Rich's guest column for
Host, that thing with Rich Appel
Professor of Broadcasting and Media,
Seton Hall and Felician University
Why Oldies – Yes, I Said It, Oldies – Is The Most Creative Radio Format Today
You can sweep it under the rug, call it passé, declare it out of advertisers’ target demographic - blah, blah, blah. But Oldies is where the fun has gone in radio.
While most of radio’s universe is hung up on PPM, songs that test through the roof, air talent that only gets to speak a few times each hour and stopsets that are longer than “Stairway to Heaven,” the best Oldies-formatted stations – wherever you can find them – are playing three (or more) decades’ worth of proven hits, reaching out to their communities and letting their personalities show some personality.
Anyone who’s spent time streaming terrestrial, HD or Internet stations knows the Oldies format – and oldies music - is nowhere close to being the endangered species some of us might think. Over 400 terrestrial stations in the U.S. are still Oldies, even if the word itself rarely pops up on air. They’re working on FM because they own an upper demo that’s active, has money to spend and cares about what’s going on in town. They’re working on AM because something has to. Add to that the hundreds of stations online, many of which are run by programmers who were top 40’s best jocks when the oldies were, well, newies.
In the spirit of Oldies stations everywhere, allow me to count down the reasons the format still matters.
#5! 5! 5! To paraphrase James Carville: It’s the music, stupid. Oldies stations now own the Beatles, as in ALL of the Beatles, not just post-Revolver and not just during syndicated weekend shows. Oldies also owns Motown and every other regional or label-based slice of 1960s or 70s R&B, the British Invasion, garage rock and psychedelic pop, bubblegum, singer-songwriter soft rock, the 4 Seasons, Neil Diamond, ABBA, Phil Spector and any music that shook the Earth before the Beatles (so not just Elvis).
#4! 4! 4! There’s a lot to talk about. Most now-increasingly-80s-based Classic Hits or Classic Rock outlets long ago gave up being curators and actually talking about the music, yet the best Oldies personalities are still historians. By necessity, they’re also experts on everything happening in their community. Many Oldies stations lead double lives, serving the general public inside of their signal range, and acting as music authority for those fortunate enough to find their stream online.
#3! 3! 3! It’s where local broadcasting matters (or at least should). While many low-power FMs have smartly filled both an Oldies and ultra-local niche - giving listeners at least two good reasons to switch over a car preset – plenty of full-signal FMs also make the community first priority. Whether it’s the “around town rundown,” news that’s off the radar at larger stations, the ever-present “swap and shop,” high school or college sports, Oldies has made it part of the on-air presentation and made it a point to have a presence at big town events.
#2! 2! 2! It’s where the weekends rock. Given the music and personality cast aside by everyone else, syndicated programming for weekends on Oldies stations has become an embarrassment of riches (or at least one Rich – we’ll get to that). While DJs beamed in from radio heaven such as Casey Kasem and Dick Clark still play, the new crop of shows super-serves fans of the 70s, Beatles, doo-wop or forgotten hits, to name just a few. Then you’ve got shows spanning a wider range of top 40 history, such as that thing with Rich Appel, where I reanimate the classic top 40 sound – jingles, commercials, post-hitting and all – for three hours every weekend on 90 stations worldwide.
#1! 1! 1! They’re just plain fun. It’s hard not to like a station that calls itself Sunshine Radio or The Dinosaur. Of course, there’s also a lot of Cruisin’ and KOOL at Oldies stations. And while actor Bob Denver may be on another island now, his Gilligan-themed Little Buddy Radio lives on. But it’s not just a name that makes listeners feel good about Oldies stations. It’s the combination of upbeat music, on-air positivity and local support that makes listeners feel the world is still a good place. That just isn’t something most stations in modern music-based formats can pull off.
Oldies may not be the radio format it was ten years ago, but it remains a destination for an audience wanting to live every day to the fullest and hear the greatest hits of all time. Ignore them at your own peril.