Thursday, March 24, 2011

What Is An Oldie? (Part 12)

As we continue to wind things down in our "What Is An 'Oldie'?" discussion, we've got a few more thoughts and opinions to share.

But first we'll kick it off with a very interesting and enlightening history lesson!

I think objectively, an "oldie" is any hit record that's no longer current, and has slipped from "stay current / recurrent" status at radio. (Up to a year - 18 months old)
Ask any 14-year-old girl and she'll probably tell you Rihanna's "Umbrella" is an oldie, and objectively she's right.
In pop, there are lines of demarcation I think most of us can all agree on ... and usually what we adults consider an oldie (I'm 54) will fall somewhere within these lines. I describe each era below ...
1955-1964: "Rock Around The Clock", dormant for a year, becomes a hit on the strength of movie Blackboard Jungle. R&B-based Rock & Roll begins to profoundly influence pop culture, which segues into softer more pop-based sound after the 2/3/59 Buddy Holly / Big Bopper / Ritchie Valens plane crash.
1964-1969: Beatles on Sullivan saves Rock & Roll. British Invasion ... Motown, Rock & Roll becomes Rock. Folk-Rock, Psychedelic Rock, beginnings of Heavy Metal. Beginnings of FM "underground" radio.
1970-1974: Beatles, Supremes and Simon & Garfunkel break up. Singer-songwriter era takes over while Soft Soul comes to prominence. FM Rock provides a home for Heavy Metal and its variants, while AM Top 40 provides crossover success for many FM Rock artists. Album begins to replace single as the prime currency of record sales. American Graffiti, Grease (Broadway play) and "American Pie" usher in "oldies" revival in 1972. WCBS-FM, the first "modern" oldies station, launches.
1974-1979: "Rock The Boat" and "Rock Your Baby" usher in the Disco era. Success of Rock-based Top 40 hits seen more in album rather than single sales. Modern AOR format evolves from "free-form". Saturday Night Fever and Grease (film) redefine the Soundtrack album. Perception of contemporary R&B artists as "automatically being Disco" leads to schism in public tastes between Disco and Rock, exacerbated by proponents of Disco claiming Rock was dead. Rap is born from the ashes of Disco. Stadium Rock emerges.
1980-1991: AM Top 40 becomes irreparably associated with Disco, reinvents itself on FM as "Contemporary Hit Radio" (CHR) and evolves away from "melting pot" mentality it had prior to Disco. New radio formats emerge: Adult Contemporary, Alternative Rock. Punk Rock goes mainstream as New Wave, which leads to Synth-Pop and "New Romantics". MTV premieres. Michael Jackson becomes "King Of Pop". Def Leppard "Photograph" leads to new, female-friendly strain of Heavy Metal known as Hair Metal. Music and movies combine to spawn a raft of hit Soundtrack albums. The Big Chill leads to a new Oldies revival and many Oldies stations begin to concentrate on the "Big Chill era", tightening their playlists in the process. Rap / Hip-Hop begins to find its voice, helped along by Run DMC / Aerosmith's remake of "Walk This Way". Gangsta Rap and Speed/Thrash Metal acts such as Metallica begin to make inroads ... but without radio play, a first. Cassettes, then Compact Discs, replace vinyl.
1992-1998: Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" ushers in back-to-basics Grunge era and revolutionizes production / arrangement techniques for pop / rock records, eventually influencing the sound of most all Pop/Rock music. Alternative / Modern Rock radio comes to prominence. Rap / Hip-Hop finds wider acceptance, a new strain of Rock-based Rap begins. Metallica and similar acts, along with Gangsta Rap, work their way into the mainstream, gain radio play and influence popular tastes. Many new sub-categories of music begin to emerge. Lollapalooza / Lilith Fair are the modern equivalent of Dick Clark's old "Cavalcade Of Stars". Much of the music of this period is based upon/influenced by the 1964-1969 era. MTV becomes largely irrelevant.
1999-2007: Boy Bands and Teen Popsters sell albums by the tens of millions. Rap / Rock goes mainstream with Linkin Park who sells millions as well. Gangsta influence takes over R&B / Hip-Hop, although Nelly and Eminem add enough pop sensibilities to make it palatable for mass consumption. They too sell in the millions. Internet replaces MTV in driving music tastes. American Idol also becomes a pop culture driver, most notably with Kelly Clarkson. CHR becomes known again as Top 40, although the "melting pot" mentality never returns with it. Entire sub-categories of music become popular without radio. Oldies formats begin to expand beyond 1974.
2008-present: Lady GaGa channels Madonna to become superstar. Rap / Hip-Hop elements now incorporated into most pop music for a rhythmic hybrid that dominates current pop music charts. Producers Dr. Luke and Max Martin are today's Phil Spector. mp3 downloads and YouTube hits replace CD sales, making the "single" the currency of pop music once again.
That's how I see it anyway.
Someday when all of us reading this are long gone, people are gonna look back fondly at Lady GaGa or Katy Perry and wax poetic about what awesome artists they were.
As for going strictly off the Billboard Hot 100 ... I'd say from 1970 forward, as album sales replaced singles sales, you'd best be careful! That's a recipe for a steady diet of "You Light Up My Life" (the biggest hit of the 70's!) and other "reaction" singles that never made it to "gold" status at radio ... for good reason. Put them in a "spice" or "oh wow" category and play them every once-in-awhile, absolutely! Or run them in a benchmark feature, like at 12 Noon or 5 PM.
Eddie Money's "Baby Hold On" and "Two Tickets To Paradise" sold albums ... not singles - as did most rock-based product from the 70's forward! Doesn't mean they weren't legitimate hits.
If I were programming an Oldies station I'd want to bone up on my market's Top 40 / CHR chart history and start from there. In Chicago, see how they did at WLS and 'CFL (and their successors as we get into the 80's).
The image of a radio consultant bringing in research from another market is probably still valid - especially in smaller markets - but in this day and age, where half-a-dozen companies own everything, it's usually some corporate guy. Might be a distinction without a difference ... still the corporate guy's probably more inclined to work with the local program director to research their market and find out what the listeners in that market want to hear. The way that research is interpreted determines the overall musical feel of that station. Can't do it right without a passion for the music, as far as I'm concerned.
Taking the broader view ... it was probably research way back-in-the-day that showed these rock titles that sold albums but not singles belonged on Top 40 in the first place.
One other thought ... for Nina and anyone else who wonders ... the adoption of Arbitron's PPM (Personal People Meter) in the Top 50 markets means more emphasis on building cumulative audience ("cume"), often at the expense of the other metric by which audience is measured, Time Spent Listening ("TSL"). To build cume, you cut the playlist and just play the "best of the best". A larger playlist lends itself to TSL but it's cume that gets the advertising buys.
Although I've been a Country Radio personality since 1989 (and love it far more than the tone of this letter indicates), I admit I still follow Top 40 to this day. I liken where Pop music is today to 1963 or 1978 ... everyone's on the dance floor, in the club ... about as substantial as "Mashed Potato Time" or "YMCA". We all know what came after 1963 and 1978. I'll be interested to see if 2011 or 2012 provides any parallel.
Keep up the great work ... I enjoy coming here daily!
Charlie Mitchell
GREAT stuff, Charlie ... and an EXCELLENT history lesson. Folks will be talkin' about THIS one! Thanks! (kk)

>>>We received a number of comments like this over the past week, touting how GREAT Magic 104 and Real Oldies 1690 were ... but, of course, the obvious argument becomes "Then why aren't they on the radio anymore"??? And sadly, that's a tough argument to win. However, I feel that we have accurately presented what the REAL oldies fans want from their oldies station. If you're going to be so bold as to call yourself "oldies", then PLAY oldies!!! And NOT late '70's, '80's and '90's stuff. (kk)
Magic 104 might have survived if the newer ratings system was used. Now the ratings method has greatly increased the ratings for wls-fm and perhaps has kept the station alive.
Real Oldies 1690 was a godsend on an impossible wavelength. It, too, could have survived if some independently wealthy person bought it. Not only didn't some radios not even have 1690 on the tuner but the signal reduced by 90% at sundown. The playlist was reasonably large and the disc jockeys were from the good ol' days!
>>>And seriously ... how did "Baby Hold On" and "Two Tickets To Paradise" by Eddie Money become part of "The Greatest Hits of All-Time" scenario? I swear, I hear (and turn these songs off) at least three or four times a day ... they're late '70's "hits" that only reached #11 and #22 respectively ... yet HUNDREDS and HUNDREDS and HUNDREDS of REAL, HONEST TO GOD Number One, Top Ten and Top Twenty Hits are ignored day after day after day in favor of playing stuff that some consultant determined was one of the greatest hits of all time! (kk)
I agree with your basic comment but your above comments seem to contradict your main thesis. Why complain that two songs only reached #11 and #22 when you are complaining about limited playlists? On the other hand, complaining that they're from the late 70's is another issue. Frankly speaking, while I prefer 50's to mid-60's music plus doo-wop, I am certainly willing to settle for stations that expand their playlists to include late 60's and 70's if it keeps the music alive. Fortunately, I can always listen to Sirius / XM in the car and on my computer and get a fantastic wide assortment of music strictly from the 50's and 60's.
When I'm home and moving around, I am stuck with FM so it's nice to have a choice between the True Oldies Channel and K-Hits (even though their jocks are soooo annoying -- where's Larry Lujack and Fred Winston when you need them????)
Steve Davidson
Unfortunately, both out of work ... proving again that there is absolutely NO justice in the world (or the radio world) that talent like this is sitting home and we're being subjected to the utter crap passing itself off as radio today. (I've finally given up on K-Hits ... after hearing "Come On Eileen" for the third time in 24 hours ... and considering the fact that I only had the radio on a total of three hours during that 24 hour period ... granted, not consecutive ... but I REALLY believe that I should be able to get in my car, go where I need to go in three separate one hour trips ... and NOT have to listen to the exact same music each time I do ... I swear, it's like frickin' Groundhog Day on the radio dial lately!!!)
As for the Eddie Money / Bob Seger comments, I have no problem with these songs or artists either ... and would GLADLY endure them both if they weren't being forced down my ears repeatedly day after day after day. My objection comes from the fact that there are SO many other great songs to choose from ... yet virtually NO variety on the dial. Maybe MOST of America has been blinded by this and simply accepts it for what it is ... but I find it insulting to every other intelligent human being out there who turns on their radio to be entertained ... who turns on their radio because the LOVE this music ... only to have "Blinded By The Light" pounded into our heads 15 times a week ... and then not even being able to change the channel to escape it! Maybe radio's hidden philosophy is so simple we can't see it: Sure, we all play the same music ... so you might as well leave your radio tuned in HERE because you're not going to find anything different anywhere else. Kinda like the TV mentality of running a strong lead-in show trying to help build an audience for something that isn't doing so well ... the old philosophy was "Maybe they won't get up and change the channel". Evidently it hasn't dawned on them yet that NOBODY gets up to change the channel anymore ... we all have remotes now ... and we surf CONSTANTLY trying to find something ... ANYTHING ... better to watch than what's on YOUR station right now. It's the same for radio ... with typically 10-12 buttons you can pre-program in every car now ... built in CD-Players and iPods ... satellite and Wi-Fi radio ... the music choices are now in the hands of the listener ... yet NOBODY programming radio seems interested in giving us a REASON to tune in and listen. As a MAJOR fan of radio and all that it's meant to me over the years, that's just REALLY sad. (kk)

You probably already know this, but the records you mentioned in today's comments by Bob Seger and Eddie Money are played here a lot as well. I am like you. It seems that every time I turn on the radio, one of those records is playing. What are the odds of you turning on three radio stations consecutively and they are playing the same song?
I am thankful that I have the music here at home and if I happen to think of a song I haven't heard in a long time during the day, I can get it out that evening and play it. I know I will never hear it on the radio.
Now during the day I listen to the TOC with Scott Shannon. His music that is played regularly on his channel is the same as the classic hits station here in OKC. They now call themselves "classic hits". The music played is the same but the name of the music was changed from 60's and 70's to "classic hits". I still say that there is just one PD in the USA that programs oldies stations because you hear the same stuff over and over again. At least on the TOC you hear occasionally a forgotten 45. What got me that about two weeks ago while Scott was not working the board, a listener called up and wanted to hear anything by Eric Burdon and the Animals. Would you believe they played HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN? Say what! You have got to be kidding me.
I am like you. When I hear a song for the eighth time on the station, I change stations. Sometimes I might turn over to our radio station that programs sports. However, it is like the oldies stations that play the same songs over and over. The same listeners call up day after day.
I had really hoped to interview Scott Shannon for this special oldies series. We talked about it several times but never put the thing together. But I know that from all the conversations that I've had with Scott over the years, he really believes that he is doing what's best for radio right now, programming what he's programming. The research ... and the ratings ... would seem to confirm it. And, to his credit, there isn't ANYBODY out there better at doing what he's doing. And he WILL slip in those occasional surprises from time time and (off the record) would love to play even MORE music from the '50's and early '60's ... but everybody has to answer to somebody ... and Scott Shannon is no different. Bottom line is he SAVED the oldies for America. Maybe he'll take away a few good ideas from this series ... maybe he'll be inclined to experiment a little bit more ... maybe he'll flat out agree and then say "But you've got to understand that there is NOTHING I can do about it." I don't know ... we'll all just have to wait and see.
And he's got a pretty tough gig ... in most cities across America, he's on the air 24 / 7. Unfortunately, sometimes this pre-recorded rap doesn't allow him to spontaneously respond to a more "immediate" event. I sent him this posting from Robert Feder's recent "Oldies Radio Wars" column:
Shannon is all voice-tracked, not live. And he’s about 110 years old. That pic must have been taken in 1990.
Scott asked me to respond thusly:

I dunno ... lookin' pretty good for a guy pushing 100!!! (kk)

OK, so the other night I called Dick Biondi's show to request a coupla songs ... they were doing their twin spin weekend, and had just played a couple of New Colony Six songs (which were great to hear on the radio) ... so of course I had to request equal time ... I requested the Cryan' Shames (to no one's surprise) It Could Be We're in Love and Young Birds Fly ... which they played, and I was really glad to hear them on the radio ... when's the last time you heard either of these two bands on the Chicago radio stations????? And they both had #1 songs here back in the day! I, too, am sick of Bob Seger and Gerry Rafferty and, oh I could go on and on ... let's mix it up a little!!!!!
It's cool that Dick Biondi can take Scott Shannon's Twin Spin Weekend promotion and still put a local spin on it ... you're right, other than maybe Jeff James over at Y103.9, much of this era is neglected on our local radio stations. Brings up the point about knowing your market and knowing your audience ... something else that too much syndication doesn't allow for. In addition to your 2000 tried-and-true oldies that the whole world knows, it's REALLY nice to program in something especially for your audience in these major cities. Let's face it, we ALL had our local hits ... what a great chance to spotlight some of them! (kk)

I understand that you are trying to nail down a description here, but as I read along and also listen to what my YOUNG (under 12) students say, I end up with these questions:
1. If a song is re-recorded by the original group or someone "new" does it change status and become a "newbie"? When we cruise through my 20th century videos and "Satisfaction", "Do You Believe In Magic", "Henry the VIII" (beginning with 1920's version), and others are sung by several artists, my students will recognize them with surprise and name others they have heard who have also performed these songs. So, ... does the artist make the "oldie"?
2. If a young child goes to a concert and LOVES the music done by the performers who were popular decades before they were born, are they "hooked on oldies" now or just enjoying timeless classics? (both songs and entertainers)
A song has always either appealed to me, or not, depending solely on my enjoyment and likes. Whether it had never been performed before or had now been performed countless times did not matter to me. To me ... it was new. I can see where the style of performances has changed throughout my life, but to someone hearing a recording for the first time, it is still "new". No matter when it was written or previously recorded. If Mozart had been able to record his music, those performances would always be new to a first time listener.
????? Shelley J. Sweet-Tufano

Your comments simply provide more credence to a "Music Of Your Life" format ... which we're ALSO in favor of (provided you actually PLAY the music of all these generations.) I have so many mixed emotions about all of this. SOME of this music (albeit a fairly small percentage) truly IS "timeless" ... how do you brand The Beatles as an "oldies artist" for example when, for the past ten years, their catalog and new releases have been outselling many of the hot new contemporary artists of today? THIS is a timeless artist ... but there are very few who would measure up to that criteria. I would love to see a "Music Of The Ages" format (as Mason Ramsey over at has been promoting for years now) take off in at least a few major markets just to see what the audience reaction is. Until somebody tries it, how will we know? (John Rook's Hit Parade Radio format was squashed before it ever even hit the air ... too bad as this, too, would have been a prime indicator of what the oldies listening audience really wants from their oldies station. Had it launched according to plan, they'd be well into their "tweaking period" by now ... it would have been very interesting to see which aspects of this format worked and which ones didn't.)
Realistically, how can a new station in Chicago, like K-Hits, attempt to present an accurate portrait of "the greatest hits of the '60's, '70's and '80's" and then narrow down thirty years ... THREE DECADES OF MUSIC ... into a 300 song playlist? (By the way, I barely turn the station on at all anymore ... and yet, despite this, am now up to FIVE plays of "Come On Eileen" this week!!! See note above: THREE of those plays were within the same limited 24 hour period!!! Does this mean that despite hearing it five times this week already, I've also missed 15 OTHER playings of the same tune??? And, if programming "the greatest hits of the '60's, '70's and '80's, is this REALLY one of them?!?!?)
Part of the fun and appeal of oldies music is that it really IS, in many ways, timeless ... it's feel-good music, plain and simple ... and I honestly believe that each new generation that discovers it breeds another future generation of oldies fans down the line. (kk)

Speaking of which, after only two weeks K-Hits has already signed legendary Chicagoland Disc Jockey Tommy Edwards to the station ... maybe they're already reading the writing on the wall that, if you're going to program oldies on your station, you really ought to have SOMEBODY on board who knows and understands what oldies are. Here's more on that story, courtesy of FH Reader Frank B.:
Kent ...
I have to trust you on this one. Good move or bad move?
Frank B.
Time will tell ... overall, I'd have to say "good move" ... provided the station reels in some of the manic programming they're currently doing and let the voice of experience prevail. Sounds like Tommy will be handling more of a "fill in" role for right now ... but maybe he'll bring along some of his famous former co-workers at some point and time (in which 104.3 FM truly WOULD recreate Magic 104 again!!!) It'll be interesting to see how much they take advantage of his years of experience with this format ... it just might turn the station around ... a VERY sad commentary to make after only two weeks on the air!!! (kk)
>>>Oldies = 1955 - to the Beatles (Bill Donovan)
Ah, so Americans had the old (Oldies) sounding music, and what caused the girls to go wild over The Beatles - a new sound!!!!
No question about it, The Beatles ignited the music scene again by bringing something fresh to the game. Don't forget, a lot changed in the late '50's and early '60's ... Elvis went into the Army, opening the door for a bunch of fresh-faced teen idols to invade the charts ... and, even when he got out, he recorded much more "mature" sounding music and focused more on his movie career ... Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens, Eddie Cochran and a few other up-and-comers died ... President Kennedy was assassinated ... America was in a major funk (and not in a GOOD way!!!) So four talented young kids from Liverpool (with a whole new sound) kick-started the music industry again ... and paved the way for all kinds of new sounds and experimentation. Did anybody REALLY believe in 1964 that The Beatles would go from "She Loves You" to "Strawberry Fields Forever"??? Of course not ... MOST didn't even think they'd still be around by 1967 (and that included The Beatles themselves, who knew that the career lifespan of an entertainer rarely extended beyond a few years.) John and Paul regularly talked about how they hoped, "after the bubble burst", that they would still be writing songs for other artists! Ringo wanted to open up a string of women's hair-dressing salons! Who would have EVER dreamed that 50 years later they'd still be amongst the best-selling acts in the world?!? Amazing. No, I don't think you can eliminate the '60's when you're talking "oldies" ... but, based on what we're seeing, the "Oldies Era" probably DOES end with The Dawn of Disco. (kk)
>>>And what's up with "Boogie Shoes" by KC and the Sunshine Band? I don't think I heard that song more than three or four times when it was out ... now I hear it nearly every single day on nearly every single station! And it was one of KC's lowest charting singles! (kk)
Hi Kent,
I think Boogie Shoes by KC and the Sunshine was in someone's ad campaign a
few years back, but I can't remember whose. It's also in Saturday Night
Fever, darn it anyway. I wish it would go away.
Hi Kent
A few comments about oldies and playlists.
Let me start by saying I'm 66 and from Chicago and I'm basically talking about oldies vs classic rock. I find that for me the oldies (50's - 60's) mean more to me for a few reasons.
1. In my teens and early 20's, I was passionate and excited about rock n roll. It was new, different, rebellious and energetic. DJ's told you the name of the song and the artist and offered comments and insights. But a good part of this was my younger age.
2. When I was in my late 20's and 30's, I loved music but my teenage exuberance had been replaced with some level of adulthood. Also, the DJ's stopped informing you and, in most cases, did not even tell you who the artist was. When I listen today to classic rock where my radio scrolls the name of the song and the artist, I find myself saying "so that's who did that song!"
Back in the 50's when a song became a hit, it was also played over and over but after a week or three it was not played again. When classic rock appeared on the scene in the mid to late 60's, oldies music had basically disappeared from the radio and it wasn't until many years later when the nostalgia craze reappeared. Here in Chicago sometime in the 80's (I think) we had our first oldies station reappear (WGLD / WFYR on103.5). Since we had not heard this music for almost 20 years, the effect was truly powerful and the passion reappeared. Classic rock, on the other hand, never disappeared. It has been on the radio from the late 60's to the present so the effect on the audience was not the same.
As for playlists, I, too, mourn the fact that the playlist for songs strictly in the 50's - 60's has been limited. And songs I truly loved now force me to change the station because they've been played over and over. But I can understand Scott Shannon's logic as to why he can't play a wider variety of songs from that era. So while it's not my first choice for expansion, I find it more enjoyable and refreshing listening to true oldies now with their playlist expanded to cover the 70's. Once again I can hear songs I haven't heard for a long time. I also understand Scott's logic even more because when I listen to two of Chicago's classic rock stations (music I liked but wasn't passionate about). I find that I listen more and more to 97.9 because I recognize 90% of the songs played while 97.1 plays so many album songs that I never heard before and frankly don't want to hear again. So I understand that many of the listeners to the oldies stations liked the music but aren't that passionate about it and simply want to hear a more limited selection of the ones that were big hits. That's a business decision and if it wasn't made, I think the oldies stations would go out of business.
Steve Davidson
(Kent - Though we haven't met, I love your site and much like the connection we felt for the DJ's we listened to as kids, I feel a similar connection to you and your website.)
As we continue to break things down here, it seems to be getting clearer and clearer that the "oldies era" ended when the FM dial became the predominent means of listening to the radio. As the popularity of the 45 gave way to the domination of the album and album rock (now called classic rock) took over, the clarity of what was it "hit" became greatly blurred. We heard SO much of EVERYTHING on the radio that some of our all-time favorite songs were, in fact, album tracks, many of which later saw release as singles simply because of this positive listener response. There'll always be some overlap (and this is where you need to start sub-sorting music ... yes, the music of 1970 - 1975 ... pre-disco ... might fall into the oldies category ... but a portion of that music might best be described as classic rock instead.) Unfortunately, the deeper and deeper we get into this, it just helps to build an even more solid case showing why music is as segregated as it is today. If you ran an all '70's station, would you play the huge hits of Deep Purple, Focus, Grand Funk Railroad and Edgar Winter along side "I Will Survive", "YMCA" and "That's The Way I Like It"? And if you did, what potential listeners would you be insulting in the process? Disco SO disrupted the "lifestyle" of rock and roll that it came back in a much greater flurry in the late '70's and early '80's hits and the "Anti-Disco" was born. Yet how do you NOT play MAJOR International Superstar Acts like ABBA or Michael Jackson JUST because their music doesn't conform to a specific calendar date?
This has been a VERY interesting and enlightening series ... your input and feedback has provided MUCH food for thought ... and it's going to take a little while to digest it all.
We'll wrap things up tomorrow on this topic and move on ... but still encourage this debate to continue from time to time by way of our regular Comments Pages. Thanks again to everybody who took part in our discussion.