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At Classic Rock, AC/DC (And The ’80s) Gain Current-cy

Entry by Sean Ross | Monday, April 7th, 2008 | Permalink

It started a year ago with AC/DC. The client was an upper-demo Classic Rock station that verged on Classic Hits. But they’d thrown a few more AC/DC songs in the test this time and suddenly we were staring at an AC/DC song that wasn’t “You Shook Me All Night Long” on the first page. Everybody knew that “You Shook Me” had become an all-ages party song staple at weddings and bar mitzvahs, no longer considered edgy in any way. But “Highway to Hell” hardly seemed to have become that.
Since then, we’ve seen a pretty wide spread of AC/DC songs start to come back strongly in Classic Rock music tests – sometimes five or six titles with fairly similar scores at a given station. And while that band has had a renewed cachet lately — used heavily in TV commercials and channeled by multiple newer acts for several years now – their graduation from peripheral act with one mass-appeal song to a more mainstream artist is just one indication that the boundaries of Classic Rock might finally be shifting a little.
AC/DC’s changed fortunes is just one way in which some of Classic Rock’s spring music tests are looking either a little harder or a little newer (or both) than the average Classic Rock test of just a few years ago. Typically, these are stations that test up to age 50, but I’ve seen similar phenomena at stations that go to age 54. The changes usually involve a handful of very big hard rock titles from the early-to-mid ’80s–an Ozzy here, a Judas Priest or Scorpions there. At the same time, some warhorse acts, like the Rolling Stones, are contributing fewer useable titles with each test.
In some ways, it feels like the ’80s have long been a part of the format – enough so for Bowling For Soup to make fun of Motley Crue on Classic Rock four years ago. But to Classic Rock programmers, the ’80s can still be daunting. Many PDs see the ’80s as a mere handful of useable titles — many of them sonically tied to the ’70s (Don Henley, Tom Petty, John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, etc.). Because how are you going to play “Dr. Feelgood” by Motley Crue next to “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”?
The ’80s weren’t also a tricky time for Rock radio in general. The heavily-rated early ’80s were the era of corporate rock. The mid-’80s were dominated by Top 40; and the music that Rock kept for itself was often marginal. In the mid-’80s, with Classic Rock looming as a competitor, Rock stations became more adult and conservative than ever, and much of the music that excited Rock fans, whether Motley Crue or Metallica was incubated somewhere other than Rock radio.
There was also the quick boom and bust cycle of the Classic Rock That Really Rocks approach — which was generally both harder and newer — a decade ago. Then there was the advent of the Bob- and Jack-FM movement which had depended heavily on ’80s Rock, thus leaving the available audience for Classic Rock even older and more traditional in many markets.
There was also some comfort in the consistency of Classic Rock — knowing that the format’s core titles didn’t change much and didn’t burn. That was significant because Oldies had enjoyed the stability of 300 records that tested consistently and did not burn for 15 years – and as soon as they did, programmers began to scramble. So is it now possible to reconsider the parameters of Classic Rock without launching the format down, well, the Highway to Hell?
Well, for one thing, after a few years of blind panic, in which modernizing seemed to annoy the core without co-opting younger listeners, Oldies stations have settled into playing the ’70s and even the ’80s and have seemingly lived to tell the story. The ’80s have been incorporated tentatively in most places, but more dramatically in a few. If the new WOCL (Sunny 105.9) Orlando, Fla., can play “Funky Cold Medina,” the kind of song that Oldies was once supposed to provide a safe-haven from, what’s the big deal about “Home Sweet Home” at Classic Rock?
In addition, the juggernaut that was Bob- and Jack-FM has stabilized in many markets. Bob and Jack had simultaneously proven that there was an audience that had forged its Rock tastes in the era between Boston and Guns ‘N’ Roses and relieved Classic Rock stations of the burden of actually having to play too much of that music. Now there is an opportunity to include some of those listeners again.
Finally, the listeners for whom Classic Rock That Really Rocks represented outreach a decade ago are now 35-plus. In a world where 16-year-olds like Led Zeppelin and 38-year-old women like Flo Rida, there’s not quite the inevitability to this that there once might have been. But most of the music in question is now more than 25 years old, so if you liked it when you were 20, you’re not only in the Classic Rock demo now, but in its upper reaches with only a few years left to screen in to a Classic Rock test. And with those changes, there will likely be at least a few more playable titles from the ’80s for stations willing to test them.
Oldies programmers often tried to find more ’70s titles by brute force, forcing some of those songs onto the air many years ahead of finding a quorum for them. By then it was a matter of necessity for Oldies. Classic Rock PDs have the ability to look for those songs from a position of strength — but they should at least look. And those able to do strategic research should be keeping an eye peeled for any possible formula change. For some stations, the market opportunity may indeed be to continue as a station driven by pre-1976 music. In others, it will inevitably morph.

8 Responses to “At Classic Rock, AC/DC (And The ’80s) Gain Current-cy”

  1. Don Hallett says:

    Twenty five years ago, who would have thought mainstream A/C would play a song by Boston? I suspect the day will come when Classic Hit stations will flirt with AC/DC.

  2. Michael Quinn says:

    Ah yes – the 80′s. For Hot AC’s, a veritable boon. For Classic Hits, again easily integrated. But, you’re right, for true Classic Rockers it’s like making a mayonaise and grape jelly sandwich and somehow convincing your listeners that it really does taste good. For me, the “giving in” comes down to where the song is going to rank in the listeners mind as opposed to the PD. Or it’s “feel” in a variety of segue situations. Other PD’s listening in will wonder what the hell your problem is but again the listener is the focus and determining what it is that they will tolerate.

  3. Don Coleman, Canada’s Premiere AC/DC Vocalist, has recorded a song to celebrate the life and spirit of Bon Scott former frontman for AC/DC. The song ‘Women, Whiskey & Rock’n'Roll’ has been airing daily in Australia on the Rebel FM Network (40 stations is Queensland / NSW ) plus two stations near Fremantle, Western Australia – where there was a concert to unveil a statue of Bon Scott – PERTH 107.3 FM and 89.7 FM on weekly shows. Each day there are more Australian, Canadian and American FM Stations coming onboard to air the song.
    The song launched on WRUW FM 91.1 in Cleveland, Ohio ( home of the R&R Hall of Fame) complete with an on air interview with Don Coleman, on a show dedicated to the memory of Bon Scott. Also on the show where Susan Masino, published author of ‘Let There Be Rock’ a book on Bon and AC/DC, and President of the Bon Scott Fan Club, Doug Thorncroft, who both love the song. MP3 audio clips are available from the show on request. The song aired on the Newcap FM Network on K-Rock 105.5 in Charlottetown, PEI, along with an interview with Don, as well as FM Stations in St. John 98.9 FM (morning and afternoon ‘drive time’ programs), NB and Moncton 106.1 FM, NB, Canada. Don will be doing more media interviews this week with various Music Magazines.
    Other notable reviews came from Vince Lovegrove ( former bandmate of Bon’s in the ‘Valentines’), Aussie Legend – Kevin Borich, ‘Angels’ drummer Buzz Bidstrup who performed at the Fremantle concert to unveil the statue, in their re-formed band the ‘Party Boys’. They all think the song is a ‘ripper’ (Aussie slang for fantastic). I received a request for the song from longtime friend of Bon and longtime bassist for Ozzy Osbourne, Bob Daisley who thinks Don did a great job on the song.
    Don has been receiving many offers from : England, Scotland, Germany, Italy, Scandinavia, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the USA, to front many bands and to tour. One such offer came from the original frontman for AC/DC, Dave Evans who also performed in Fremantle.
    You can listen to the song by visiting the dedicated site at http://www.myspace.com/doncoleman .
    Southern Cross Gypsy Promotions,
    Scarborough, Ontario,
    CANADA M1W 3E7

  4. Just Joe says:

    The hard rock bands of the ’80s consistently sold millions of albums. I’m not talking about one-hit wonders. I’m talking about bands like Guns N’ Roses, Motley Crue, Ozzy Osbourne, Bon Jovi, Poison, Judas Priest, Metallica …
    The “kids” who bought those acts are now in their 30s and 40s, at the height of their career with a lot of spending money for advertisers. It’s a no-brainer that those acts should now be considered “classic rock.” Just look at the success of their current tours.
    The era in which the 34-54 demo is changing. It’s absurd that some classic rock programmers refuse to change with them.

  5. dan says:

    when AC/DC,Guns & Roses and Metallica replace Motown & Elvis costello replaces E L V I S
    you have a male based format known in the 70′s & 80′s as AOR.. RIGHT NOW I THINK YOU HAVE TO “SUPER-SERV” THE CORE AUDIENCE 35+ to be successful, that of course will change in the future but its too early for ac/dc on a mass appeal format like this.

  6. Gregg Colamonico says:

    I guess I’m still confused as I hear harder edged music replacing Eric Clapton and The Eagles on Classic Rock stations.
    Today’s Classic Rock station is considerably harder edged than the Rock stations of the 70s and 80s they are supposed to echo. So we wanted a mix of soft songs and hard songs when we were in high school and college but we want almost all harder-edged songs now that we’re 40 and 50? How did that happen?
    OK. I understand that AC has co-opted many of the songs and artists that we listened to on Rock stations in the 70s and 80s. If AC is playing Uptown Girl and Philadelphia Freedom, I guess that only leaves a few Billy Joel and Elton John titles for Classic Rock to call its own.
    But it does seem like an odd world where as we grow older and our lives become more hectic, our radio stations, from AC to Classic Rock, are becoming more uptempo, not less… and only a handful of Smooth Jazz and commercial Classical stations remain. Gone are the “Mellow Rock” stations of a few decades ago and their successor, Adult Alternative stations, are moving harder as well.
    Should I show my age and remember when John Denver and Cat Stevens were staples of NYC Rock stations WPLJ and WNEW-FM? Even Barry Manilow had titles in rotaton on both stations. WPLJ as a Hot AC station now rocks harder than it did as an AOR station. If you want to hear Nickelback on the NYC FM dial, Lite-FM will likely play their hits more often than K-Rock or WRXP.

  7. Dan Updike says:

    I think it’s a bit amusing that many of the “harder” tunes now get airplay on classic rock or even “Jack” stations that the rock stations I worked at in the late 80′s-early 90′s wouldn’t touch!
    I think featuring artists like AC/DC, Scorpions, DIO, Judas Priest, etc. really depends on what is already available or not in your market. I think in most cases there is an underserved opportunity there. The guys I grew up with in the 38-42 year range now would probably still listen to the radio if they could get a steady diet of their faves from high school/college. Another example, I think it has surprised a lot of people (not me) how widespread Alice Cooper’s radio show has become. His personality has become mainstream—it’s not shocking anymore. Ozzy as well–mainstream.
    The thing that doesn’t work for “us” is for the former heritage AOR/classic rock to now run the gamut from the Rolling Stones to Korn, or Godsmack to Jimi Hendrix. Bad idea.

  8. allen vick says:

    The key is variety.These 350 song playlist are driving the listener away.Someday maybe those in the “know” will wake up and realize this..
    Allen

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