Organizing The ’90s Into A Format

The all-’70s format exploded in 1993. The all-’80s format boom kicked in around 2000. So given radio’s penchant for latching on to every next big thing a little faster than the previous one, we should have had a large-market, terrestrial all-’90s station a year ago.
After all, the decade is nine years gone already. The “All-’90s Weekends” started as soon as 2000 at Top 40 and Hot AC. And XM Satellite Radio’s ’90s channel came along shortly thereafter. Hits from the ’90s are among the on-line offerings of AOL Radio, Radio IO and many others. In Ireland, the experimental broadcaster has just popped up. And many of the biggest hits of the decade (“End of the Road,” “I Will Always Love You,” “One Sweet Day”) now have a marginal presence at radio, at best. It should be time to give them their own format.
But overdue doesn’t mean imminent, particularly today. In 2000, the response to the “what if all-’80s is a fad” question for many broadcasters was “so what?” But this is a more conservative, resource-poor environment for format changes. There’s also not a lot of ’90s music that tests in other formats right now – except in Rock radio, where the ’90s dominate. Even in those formats that began with the ’90s as a calling card — the new Rhythmic ACs and younger-skewing ACs – it became clear that newer music generated greater passion among more people.
Then there’s the problem of organizing the ’90s into a coherent format. CHR took a new direction every two years in the ’90s and for several years, it barely existed at all. The Country songs that weren’t played at Top 40 in the early ’90s were heard by more people than many of those that were. To hear the existing ’90s format on satellite or on-line now is to risk whiplash, bouncing from Snoop Dogg to Nelson or Tag Team to U2 to Hanson.
Yet, the ’90s still ended up as Top 40’s best period for music in 15 years. Every generation wants to hear its own oldies eventually, and that goes for both listeners and programmers. The kids of the ’90s are starting dent the programming ranks now. The launch of a Classic Hip-Hop format at KNRJ (the Beat) Phoenix last week is one indicator that those PDs will keep trying ’90s music until they find something that works.
Besides, there’s also something attractive about retroactively fixing ’90s CHR – so hapless for so much of the decade. (MTV played Nirvana and Snoop Dogg together; why was it so hard for radio?) So we decided to offer some thoughts on how a ’90s format could be made to work ‘sooner, rather than later’ (to use the expression ’90s President Clinton made so common):
1) Pick & Choose Your ’90s: The first attempts at an all-’70s format often fell into one of two traps. They either played only that music that already tested, which left them sounding like Classic Rock stations, or they threw all caution to the wind in dealing with a format that spanned “Yellow River” by Christie and “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang. It took a decade, but programmers eventually figured out which ’70s songs still mattered and worked well together, although by then it was an AC, Oldies/Classic Hits or Jack format that was playing them.
The ’90s format as it exists now on The Infinite Dial is fine for radio people or for a party tape, but the ’90s won’t work as a mainstream format until programmers conquer the twin challenges of finding a core of strong music that generates passion and works well together, but not playing just Alternative or just Hip-Hop. And that’s tricky, because the people who grew up with Nirvana also grew up with Notorious B.I.G., but when you throw in Wilson Phillips and country, you’re pushing listeners, and when you ratchet up the obscurity level, you lose them again. And that’s what the current formats do.
There’s a level of ’90s nuggets that could probably disappear unmourned – particularly a lot of the early ’90s Top 40 music that nobody heard, and some of the wimpier music that people did. Then what you keep depends on which center you choose:
* The pop ’90s – Early ’90s pop (Ace of Base, Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart), the softer R&B crossovers (Boyz II Men, Whitney, Mariah), the rootsy mid-’90s (Melissa Etheridge, Hootie & the Blowfish, Wallflowers, Tracy Chapman), the Lilith late ’90s (Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan) and the rest of Modern AC (Goo Goo Dolls, Dave Matthews Band). A few ubiquitous early ’90s Country songs would probably work – even if they didn’t cross over. You would have to decide what to do about Celine Dion and Michael Bolton at one end, and the Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync at the other.
* The hipper ’90s – You could get a pretty good uptempo CHR-style format out of the ’90s without going too far beyond the songs that test in some format by taking the best of Alternative, the hippest of Modern AC, and the most enduring Rhythmic music. Again, it all existed on MTV together. And it updates the Good Time Oldies concept by 25 years.
2) Give Yourself A Few Extra Years – The generational break between listeners really begins around 1986-87 with Run-D.M.C.’s “Walk This Way” and Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love A Bad Name.” It wouldn’t make sense to play Guns ‘N Roses’ “November Rain,” but not “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” because one happened to come out in the ’80s, and the other came out in the ’90s. In the same way that the ’70s and ’80s formats worked best when you could do them together under the guise of Adult Hits, the late ’80s and ’90s work well together and give PDs more hits to play. For that reason…
3) It Doesn’t Necessarily Have To Be Called All-’90s (or ’90s and More) – On one hand, everybody would get it. On the other, it was never necessary to refer to Oldies as the “All-’60s and early ’70s” format. If you’re playing songs that people miss hearing on the radio, they’ll still listen – you just have to make sure you get the message out that you’re playing those songs.
4) Cultivate The “Oh-Wow”s – At the beginning of the ’70s format, nothing tested except the Classic Rock crossovers. Over the next decade, programmers finally got some of the decade’s other anthems, “I Will Survive,” “Brick House,” “December 1963 (Oh What A Night” to test. As Oldies programmers tried to migrate their format’s music further to the ’70s, another less likely layer of songs emerged: “Dancing In The Moonlight,” Pilot’s “Magic,” ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down.”
The ’90s format wouldn’t be a lot of fun without some songs that aren’t reliable testers now: Roxette’s “Joyride,” Stereo MCs’ “Connected,” Kris Kross’ “Jump.” Those songs just can’t be overindulged at the format as they are on most of the existing ’90s formats. They need to show up once or twice an hour at the most, and programmers need to cultivate them the way their predecessors did with the ’70s. As the ’90s format finds its own audience, some of those songs will start to test.
Ideally, a ’90s format would be launched with a music test, allowing PDs to start with some strength, but break format carefully, and followed up with another one six months later, allowing them to figure out which songs they had been able to cultivate into playability and which now needed to go away, having outlived their “oh wow” value.
With all that in mind, I decided to do my sample all ’90s hour. It leans heavily on tempo and on songs that are still reliable testers somewhere today, many of them still show up among the handful of Oldies that today’s CHR plays, but there are indeed a few spikes. (See if you can figure out which they are.)
2Pac, “California Love”
Third-Eye Blind, “Semi-Charmed Life”
Guns ‘N Roses, “Sweet Child O’ Mine”
Montell Jordan, “This Is How We Do It”
Sublime, “Santeria”
Goo Goo Dolls, “Slide”
C&C Music Factory, “Gonna Make You Sweat”
Spin Doctors, “Two Princes”
Green Day, “When I Come Around”
En Vogue, “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)”
3 Doors Down, “Kryptonite”
Stereo MCs, “Connected”
That’s my sample hour. How about yours? Or your overall thoughts on how the ’90s might be made to work?

26 replies
  1. Rich Appel
    Rich Appel says:

    Seeing as most of the “It couldn’t have been the late ’80s-’90s without them” songs are also “oh wow”s (or “oh *&%$!”s, perhaps) lately – “Macarena,” “Achy Breaky Heart,” “Cotton Eye Joe,” “Ice Ice Baby,” “Wannabe,” “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” “MMMBop,” and of course Milli Vanilli – they need to be present, if only to keep the format from becoming Gen X’s Hot AC. And yes, I believe you can give Top 40-outlying anthems of the era (“Friends in Low Places,” “Fight the Power”) the occasional spin, too, long as you don’t veer too far from the ‘goodtime pop’ creamy center. I never would have thought it in 1992, but “Baby Got Back” really should be a staple of this format.

  2. greg gillispie
    greg gillispie says:

    It sure seems like radio is not focused on a product to create, market, & succeed.
    It is only focused on raising money with ever fading, once successful products. Odd how that happens.
    The above list? Huh. You better find a valuable way to get any listener to stick around for the next song. Most couldn’t stand one or the other musical styles to stick around.

  3. Reggie Beasley
    Reggie Beasley says:

    That’s a great sample hour! I guess you can tell the 90s are near and dear to my heart. LOL Two of my criteria for playing a classic is 1) 2 second recognition and 2) singability. If the average listener can pick up on a song within 2 seconds of it starting, that person is much more likely to stay through the whole song. Also, if the person knows the words to the song, they’ll stay around also. Out of your 12 songs, 9 of them I instantly have a mental audio visual of (I know that’s not a term, but you know what I mean). I’m sure if I heard the other 3 they would have the same effect.
    Here is my sample Top-40 hour:
    Smells Like Teen Spirit-Nirvana
    Da Butt-E.U.
    Groove Is In The Heart-Deee-Lite f/Q-Tip
    If You Could Only See-Tonic
    The Rockafella Skank-Fatboy Slim
    Ghetto Supastar-Pras/Mya/O.D.B.
    Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)-Green Day
    I Like To Move It-Reel 2 Real
    Mo Money Mo Problems-Notorious B.I.G.
    Don’t Speak-No Doubt
    Jump Around-House Of Pain
    Jumpin’, Jumpin’-Destiny’s Child
    Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It-Will Smith
    Live And Learn-Joe Public
    And here is my sample Urban hour:
    Real Love-Mary J. Blige
    Award Tour-A Tribe Called Quest
    I Wanna Be Down-Brandy
    (She’s Got That) Vibe-R. Kelly & Public Announcement
    Anything-SWV f/Wu-Tang
    Poison-Bell Biv Devoe
    Fantasy-Mariah Carey f/Old Dirty Bastard
    Juicy-Notorious B.I.G.
    No Scrubs (Rap Version)-TLC
    Doin’ It-LL Cool J
    No Diggity-Blackstreet
    Hold On-En Vogue
    Hey Mr. DJ-Zhane
    “Big Chicago” Reggie Beas
    Former PD/Afternoons: 97.7 WILD/Boston; Hot 102.9/Dayton
    The Reggie Beas Entertainment Company
    Boston, MA
    *COMING SOON* Rock-It Radio Podcast

  4. Mike Couchman
    Mike Couchman says:

    That’s an awesome list. Being new to Las Vegas, I’ve found a nice balance of “WOW” vs. high testers on 93.1 The Party and 98.5 KLUC since I arrived.
    Are your spikes Sublime and Stereo MCs? Or, if you’re talking spikes of non-90’s tunes, wouldn’t they be 3 Doors Down and Guns N Roses?

  5. Lou P.
    Lou P. says:

    I enjoy listening to the 90s alternative station (Lithium) on Sirius.
    I think pop-rock would be the approach I would take for an all 90s station. Sample playlist (a little female-artist leaning, but so it goes):
    Goo Goo Dolls “Slide”
    The Cardigans “Lovefool”
    Spacehog “In The Meantime”
    Concrete Blonde “Joey”
    Radiohead “Creep”
    Sheryl Crow “All I Wanna Do”
    Silverchair “Tomorrow”
    Alanis Morissette “You Outta Know”
    White Town “Your Woman”
    Aerosmith “Janie’s Got a Gun”
    The Cranberries “Zombie”
    Lenny Kravitz “It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over”

  6. Michael McDowell/Blitz Magazine
    Michael McDowell/Blitz Magazine says:

    As you know, in the 1970s, there was a considerable backlash against mainstream rock and all of its excess. That backlash finally manifested itself in the new wave/punk movement in mid-decade and subsequently shook rock and roll back to its senses.
    In retrospect, there was enough listenable music released in the 1970s to assuage even the most diehard anti-mainstream purist. Perhaps not to the degree of saying, “Come back Roberta Flack, all is forgiven”. But there are stations like Windsor, Ontario’s CKWW that are still routinely mixing Terry Jacks’ “Concrete Sea” with Gary Wright’s “Love Is Alive” and yet haven’t sent too many people fishing for their CDs during the afternoon commute.
    On the other hand, the problem with the 1990s was that it simply lacked direction. Yes, country and alternative made some impact at the time. But once the Brooks And Dunn era kicked in with its quasi-Springsteen plastic blue collar pomp, country went into a protracted and unprecedented slump, which is only now beginning to right itself.
    Likewise, of the various generations that took their cue from the mid-1960s British Invasion, it was that third generation which dominated the 1990s, yet which had the least long lasting appeal. First generation greats like Paul Revere And The Raiders or the Beau Brummels still sound like the groundbreakers that they are. And the second generation greats like the Ramones and Elvis Costello still commend tremendous respect today.
    But the third generation, as typified by Pearl Jam, Green Day, etc. was simply too nihlistic for its own good. Yes, their whining was understandable, given the creative and cultural environment in which their muse was nurtured. But unfortunately, it simply does not make for interesting listening or good memories fifteen years after the fact.
    The solution? Stick around for another decade. By that time, the early 2000s will have their own format, and the curious mix of Radio Disney favorites, world music, new and improved jazz and revitalized country that have characterized the decade to date will sustain much greater long term interest and impact than anything the ’90s had to offer.

  7. Sean Ross
    Sean Ross says:

    Mike: The spikes are Stereo MCs and En Vogue. The latter is one of those records that ought to be working again, but still seems to be more loved in theory than in research. “Santaria” is surprisingly durable and even shows up on WHTZ (Z100) New York from time to time.
    Greg: I absolutely think that ’90s rap and rock work together, but I’m eager to see you counter with your own hour!

  8. Frank Bell
    Frank Bell says:

    Hey Sean – With the exception of the 2Pac song, your list looks like a sample hour from WKRZ/Wilkes-Barre during the 1990s! That station enjoyed great success mixing all genres – everything from Achy Breaky Heart to Gangsta’s Paradise to regional rockers The Badlees. We were able to succeed with such an eclectic music mix because of the station’s high-profile personalities and bigger-than-life promotions. They were the “glue” that held it all together.

  9. Dave Lange
    Dave Lange says:

    Great observations as always. Been working on a Rock/Alt based 90s format for a couple of years in my world. Although the enviornment to get it on the air has been tough I’ve come close in a few markets. Here’s the pitch if you want to review
    And a sample hour.
    COLDPLAY Yellow
    When you look at what has reall worked in the 70s and 80s decade formats the rock titles are really the ones that have stood the test of time and produced the best brands in most markets.
    Dave Lange
    Programming Consultant

  10. Les Cook
    Les Cook says:

    Good hour Dave! Looks like you have a handle on a very slippery fish. This ’90s thing will happen but the economy, overall and in the radio business, will have to improve before anyone will want to invest in it.

  11. Mark Lassoff
    Mark Lassoff says:

    As someone who LOVES all thing’s 80’s, I certainly think a 90’s format would work.
    Maybe the place to develop and test the format is online using internet radio before making an expensive format switch in terrestrial radio?

  12. mikeo
    mikeo says:

    We’ve been programming 90’s formats for a couple of years. 90’s CHR, 90’s Alternative, 90’s AC, 90’s Country at On deck… 90’s rnb, 90’s Hip Hop.
    There’s a lot of soundcoding required. It’s a never-ending fine-tuning adventure.
    We’ve found that commercial radio playists have to be very tight. We have the opportunity to play a few more titles.

  13. DJ Mo
    DJ Mo says:

    I think a 90’s decade radio station could definitely work…if someone actually tried it instead of relying so heavily on research. Trial & error is more exciting than programming the most common & most listened to 90’s songs of all time.
    The format of my radio show & all of my performances in nightly venues are 90’s centered. I skew into 80’s & 2000-today. I will be on Kiss 105.3 ( this Sunday at 8pm spinning a commercial-free 2 hour set of 90’s centered Electronic skewing music. Listen in & experience the excitement!
    While you’re at it, I posted playlists & airchecks of my radio appearances on my website:
    Yes, I did this for FREE for the past 3+ years! (Still doing it for free…) I’m lucky to be able to program my own music to represent my calling when I’m on LIVE. Just waiting for a PD to put me on a PAID shift…
    Feel free to drop a line or request your favorite lost classic!
    Enjoy the LIVE mixing this Sunday!
    – DJ Mo
    Hype. Individualistic. Fresh.

  14. Dave Merrill
    Dave Merrill says:

    I would build around core artists like Hootie, Mariah and TLC.
    Here is my hour:
    I Love Your Smile – Shanice
    Steal My Sunshine – Len
    Hold My Hand – Hootie
    Would I Lie To You – Charles & Eddie
    Make It Happen – Mariah
    Summertime – Fresh Prince
    I Wanna Be (500 Miles) – Proclaimers
    Ironic – Alanis
    Life Is A Highway – Tom Cochrane
    Beautiful Stranger – Madonna
    3 AM Eternal – KLF
    Roll To Me – Del Amitri

  15. Keith Mitchell
    Keith Mitchell says:

    Sean, I don’t see the 90’s providing the core of a real format because of the lack of core artists and hits.
    The decade wobbled all over the map, with few real trends emerging. Grunge lasted a few years, then a mish-mash of pop hits in the middle years followed by teen driven pop in the last few years. Only Mariah Carey was really able to stretch hits across the decade and I wouldn’t build a format around her.
    Any real format is built around core artists or a core sound and the 90’s provided neither. That’s why the 80’s formats have all morphed into “Jack” formats. At least the 80’s had Madonna, U2, Prince, Mellencamp and Michael Jackson, decade spanning careers. It’s the reason why Classic Hits and Classic Rock still do so well, songs that have defied time unlike most 80’s and 90’s hits.
    Honestly, come up with a core list of 300 songs from the 90’s that has the ability to be played every day. It’s one thing to work up some sample hours, another to create a viable playlist each day.

  16. Brian
    Brian says:

    Just the other night, a female friend of mine 26 said find a station that plays 90’s. I put on 90’s on 9 on XM. She reacted mainly to the dance and late 90’s stuff. 90’s on 9 on XM actually is mixed pretty good! not too eratic.

  17. Bill
    Bill says:

    Dave’s list is great. Except for Tesla and maybe Petty, everything on it can be heard every day or two on 94/9 here in San Diego.
    It became obvious to me when I compiled my hour that I really tuned out from pop radio beginning in the mid 90s, which has always bummed me out given how much I love 60s, 70s and 80s pop radio.
    What I would like to hear in an hour probably wouldn’t test well in research, but might be something like:
    Paula Abdul – Straight Up
    Stone Temple Pilots – Lady Pictureshow
    Too Many Walls – Cathy Dennis
    Smash Mouth – Can’t Get Enough of You Baby
    Londonbeat – I’ve Been Thinking About You
    R.E.M. – Bang and Blame
    Blur – Girls & Boys
    Snap – The Power
    Collective Soul – Listen
    Madonna – Beautiful Stranger
    Extreme – Hole Hearted
    Bare Naked Ladies – One Week

  18. Kevin Fitz
    Kevin Fitz says:

    I Love Frank’s comment on WKRZ….being here in Scranton, KRZ was pretty amazing in the way it made all of these different music styles fit together. Today….I think a successful 90’s format needs to lean either towards rock (with the great alt rock of the 91-96 era as core) or pop (later 90’s top 40 as core). I’m not sure how successful doing both will do. That STP to Billy Ray Cyrus segue sounds pretty rough to me….but hey…it’d probably work in Scranton-WBarre….especially on KRZ!

  19. Chuck Geiger
    Chuck Geiger says:

    This came in the nick of time. Working on the music for our AC – Star 100.9 in Yuma along with the imaging. Yuma has one other music station, other than our Country for 200,000+ people in the MSA. It is a Dial-A-Global AC. We needed to find a music mix that works with a 55% Hispanic community. I channeled Jerry Clifton through the desert gods and came up with this – This was our first hour last night – First change:
    Be My Lover
    Bleeding Love
    Walk Away
    Walking In Memphis
    The Glamorious Life
    Hold My Hand
    Won’t Go Home Without You
    What Have You Done For Me Lately?
    Chasing Cars
    Hand In My Pocket
    The Time Of My Life
    Walking On Broken Glass
    Open Your Heart
    Love to hear your thoughts?

  20. Hykos
    Hykos says:

    my sample hour of all-90s music:
    Blues Traveler -Run Around
    Melissa Etheridge -I’m the Only One
    Creed- Higher
    Garth Brooks -Friends in Low Places
    The Offspring – The Kids Aren’t Alright
    Green Day -When I Come Around
    Green Day -She (Double Play)
    Spin Doctors -Little Miss can’t be wrong
    Shania Twain – You’re Still the One
    The Verve Pipe -The Freshmen
    Glenn Philips/All I Want

  21. Brian Gogen
    Brian Gogen says:

    As someone who grew up and went to Middle School and High School in the 1990s, I’m not recognizing the decade during which I was a young adult in any of the above post.
    The 1990s was a decade of diversity. Hence while my older sister went to school in the 1980s they had mainly two groups of music fans…. Top 40 hits fans and Rock/Metal fans…. by the time I went to the same High School everyone was breaking into cliques based around music or other interest.
    There was the Rap/Hip Hop kids, the Raver kids who listened to Techno, Electronic and Dance music, The ‘Alternative’ crowd kept evolving and dividing. At first, when I was in Middle School 1992/95, most of the ‘Alternative’ kids liked Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Tori Amos, Mazzy Star, Letters To Cleo, Gin Blossoms etc. But slowly over time they became more separated and less interested in what was on MTV or the radio. Soon you had your cliques of Goth Kids, Punk Kids, Hard Core Kids, Indie Kids, Jam Band Kids etc. etc. This mixed with the continuing Rap/Hip Hop Kids and Raver Kids meant a lot of diversity with much less common ground. One group would like some of another groups music, but others would not touch the music, clothes, style etc. of one of the other groups.
    Also, in addition, there were new interest and cliques formed that were not based around music or sports or activities. Gay became cool and a political stance for many of the kids I went to school with. G.L.B.T. youth gay groups and a youth pride march for gay youth were formed between 1992 and 1998 at numerous schools across the U.S.A. Others began to base their identity based on such interest as Snowboarding, Video Games, The Internet/Building WebSites, being a Geek (as being either a Geek or a Nerd became cool to many during that time period).
    Most kids enjoyed using the then new internet. Either AOL chatrooms etc. if they had that at home or just surfing the web and maintaining a website using the schools computers if there parents would not get the internet at home. The internet with it’s personal websites, message boards, chat rooms and I.M. helped popularize different styles of music and numerous bands and acts. Often, with many friends and acquaintances I knew, they would often build and new image and identity almost over night just by looking up a different musical genre on a search engine (usually Alta Vista or Lycos before the big Google boom in the late 90s) and then copy different music list, looks, fashion, styles, book list, interest etc. from different peoples personal websites or AOL pages. Boom…. one could become Goth overnight, Punk overnight, Hip Hop overnight, Raver overnight.
    Later in the decade, by 1998, you had the return of kids who loved Pop/Top 40 teen hits (big in 1990/91 as well with N.K.O.T.B. and M.C. Hammer) as well as newer Alt. subcultures like EMO which was originally said to be derived from Hard Core but eventually became a vague music and fashion label that changed from town to town…. could be ‘Goth’ like in one area…. then 15 miles away EMO could be more Indie Kid like with another crowd of young people.
    I guess the problem radio programmers may have with the 1990s/early 2000s is epitomized by one of the more popular bumper stickers and sayings of the 1990s…. “Celebrate Diversity”. As one young persons 1990s, may not be another persons 1990s…. even if they both lived in the same area and went to the same Middle School and High Schools. That didn’t seem to exist as much, at least on a wider scale, for my older sisters 1980s years or my parents 1960s time period.

  22. President Pedro
    President Pedro says:

    Late to the party, but had to chime in. ;o)
    Sean love your columns, you are on target 99.9% of the time, but I think the problem is, thinking out things too much……
    …….this is what is killing commercial radio as we have known it. KISS = Keep It Simple Stupid. Just play the hits! Hasn’t anyone learned their lesson from the failed 70’s and 80’s deployment in America?
    If you are on the internet and targeting the world from the US, then if you want to be true, you will have tread the middle and not favor one niche more than another, and define your borders (ie: hip hop, AC). If you want to niche, that is fine but no need to position yourself as mainstream when you are not. Superserve your target.
    XM/Sirius does it well, on a national level, except for repeating whole days of programming, music, jock tracks and all, EXACTLY the same time it played at an earlier date. HORRIBLE. Typical XM tactics before the merger. Will be more prevalent now since the belt tightening. But, back on topic.
    If you are on AM/FM radio, you will never make everyone happy, but the best bet is to play the 90s that were hits in your particular market! If you were in Chicago Always by Bon Jovi and Ordinary World by Duran Duran, were not hits in market as there was no clear CHR until the late 90s when Big City Radio launched “KISS”. You were either listening to Q101 “Alternative”, WTMX “Lilith” Modern or B96 which was a Dance CHR most of the decade, spinning hits not heard most if anywhere else in the nation. New York had Z100 in the Alternative arena PLJ in the Hot AC and HOT spinning Hip Hop, again defining their own HITS of the decade. There were many markets that recoiled against Real McCoy!
    All that can be said is pick the hits for your market, play what your audience will be familiar with, go easy on the transitions regarding non-hits of the market so you do not scare the masses, stay away from going from TuPac to Michael Bolton, but do not shy away from Oh Wow tracks. Eventually you are going to have to expand your playlist tempering the burnout. Use the research, just don’t live by it 110%. Unfortunately in the state things are, no one takes chances or uses gut decisions anymore, fearing the loss of their job or adding on 5 more job titles.
    Here is something research will not teach the industry:
    I was at a remote for an “80s Station” a few years back which was a Classic Rocker masquerading as an 80s outlet. A listener approached the DJ which was making the appearance that day. She asked “Why don’t you play ___________?” The jock which was also the MD snapped back, “We don’t play that SH*T!”. She walked away with a crowd looking on. Who did she ask for? Michael Jackson, the biggest artist of the decade. – Deduce your own lessons from this. All I can say is, have we and has the industry learned our lessons yet from our mistakes???

  23. Jeffrey Gerstl
    Jeffrey Gerstl says:

    I’m also late on the discussion. I have Sirius XM and for the most part they do the 90s right…. although they tend to stick a lot closer to the core hits and do less well-digging. I would like to see them get a little more creative on that channel.
    In looking at many of the above playlists, I can definitely see programmers and would-be programmers trend toward their musical preferences, just like a 90s listener. The closest to a real mainstream format would be Sean’s, and Dave Merrill’s. I also like Chuck Geiger’s showing a sample hour of a Hot AC with a perfect blend of 80s, 90s, and new stuff. Chuck is a friend, former PD of mine, and fun programmer who is never afraid to show his creativity. The other playlists pale by comparison and trend toward personal preferences too much… one leans too urban, with only two rock/alternative tracks. Another is too rock-alt, with NO urban or dance. One comes close, but at second look there are no pure urban tracks, 2 dance, and 1 sleepy pop track. The rest are alt-rock based.
    But this was the trend of radio in the 90s. Aside from Z-100 and KIIS, (and maybe a scant few others) in the 90s none of the CHRs tried to hold on to the mainstream format. And many people tell me KIIS was a stretch because it was very dance and urban-influenced, but they still managed to play at least one or two of the obligatory rock or mainstream pop tracks an hour to at least suffice for “Top 40.”
    I remember here in San Diego, an “80s and More” station was playing pretty much the alternative side of 80s, with an occasional Madonna tune, but no Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, REO Speedwagon, etc. Once on a drive home they had mixed in Noel’s “Silent Morning,” a song that had reached #47 on the chart, and was a dance hit. I decided to call the jock/MD on it, asking why this is the track they decided to play to represent urban/dance. He ended up saying “It’s a damn good song, and we play only the 80s songs that matter and test well.” Three weeks later that station became Alternative 94/9. He too said that Michael Jackson and Genesis were not the 80s artists people would want to hear on an 80s station….HUH??!!

  24. Dave Mason
    Dave Mason says:

    For Jeffrey-you are sooooo right on with the 94/9 story. When KBZT went from “Classic Hits” to “Eighties and More” I was programming KJQY – and we were trying to fit between 94.9 and KYXY with what we called “Soft Oldies”. At that point we were everyone’s 3rd choice. When KBZT made the switch, we moved in on the “Oldies” full blast and debuted the station with a 4.4- FOURTH in the market and 8th 25-54. Largest numbers the station had seen. When we set up the playlist, we went through several stations’ playlists and chose -(wait –here it comes–) THE HITS. “Eighties and More” never got off the ground because of the music choice. I made the suggestion to several of the staffers there – just trying to help – and was looked at like I had THREE heads. Since the alternative switch they’ve done better-and traditionally beaten heritage 91X . . but let’s be honest. Any station trying to carve a niche has to do one thing. PLAY THE DAMNED HITS. That hasn’t changed. Sure, you can blaze new trails. (We tried with “Soft Oldies”) but the tried and true can still work if you -PTH. Elsewhere Sean has mentioned “The Sound” in L.A. – a station that runs the gamut – but then there’s “Jack”. A much more “familiar” gamut. Poor ol’ KPRI here moved into a full-market signal and their ratings have decreased. Know why? Oh, sure they’re a “Triple A” – -but they DON’T play the hits. Familiar still works. Even in Hit radio, the songs that seem to sound like “Other” songs are the immediate hits. Unfortunately, Jeffrey, when those other channels get a little more “experimental”, they venture into territory that makes their core feel a little uncomfortable. Or maybe a LOT uncomfortable. Sorry guys, play the hits and you’ll be one.

  25. Patrick
    Patrick says:

    Alright this thread peaked my curiosity! Deliberately stayed away from your grunge standards and gangster rap on this one
    Busta Rhymes- Woo Hah (got you all in Check)
    New World Radicals- Get What You Give
    Lauryn Hill- Nothing Even Matters
    Veruca Salt- Seether
    Beastie Boys- Sabotage
    Collective Soul- Shine
    Sheryl Crow- First Cut is the Deepest
    Everclear- I Will Buy You a New Life
    Fishbone- Everyday Sunshine
    Pharcyde- Runnin’
    U2- Mysterious Ways

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