The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

18 April 2004

Can this format be saved?

Rich Appel's Hz So Good newsletter for the coming month opens with a seven-point plan to salvage "oldies" radio, and he has correctly identified the major issue: the core audience is way past the age that advertisers are most desperate to reach. (I turn 51 this year, and am therefore presumably of no interest to anyone except AARP and the manufacturers of Fix-O-Dent.) The fix is radical: the emphasis must be shifted away from us Persons of Mature Flatulence and toward building a new audience in the 18-34 demographic. And this means killing the ersatz Bill Drake noises in the background and abandoning the "we're the station you grew up with" imaging. If this music has lasting value, and I think it does, then it can be sold to new generations without having to pay tribute to those of us who fancy ourselves as having been there at the creation; surprisingly many of today's twenty-year-olds may be Beatles fans, as a recent Entertainment Weekly feature suggested, but it's not necessary for them to be exposed to Murray the K for them to grasp the Zeitgeist.

And given the sheer diversity of Top 40 radio in its prime — if a record charted high enough in the trade papers, it was a candidate for airplay regardless of its perceived genre — there's inevitably going to be conflict in putting together a playlist for the very model of a modern oldies station: some will prefer a heavier marbling of R&B, while others will lean towards whiter, brighter waxings, and what do you do with the country crossovers? One thing, however, is for certain: you can't encapsulate a decade and a half of incredibly diverse music by a mere 200 or 300 songs, as today's stations persist in thinking.

Maybe I shouldn't care about these things. If I have the urge to hear songs from this era, I need only walk into the next room and select stuff from the shelf. But I have just enough semi-enlightened self-interest to believe that if there's an increasing interest in material from the period, the gatekeepers will be more likely to open up the vaults and turn loose some of the things I've forgotten or I've never heard at all. And as John Lennon once said, you know that can't be bad.

Posted at 12:22 PM to Overmodulation


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KOMA seems to do a good job of opening up the vaults. When I'm on the turnpike and within earshot, I always tune in. KOMA plays (or at least used to play) a far greater variety than Tulsa's oldies stations -- country crossover, surf guitar, Mersey beat, Motown, doowop, novelty records. One day I remember hearing a Sandy Posey single (don't recall the name, but it wasn't "Born a Woman"). I miss hearing it on the AM dial; I could sometimes pick it up at night driving around Tulsa.

Posted by: Michael Bates at 2:05 PM on 19 April 2004

Probably "Single Girl"; I don't think I've heard them play "I Take It Back" in ages, and hardly anyone ever plays anything else of hers.

KOMA's playlist is a bit larger than average for the format, but semi-obscure stuff has disappeared (and completely obscure stuff vanished with Larry and the Wax Museum). Their news/talk format has yet to catch on to any great degree, so some of us hope that music on AM will be restored one of these days.

I am informed that the satellite services have spectacularly good oldies programming, but I'm not sure I'm ready for that yet, given the limited amount of radio listening I do outside the office, and the fact that most of the records likely to be played on a spectacularly good oldies station are already sitting on my shelf. :)

Posted by: CGHill at 3:15 PM on 19 April 2004

I happened into a rental car with XM. (It was a replacement for a Kia whose key broke off in the door lock -- in February, in Buffalo, at 10 pm. Hertz owed me something nice.) The oldies channels were by decade ('50s on 5, '60s on 6, &c). The '50s station had a lot of great music I'd never heard before. Likewise for a station called "Hank's Place", which was all old-time country music. (Couldn't tell much about the '60s station -- it was all Beatles for the day I had the car.)

Sorry to hear that KOMA's playlist is narrowing. Was this tied to the end of the AM simulcast or has it been a more gradual change? They haven't changed owners as far as I'm aware.

Posted by: Michael Bates at 11:44 PM on 21 April 2004