The “oldies” format, as radio folks call it, has been around for most of the past 23 years on Atlanta radio. It was the place where you can hear classics by the likes of the Beatles, the Supremes, James Taylor and Carole King.
But when Atlanta’s Greatest Hits disappeared last month in favor of all news, ’60s and ’70s pop hits effectively disappeared from Atlanta airwaves.
If you like ’70s rock, you can still get the biggest hits, mostly on 97.1/The River, which may pick up some of the abandoned listeners and is dubbed in radio parlance, “classic hits.” Other rock stations Rock 100.5, Dave FM and Project will throw in a few nuggets, too, proving how enduring the Eagles, Led Zeppelin and the Who remain to this day.
Atlanta’s Greatest Hits was never a hugely popular station but it did okay in the ratings for much of its four-year run. It would typically rank in the teens, sometimes scraping the top 10. In May, it ranked 16th 25-54 and 16th overall.
The format skewed older in its first two years as True Oldies under New York-based Scott Shannon’s expert eye. The past two years, when then-owner Citadel chose to localize the music, it had been primarily focused on the 1969-79 era, which covered 60 to 70 percent of its playlist. Hits from 1960s and 1980s were thrown in, too. Billboards would market the station “from Motown to Madonna.” It was a diverse blend of R&B, pop and rock.
The station even brought back Randy & Spiff, part of the original Fox 97, on its staff for awhile.
Why the format is gone is pure demographics.
FM radio, like much of media that relies on advertisers, prefers “youth,” meaning people under the age of 55. Radio sales people usually parse out demographics like ages 18 to 49, 25 to 54 and 18 to 34.
Someone who was 12 in 1969 is now at that magic age where their listening habits are no longer top priority. Anyone older? Even less so.
Traditional oldies, fortunately, lives on thanks to the Internet, where oldies stations are at your beck and call. There’s Pandora, where you can design your own. Or Sirius/XM, with its all-60s and all-70s channels. (Heck, there are stations for the 1940s and 1950s, too.)
The music from the 1960s, much of it truly engaging and legendary and the core of what was originally terms “oldies,” has already become a footnote on Atlanta radio the past few years.
That decade fueled Fox 97 to huge numbers in the early 1990s in Atlanta. But that was when the Baby Boomers were in the coveted 18-49 demographic.
Many stations no longer use the term “oldies” because it sounds, well, “old.” It’s fair to say if you want pop hits that are now considered oldies, it’s the 1980s. People who grew up in that era are now in their prime spending years, catnip for many advertisers. It was when MTV arrived, top 40 was king and Michael Jackson, Madonna and Prince flourished.
Journey 97.9 plays the most songs from that decade on a percentage basis since it focuses exclusively on the ’80s and ’90s. B98.5, which retired the 1970s last year, still plays about 25% 1980s music (though its specialty 80s weekends were recently nixed). Nearly a third of the songs played on Dave FM, which has seen its ratings nosedive the past year, are from the 1980s on weekdays and in recent weeks, entire weekends cover that decade.
Dave is owned by CBS, which runs a still successful oldies station in New York City. On 92.9, a similar station could take over Atlanta’s Greatest Hits’ mantle and help usher back the 60s and 70s pop. In May, Atlanta’s Greatest Hits actually pulled in better ratings than Dave, even in younger demographics. Will CBS pull the trigger? I have no idea. Still, there little doubt that CBS will have to do something to fix Dave.
Speaking of decades, how about the 1990s? A decade ago, 1980s stations popped up around the country, including one in Atlanta for a couple of years. But on the FM dial, 90’s-only stations are rare. The decade was so fragmented in its musical genres that it has fewer songs appealing to a mass audience.
As mentioned earlier, Journey plays both 80s and 90s. B98.5 only plays about 10% of its songs from the ’90s, Dave even less. Star 94 had brief success in the first half of 2011 with all-90s weekends but songs apparently burned out quickly. Star now plays maybe one 90s cut an hour (or less) on weekdays.
Here’s a decade breakdown of songs for a few of the aforementioned stations:
Dave FM: 10% 60s/70s, 28% 80s, 28% 90s, 34% 00s to today
Star 94: 3% 90s, 97% 00s to today
Project 9-6-1: 2% 60s/70s, 3% 80s, 43% 90s, 52% 00s to today
97.1/The River: 3% 60s, 56% 70s, 40% 80s, 2% 00s to today
B98.5: 22% 80s, 7% 90s, 71% 00s to today
Rock 100.5: 3% 60s, 30% 70s, 30% 80s, 26% 90s, 11% 00s to today
Mediabase 24/7 does not have access to 99X or Journey 97.9
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk