter as early as 1968. Look at an Oldies test and you’ll see plenty of age and gender polarization on some late ‘60s rock—not just the ‘70s titles. You might expect to see that with the Doors, but it’s also on acts as seemingly mass-appeal as Credence Clearwater Revival and the Guess Who. And a lot of Oldies stations are relying on those titles more than ever.

There’s switching to Classic Hits outright—but there aren’t a lot of markets where that hole is sitting open. And even when Classic Hits is a viable option, it’s not really the new Oldies, as some have contended. Oldies radio plays all the hits for a generation that grew up with music as a shared cultural experience. Classic Hits and Classic Rock play about a third of the era’s music for an audience that had splintered accordingly.

There’s the Jack/Bob format, which can at least cover more turf, so it’s appropriate that KBPA (Bob FM) Austin, Texas, is one of the few replacements for an Oldies station that convincingly went a generation younger. (WOLL West Palm Beach, Fla., also made a successful ‘50s/’60s to ‘70s/’80s transition last year.)

You can’t blame an owner for leaving a format to fill an obvious hole (e.g., FM gospel in Montgomery, Ala.). But we’ve also seen the Oldies exodus send one prominent station to classic hits in a combo that already included Classic Rock and all-‘80s. That’s not a case of following an opportunity. That’s somebody looking for an escape route. So before fleeing the format outright—especially if there’s no particular place to go—maybe it’s time to consider another option: Oldies without apologies.

For the last five years or so, owners of Oldies stations have been so determined to change the composition of their radio stations that they’ve all but declared war on their own audience. When Oldies stations aren’t forcing in Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles, they’re yanking listeners from frequency to frequency within a market. Or they’re on the air threatening to change format unless listeners somehow improve their revenue. In any other format, programmers would try to get the most out of the audience they can have, and hope that being a bigger station will get them exposed to more fringe listeners.

So it would be interesting to see what happened if a station tried to be “Oldies proud” on the air. That starts with the name. The word “Oldies” used to be so potent that most stations didn’t feel they needed any other name. (You only needed to be sure to register “Oldies Radio” with Arbitron before somebody else did.) Now, Oldies stations sound like those Country stations during the format’s various doldrums that thought being called something other than Country would solve their problems. Know a lot of successful stations positioned as “America’s Music” these days?

What else could an Oldies station do? There’s the full-service option. It’s no accident that WMJI, WOMC, and WODS all have heritage morning shows. On its Website, WLNG brags about its news and weather elements. (The only slug lines on its homepage, not incidentally, are “Radio Eastern Long Island” and “Live and local.”) Oldies listeners grew up with personality and with news as part of the larger package. Gradually, however, their services were peeled away and the jocks they grew up with were replaced by a generation of air talent who barely knew the music.

And maybe the lessons of “Jack/Bob” aren’t just for 25-to-44-year-olds. Those listeners get to hear three-and-a-half decades of music and they’ve been trusted to understand an 800-song library. So maybe a 50-year-old no longer wants the same powers he’s heard twice a day for the last 15 years. Jack/Bob can span the mid-‘70s to today—30 years—but Oldies stations feel they have to choose between the ‘50s and the ‘70s. The pre-Beatles purge has made Oldies stations sound even more claustrophobic—the first eight years of Rock ‘n’ roll have been replaced by a much smaller group of usable records.

When the FM Oldies template took hold in the late ‘80s, the format was designed as a cume machine. Then again, with the marketing budgets of the time, it was a lot easier to run a cume machine back then. Now the KRTH (K-Earth 101) Los Angeles strategy of 175 immaculately testing oldies has clearly lost its potency over the last few years. And it may be time to start thinking of Oldies as a TSL proposition. If Oldies has indeed only a handful of remaining years as a viable FM format, its industry supporters—rather than apologizing for the format—should consider programming the type of station they want to hear. Because it’s not out of the question that it could also be the station other Oldies fans want.

Sean Ross is Edison Media Research’s VP of Music & Programming and the former editor-in-chief of Airplay Monitor, Billboard Magazine’s radio programming publication. The opinions expressed here are his own and can be found on the edisonresearch.com Web site every week. Sean can be reached at 908.707.4707 or SRoss@edisonresearch.com.

27 replies
  1. Tom Watson
    Tom Watson says:

    EXCELLENT article, Sean! Having been the PD of WOLL-FM in West Palm Beach, Florida when we took it from 17th in the market (12+) to #2 (12+) last year by shifting the Oldies format to a 70′s and 80′s with a FEW strong 60′s.
    I’ve found that it is not as much about the “music” as it is being local, topical, and making the station fun with PERSONALITY. The station must has a “spark” and the product, jocks, promos, jingles all must be compelling and focused. This is the same formula I used when I was PD at KVIL Dallas when we had a 10.1 share (12+) and won the Marconi award.
    The “key” here is when you are in a “cluster”, the Oldies station can not only generate strong 35-54 and 25-54 adult numbers, it can be the TOP REVENUE GENERATOR for the cluster. There are a lot of dollars just sitting out there that can be taken from other competitors with a strong performing Oldies station.
    Tom Watson
    President
    ACC Consulting & Marketing International
    Phone: (561) 866-9816

    Reply
  2. Mark Summer
    Mark Summer says:

    Sean-
    I think Oldies should play what “fits” with the format. If it sounds like a oldie, who cares when it was released. Careful scheduling of eras along with attention to sound code will for sure make the station have the variety. Go beyond the chart hits and feature something from a great album. The Beatles and the The Rolling Stones have many great songs that classic rock has abandoned as they have purged their libraries. Some stations I’ve heard are still doing that “shuck and jive” presentation. Be an upbeat, fun, intelligent foreground station that adults of all ages can relate to.

    Reply
  3. Mike McDowell/Blitz Magazine
    Mike McDowell/Blitz Magazine says:

    Mr. Ross -
    Definitely one of your better outings. And not just because of the subject matter.
    It’s worth emphasizing that KRTH Los Angeles has lost a good portion of its older demographic due to the “claustrophobia” to which you refer. As you used to say, “Go deep”. The sizeable amount of feedback on the WKNR tribute website should underscore that notion.
    There is also still hope in this day and age for the block programming that sustained the career of the likes of Paul Bowman in the late 1980s-early 1990s on KFOX-FM. WSDS Plymouth/Ypsilanti has made great strides to that effect.

    Reply
  4. Adam Jacobson
    Adam Jacobson says:

    Sean,
    You’re my new hero and champion of Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers!
    Thanks for this very important column.
    Adam R Jacobson
    Radio Editor — Radio & Records
    Classic Rock and Oldies columnist

    Reply
  5. Scott Miller
    Scott Miller says:

    Hey Sean
    As you always seem to do, you once again hit the nail on the head with your Oldies column. I’ve been preaching what you wrote for the past couple of years. If you have a strong morning show, like we do here at WSRZ in Sarasota, like WOMC, WMJI, WODS, then go for it. Be Oldies proud! Add a few cuts to the rotation. Don’t force songs that don’t fit.
    Thanks for expressing what you did. I’m forwarding it to many friends and PD’s with ‘See I told you so notes attached’.
    Be Well,
    Scott Miller
    WSRZ Sarasota, Florida
    #1 12+, #2 25-54, #1 35-64 Fall 2004

    Reply
  6. Patrick Cloonan
    Patrick Cloonan says:

    Interesting commentary.
    WWSW competes in a city where some stations still play the moldy stuff — and the venerable Porky Chedwick still does a weekly show.
    There’s still enough pressure from oldline deejays that one station, WLSW-FM 103.9, pushed back from 7 to 9 p.m. the start of a nighttime show by a local disc jockey, Ron Chavis, who could give Mel Devonne’s Love Zone (heard here on WJJJ-FM 107.1) a run for his money.
    Instead, Devonne gets a two-hour headstart because WLSW runs a so-called “Pittsburgh oldies” block between its daytime AC music and Chavis. My understanding is that calls to Chavis dropped significantly after his show was pushed back.

    Reply
  7. Ron McKay
    Ron McKay says:

    Sean: Absolutely right on the money with this. Having just seen another heritage Oldies station blown to bits….and a 10-year stint with them down the tubes…..I can certainly relate. WTRG-FM, Raleigh (CC) went to “The River.” The over-45 demos are the most under-served (musically) in this market….with the exception of the Country station…(another company)…#1. I’m also a Duty Officer with the Cary Family YMCA and talk with over 800 people a week…most of them being over 40. They all ask me the same thing; “Where on the dial can I hear MY music?” Many 16-25s also ask where can they go to get their Beatles fix….and I have no answer. You’ve just given me some excellent ammo. Thank you once again.
    Ron McKay
    Ex-Mid-Days-OLDIES 100.7-WTRG, Raleigh, NC

    Reply
  8. Ron White
    Ron White says:

    Great insight, Sean. Add us to the list of those that “didn’t get the memo.” Granted, our median age here is higher than most markets, but our 25-54 numbers are consistently solid AND GROWING — the fall book was our best ever! I credit a heritage morning show and a strategy of not abandoning the P1s as key.
    Ron White
    Operations Manager – Clear Channel Sarasota
    WAMR-WCTQ-WDDV-WSRQ-WSRZ-WTZB
    Program Director – WSRZ Oldies 108

    Reply
  9. Clark Schmidt
    Clark Schmidt says:

    Dear Sean…
    Great article! So many excellent points, you made. Thank you.
    I got WKNL New London, CT as a client in September….adjusted the music and sound in early October. We’re thrilled with the results. Jumped to #3 25-54.
    Folks over 40 have a ton of money to spend…..too bad the decision makers are so young and don’t connect with how radio has always impacted boomers and their folks.
    Best regards,
    Clark

    Reply
  10. Drew Harold
    Drew Harold says:

    Hi Sean,
    Good thought starter! Ross on Radio – Don’t Drop Oldies Before You’ve Read This
    Listening to Oldies Radio, here in Boise and also on the web, (all over the country), it seems that oldies radio has lost it’s excitement and passion for the music.
    Hearing the voice tracked jock say, “Here’s 12 in a row”, doesn’t get it.
    The P1 remembers the great jocks they used to hear and wonders what happened to the passion the entertainment and the station … and then leaves, because they are board.

    Warm regards,

    Drew Harold

    In Beautiful Downtown Boise

    http://gooddoctor.homestead.com/

    Reply
  11. Ed Shane
    Ed Shane says:

    Mixing Fleetwood Mac with Oldies is like mixing Kid Rock with Country. No…wait…
    Mixing the Eagles with Oldies is like mixing Tim McGraw wih CHR. No…wait…
    You’re right on track. Oldies is a defined universe and the Oldies listeners have defined it. No artificial imposition of new borders will change that, only dilute the listenership.
    I believe in innovation but not when the listeners want something else. We have one of the highest-rated Oldies stations in our client group–WALY in Altoona. Focused music, big morning show, good information images, lots of promotion–and an 11.7 share (12+) and a 13.3 (P 25-54). Good radio outweighs the need to dilute the music.

    Ed

    Reply
  12. Mike Shannon
    Mike Shannon says:

    It’s funny how many people stick to the “safe” 300-600 oldies. We have a huge library of songs and we love to play them. The thing we hear from callers and at remotes is that they love the oldies we play that you can’t hear anyplace else. True the “rule” is tight, small playlists, but then again XM wasn’t a factor when the “rule” was made. Maybe it is time to revise the rules?
    Mike Shannon PD WQRK FM / WQRJ FM Super Oldies

    Reply
  13. Steve Allan
    Steve Allan says:

    Great piece, Sean. No one has effectively solved the ‘get younger’ puzzle. There may not be a solution.

    I find it amazing that Oldies radio is being maligned when the median age of the listener is 50 (keeping us squarely at the mid-point of the baby boom). Yet, no one squaks when they see a mainstream AC with a median age of 46 or 47. I guess because they play one or two currents an hour they are suddenly ‘hip’. No one points a finger at the Smooth Jazz station with a median age of 48. Again, they play ‘new’ stuff.

    The problem with too many Oldies stations over the years is that they sounded old. Recreating the top 40 sound of 1968 is great for radio geeks but not for the average listener. They could give a hoot about whether the station was using the old PAMS sound or the Drake package. They tuned in for FUN, not nostalgia.

    However, perceptions are built up over a long period of time. If an Oldies station grounded its image in ‘Good Times, Great Oldies’, and all the packaging that conjures up, they may have a difficult time convincing the market that they’ve ‘grown up’ – presentationally. It is no accident that the enduring Oldies stations have legendary morning shows. Morning shows that are NOT about reliving the past. These giants remain grounded in today. They are focused on essentially the same audience but they know its all about currency.

    The question arises – what is Mainstream AC going to do with their age problem? With a 47 year old median – aren’t they growing out of the coveted 25-54 world? What’s their 5 year plan? Or, because of the occasional current, (and the annual Christmas blitz) do we assume they are ‘just fine’?

    Steve Allan
    Program Director
    WOMC-FM, Detroit

    Reply
  14. Dave Mason
    Dave Mason says:

    I’ve been programming Oldies in San Diego for the past 5 years and have seen some pretty interesting things happen here. Your comment on “declaring war on the audience” hit close to home.

    In San Diego, Oldies has gone through 4 frequencies since 2000. Is the Oldies audience disenfranchised? Or just confused.

    Jeff-Pilot gave it up to go 80’s. KBZT had low 2 shares. CC picked it up on 100kw KJQY (94.1) and with marketing and promotion we debuted with a 4.4 – #4 12+, #8 25-54 and #1 45-54 (core).

    In 2002, Oldies moved to 95.7 (30kw-same antenna location) to fix a “Mix” station that was dead. 94.1 became hot a/c with the former Afternoon drive show from the (then) market-leading Hot A/C in mornings. It’s performed very well 25-54. Oldies dropped 33% of it’s cume, finally to re-emerge at the end of 2003 with a respectable 3 share.

    In 2004, Oldies was moved to 99.3 so the former country station’s Morning Show could help launch “Great American Country” on 95.7. (Since 99.3 is a Mexican signal, it would be hard to be believable as “Great American Country”.) Cume dropped another 30-40% for Oldies.

    What to do with Oldies? The format sure needs an “agent” to sell the virtues to both the programming leaders and the sales leaders. Forefront radio gets a whole hell of a lot more attention than “12 in the row”.

    This format has NO “guru” to make it happen. This format has no one instructing sales people to SELL the format. And, as you mentioned, we’re dealing with the 24 year old media buyer. Unless it makes money, the broadcasters will follow the path of least resistance and go for the formula that’s gonna make ‘em money. What you’ve got is more than just the younger ad buyers. You’ve got a total lack of education on the roots of the format, the makeup of the format and the effects any changes will have. You’ve got people in our business who don’t understand it, don’t want to understand it – and in many cases they don’t HAVE to. If they don’t think that Chubby Checker fits in with “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone then guess who loses?

    I programmed CHR stations shifting to A/C in the 70’s and early 80’s. The end result of these shifts-the audience that loved the station(s) before hated the changes. The people who would LOVE the changes already had preconcieved notions on where the stations were -and wouldn’t try ‘em out. Once an Edsel, always an Edsel.

    So, in my opinion what needs to happen with ALL of these stations left, is to either get OUT of the format or do the format and get out of the way. There are hits of the 50’s that fit. There are hits of the 70’s at fit. There are also hits of the 80’s and maybe 90’s that MIGHT fit.

    Get the right people in the music test. Oldies is a format that has very little competition. (A programmer’s dream when done right). It’s the station that can be uptempo, fun and get a wide audience. It can energize the workplace and get results for the advertisers. It’s not a background or utility like Soft A/C.

    Alas, no one’s doing research on the format either. They (broadcasters) seem to feel that the only way to win 25-54 is to reach 25-34…..or 25-44. The 45-54 year olds are IGNORED. Don’t go after people who might be P1’s to the Classic Rock or Smooth Jazz station. Go after the people who want OLDIES!! Go after the A/C listeners who get the Temps on their AC station but have to listen to Avril Lavigne too. They’re ripe for the picking. Same goes for 55-64 year olds. Agencies buying them? Nope. So no one cares. But down the road, succeeding 45-64 can certainly get your 12+ noticed, and with 45-54 year olds being a larger portion of the audience- the 25-54 numbers grow.

    Someone’s got to face two dangerous facts. There are more lucrative formats (in some markets) to replace Oldies. In others, it certainly looks good to change rather than to fix. It’s more expensive. It’s a slow growth proposition, but someone making the change is going to extend his (or her) position a little while longer.

    Dave Mason

    San Diego

    Reply
  15. Steven Green
    Steven Green says:

    Thank you for the nice article. One correction. Bob-Fm here in Austin plays a few sixties songs. Maybe not more than one per hour, but I do hear them on Bob.

    Reply
  16. allen vick
    allen vick says:

    The debate rages on!!!!!! Oldies radio can still be a big ratings winner and money maker but it needs a lot more hands on and learning from the public and much less consultant and so called “research”.It is a format that has to have people in it with a passion for the music and those that are willing to give it the tender loving care it takes to make it work.It takes much much more TLC than a current based format does.Oldies radio must never underestimate the passion the oldies listener has for the music and realize that the oldies listener does not want to hear the same 250 songs over and over.That is an insult to the listener.Music brings back memories and it doesn’t have to be a top 10 song to hit that switch in a listeners memory bank.Oldies stations need to find someone to do the music in house who talks to listeners on a daily basis and also has the knowledge and gut instinct to play good music and dares to be different.That would be a good first step in turning oldies radio around!!!!

    Reply
  17. Josh Hosler
    Josh Hosler says:

    Here’s a brainstorm for a new approach to Oldies! In markets with a weak Christian music station, position your Oldies format against it. Be unabashedly Christian, running all the syndicated shows a Christian station would, and call yourself “safe for the whole family.” Why should the narrowly-defined Christian market get all the Christian listeners?

    Reply
  18. Larry Stoler
    Larry Stoler says:

    I read your article about the future of oldies radio. I agree with you regarding the 25 year old media buyer attempting to sell the format but I look at the situation a little differently.
    I feel the problem with oldies radio is not the music but it is the way it is presented. Most stations play 300 songs over and over in rotation. They also have liner readers that keep saying such things as “good times and great oldies or on the way another 10 in a row nonstop of your favorite oldies.”
    Oldies is not like CHR radio. The audience recognizes when the same songs are being played and they don’t like it. They tune away after a while.
    Radio needs to stand out more than ever. Saying good times and great oldies won’t do it for your station.
    Another problem is the fragmentation of the format. Many stations will not play anything before 1964. You also have the Real Oldies concept which features anything before the mid to late 60s. Both approaches are limited and are wrong.
    Another thing that bothers me is the approach being taken to make an oldies station sound current. This does not make sense. You are playing music from 30 or 40 years ago. The listeners don’t care about current reality TV shows or who slept with who. They want to go back to a time when the songs they are hearing first became hits.
    Oldies stations do not need a typical morning team. The listeners want radio to sound like it did when they were kids. In other words exciting and larger than life with hot sounding personalities and creative contests.
    I think an oldies station should play at least 2,000 songs in rotation. People programming the music can go back before 1964 and even have selected songs from the 80′s added to the playlist from time to time. The audience will not leave if presented the proper way.
    Today more alternatives to traditional radio exist to obtain music and information. Satellite radio, Ipods and the Internet among other sources. This is why radio must become fun, creative and exciting to listen to again.
    The oldies format does not need to die. It just
    needs to change and it can be done..

    Reply
  19. Bruce Kelly
    Bruce Kelly says:

    I wish all oldies programmers in terrestrial could spend a few days here at XM.

    Many audience myths, stereotypes and voodoo programming misconceptions, still widely used today, would be shattered.

    Oldies programmers would be wise to follow the example of cable’s TVLand.

    It’s all about re-packaging a finite, existing product and reviving the fans interest
    and involvement with the music and station.

    Tired, hackneyed superlative based production is over. Just execute and the fans
    will get it.

    The fans don’t believe the “we’re bigger better most music cash 14 in a row ” crap
    anymore.

    No credibility.

    “Ear candy” is sorely missing from terrestrial production. Make a connection between
    fans emotional investment in the music AND the years that formed their musical base.

    Content is king.

    Weekday specials beyond the tired ” Electric Lunch” etc. Beyond
    the Memorial Day All Time 500 Hits. Beyond the ” Lost Oldies ” weekends.

    And don’t forget the exposure of oldies thru product marketing.

    Volkswagon’s ” Mr. Roboto ” spot a few years ago is an excellent example. My 15 year old son, living on a strict diet of Slipknot, et.al…..suddenly became a huge Styx , REO , Loverboy , Journey, Pink floyd, Led Zep fan
    just because of that spot.

    Oldies ain’t dead………just the wrapping.

    Bruce Kelly

    Le Grande Fromage

    XM 80s on 8

    Reply
  20. Marc Ratner
    Marc Ratner says:

    Hi Sean, I’ve been busy, so apologies for the late reply on this topic…I’ve kept it in my e-mail for quite a while now to make sure I got to it.
    Yes I’m in the music business and that usually rules me out as having any worthwhile comments as far as programmers are concerned but I don’t promote oldies and I do listen and the one thing that tunes me out of oldies stations is the burn I have on the same “safe” 175 size playlist……it’s simple I love the songs and if asked, I would say that such and such song is a favorite of mine…but most likely I would tune out a station playing that song and all the others too often. I want deeper lists so I can listen longer. I can’t tell you how often I will hear in my travels the same oldies song in the same daypart on two consecutive days. The secret of research in my mind is not so much the answers but what questions you ask and how you ask them. Ask the wrong question and no matter how many great replies you get….it will lead one in the wrong direction.
    Best to you – Marc

    Reply
  21. Debbie Richards
    Debbie Richards says:

    I have worked for several radio stations in my career as a air talent , from over nites to morning co-host . I have also DJ’d clubs in our area . My opinion if allowed is “Music is Music” If you play it right they’ll listen all night ! Pardon the prose! I am a firm believer that your music flow is what counts , not what year your playing,not the artist. make the listening palitable and they will stay tuned . It’s working for me ! I work for an oldies station who has repositioned it self as ” the station playing the greatest hits of all time and more! ”
    playing music from the 50′ , 60′s,70′s, 80′s, 90′s and today . So far it’s working and I couldn’t be happier. Music is a gift that needs to be shared aas a whole not just in part. Thanks for the time !

    Reply
  22. Chuck Matthews
    Chuck Matthews says:

    Sean THANK YOU for saying so eloquently what I’ve been saying for years! Oldies is NOT dead.
    I was APD/Creative Director at now defunct WTRG Raleigh NC from 2000-2004. WTRG was 15 year oldies station before CC flipped it to a classic hits (The River), Nov 15th 1004. I also served as the Interim PD for the last 9 months of the station’s existence. WTRG’s last book, Summer 2004, had it ranked #1 P45-54 (core) #2 P35-64 and #2 P12 plus in a cluster of 4. It made as much money as the classic rock – that’s right, management flipped the oldies to a classic hits with a classic rock already in the cluster. An escape is what you called it. Mgmt didn’t deem the Oldies brand as having “legs”. WTRG managed the numbers it did saddled with a morning show that didn’t fit (John Boy and Billy) that was parked by Sr Mgmt years earlier. WTRG also had ONE live daypart (middays). Some weekend programming was live. A Sunday night 50′/60′s show (1954-63) was #5 P25-54, yet had no sponsors. Siutation in Raleigh was a young, inexperienced sales staff that was ever changing and Mgmt that didn’t believe in the format. The station had no promotional money, unlike it’s sister stations, yet the station out performed all but one of it’s sister stations in ratings.
    I worked at WMJI/Cleveland from 1994-2000. I know that a seasoned, hertiage morning show is the main reason for the station’s success. Imaging was always produced to not sound “old” and the jocks were allowed freedom in content. We did theme weekends and had “That Was Then This Is Now” jingles (Ken R) – because Cleveland had a rich radio history and we played it up to our advantage. I did the same in Raleigh. Listeners, not just radio geeks, LOVED IT! I’m not a fan of “cheese” oldies radio imaging (ie Goldmine). I treat it like a contemporary station, except the music isn’t. Same with jocks. Although, a “Boss Jock” type, one perhaps, is not a bad thing. WMJI PM driver Scott Howitt (1990-2001) was never below Top 3 P25-54. Scott could rhyme with the best of them. IMHO he’s the best contemporary oldies jock in the country…and sadly he’s not in radio.
    As of 2005 67% of the U.S. population is 50 and over. That’s a lot of buying power. This article shows who has the power and that companies and Madison Ave are starting to realize it. Top 40 and AC aren’t going to reach these people. New research shows that the upper demos DO NOT have brand loyalty.
    http://www.globalaging.org/elderrights/us/2004/surprise.htm
    Oldies radio is alive and well and can make money!

    Reply
  23. Kate Goldfield
    Kate Goldfield says:

    I may be one of the only if not only listener who responds to this…I don’t work in the music business but I am self-confessed radio addict.
    I am 21 and I listen to country and oldies radio nonstop – nothing else except occasionally AC or classic rock if there’s nothing on the first two stations. I was an oldies fan before I ever started listening to any other type of music, though.
    I hear people saying things like “well, just make it 70s and 80s, just blow up the format, people don’t care what the music is as long as the jocks are exciting.” This is NOT true, at least not for me.
    I am an avid 60s music fan. I might be only 21, but I grew up on it; I love it; I can’t understand how just because it hits some magic age of being 40 years old, it somehow suddenly stops being “good.” The music of the 60s (and late 50s early 70s to a lesser extent) is absolutely timeless. Simple melodies, words you can actually understand, songs you can sing along to, songs you don’t have to be ashamed of, that you can play in front of the kids – messages that are absolutely timeless and that everyone can relate to whether it’s 1964 or 2164 – this is what marks the songs from the 1960s that you cannot find anywhere else. Songs that just feel good to listen to. Infectious melodies. There is nothing else like the music of the 1960s, and there never will be. It doesn’t suddenly stop being good music because it hits 40 years old – hey, chocolate chip cookies have been around since the 1920s and people are still eating them – it should be the same for oldies radio.
    Oldies radio is a crowd pleaser, it’s the one music everyone can agree on. It’s perfect for the office or large groups. I don’t see why any town wouldn’t be able to support an oldies station; I know people of all ages who love these songs.
    And if you think overplaying songs is a problem…I never knew what overplaying WAS until I became a country fan…currently the song that’s playing on my radio at the moment I’ve already heard four times today…yet I’m still listening…still haven’t figured out exactly why. Oldies, I might hear a song twice in a day, but that would be the most. Yeah, I get tired of hearing Pretty Woman over and over again, who doesn’t, but there is enough really good stuff in the oldies repertoire that you just don’t mind hearing it over and over again because it’s that good.
    In sum, I know radio is a business and exists only to make money. But damned if some of its listeners don’t get awfully attached to the music and stations along the way. There ARE people, even young people, who are very much interested, even desperate, to hear genuine 60s music on the radio, not fleetwood mac or some 80s song, and I hope radio programmers keep that in mind.
    I like what the one person said about being unpolegetically oldies.
    Kate Goldfield
    Baltimore

    Reply
  24. Chris "Nightbird" Childs
    Chris "Nightbird" Childs says:

    I’ve been a devoted listener of Oldies Radio for as long as I can remember. As of today there are still some good stations around. Here in the Philly area there’s a great station WOGL that I listen to everyday. Their format is “Motown,Soul & Rock and Roll”.
    Back in CT, where I’m from, I used to litsen to Kool 96.7 and WDRC. I grew up with those programs, and I still listen whenever I’m in that area.
    Lately, I’ve been combing the ‘net for good stations too. I’ve found a couple good ones, but I don’t think they’ll ever replace the radio completely.

    Reply
  25. Paul Scott
    Paul Scott says:

    Here in Mildura, Australia we have an oldies station run by a family -its been running for about six years now. It plays only 1950 to 1969 songs and I called the guy to ask how many songs he plays on the air – the current figure he gave me was – of last weekend – 8130 tracks. He says the station adds about 30 to 40 old songs a week and they’ve got about 2000 tracks yet to add to the library.
    The advantage they have is that he draws from three countries – Australia, England UK charts (remember we have lots of migrants from the UK who settled here in the fifties and sixties) and the USA charts. There are not many doo-wop songs on it because they didn’t get airplay here.
    I heard the guy say the other week that the first song he played on radio was Marty Robbins with Singing the Blues – the week it was released in Australia in 1956. He played the song again and laughed – how many can say that they are in a complete time warp doing something they did at work 50 years previously.
    The station also plays regional stuff – I guess there’s no disputing that the guy knows what was played back in the fifties and sixties here, because it was documented at the time he was one of the leading disc jockeys of the day playing them (in the days of free choice, before formatting).
    I often hear him talk of the difference between chart hits and “radio hits” – songs that he says were heavily requested at the time by listeners but did not get the magical sales response.
    Privately the boss there admits that some of the songs played are possibly not up to the USA or British standard. These are the Australian releases – the Australian recording industry was in its absolute infancy when rock and roll was arriving and the first 45 rpm released here was around 10 years after they appeared in the USA.
    But on the air the station will often say its gonna play part of Australian heritage – have a listen to this song from the archives by an aussie act. They are proud to play it because its Aussie and aussie oldies are not very often heard elsewhere.
    I guess part of the appeal of this oldies station is that you never know what is coming next – either in breakfast or overnight.
    I gather the real slow songs are extracted from breakfast, but the rest of the time its just wait and see what’s next. I guess they do that deliberately because you can never predict what will be next. One minute its Bing, the next Elvis ( I think there are 200 Elvis tracks it plays) the next the Beatles.
    The worst thing about it is I’m not really a Danny Kaye fan, I don’t get excited over Hayley Mills, Tiny Tim and a heap of instrumentals.
    But they play lots of Jo Stafford, Les Paul and Mary Ford and Eddie Fisher, and I’ve got to like them because its music I missed out on.

    Reply
  26. R J
    R J says:

    As of 2005 67% of the U.S. population is 50 and over. That’s a lot of buying power. This article
    Posted by: Chuck Matthews at April 4, 2005 03:52 PM
    ====
    That’s incorrect. The article states that the US population that is over 50 yrs old contols 67% of the country’s wealth.

    Reply
  27. Don
    Don says:

    I live In Pittsburgh, and our reisdent “oldies” station, WWSW-FM, (3WS), has almost completely revamped their music format over the past year. They have almost wiped the ’60′s music off their playlist, and now concentrate on ’70′s & ’80′s. I am someone who grew up on oldies, loving music from the 50′s,’60′s, & ’70′s, but cannot love most of the ’80′s. I didn’t like it when it was new, so why should I love it now. There are some songs I do like, but now I hear artists like Tom Petty, Robert Palmer, Phil Collins, and John Mellancamp, which don’t appeal to me at all. I hate how radio PD’s think radio should be so streamlined. I always said if I had the chance to program an oldies station, it would be any and all music from say, 1955 up through 1980 or so. I hate when stations have so-called request hours, and you call, but they won’t play the song you want because it is A: Too middle-of the road.
    B: Too dated. C: Too non-format. But PD’s think it’s fine to let me hear “Piano Man” and “Marguarittaville” every single day. I remember reading one time how much fun radio was back in the ’60′s. It said you could turn on the radio back in 1966 and hear “Paint It Black” and “Strangers in the Night” back to back and no one thought anything of it. Try doing that now. All I know is that I miss my ’50′s & ’60′s songs on the dial and really can’t stand WWSW any more. The trouble is that their is no alternative to them here in Pittsburgh.

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