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Will Atlanta radio get oldies back?

James Taylor is an artist who has effectively disappeared from the Atlanta airwaves with the departure of Atlanta's Greatest Hits. CREDIT: AP

James Taylor is an artist who has effectively disappeared from the Atlanta airwaves with the departure of Atlanta's Greatest Hits. CREDIT: AP

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

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By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk

49 comments Add your comment

Sam-A

June 13th, 2012
4:41 pm

RoHo, I sure hope someone brings back an oldies station, a true one with 60’s/70’s music. 106 went way downhill when they added all the 80’s junk to their mix. Need a place to hear Beatles, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Brit invasion groups, Creedence, Chicago, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Linda Rondstadt, (I could go on and on). righ now being in my car is miserable. If it wasn’t for Star, B98 and 99 playing lots of Kelly Clarkson, I’d be going nuts. Gotta get the CD’s out!

Jon Sinton

June 13th, 2012
5:00 pm

Worth noting that SiriusXM has two “Classic Rock” channels: Classic Vinyl, which they define as the first wave of album rock (Beatles, Stones, Zep, Who, etc.) and Classic Rewind, which is more 80’s flavored. As Rodney mentioned, they also have dedicated “Decade” channels from the 40’s forward.

Brent

June 13th, 2012
5:12 pm

ATL needs this music back and fast. This was by for the greatest music ever made there will never be any decades like the 60s, 70s. If I had the money I would do it. PLEASE BRING BACK OLDIES……………………….As far as I and many others are concerned, ATLANTA radio is crap now, it was never that great in the past few years, but literally nothing to listen to now.

The only radio "oldies" I want back...

June 13th, 2012
5:17 pm

…are 94Q with Gary McKee, Craig Ashwood, Jeff McCartney, Christie Tanner and Russ Davis…

bulldogbubba

June 13th, 2012
5:53 pm

94Q WAS THE BEST BACK IN THE 80,S. ALSO BACK IN THE LATE 70′S , EARLY 80′S WAS A EASY LISTENING STATION “WLTA” THAT PLAYED THE HITS. THE TRUTH BE TOLD AUTOMATION HAS TAKEN OVER RADIO AND THESE BIG COMPANIES HAVE STREAM-LINED AND PUT PEOPLE OUT OF WORK AND HAVE TAKEN THE LOCAL “FLAVOR” OUT OF THE STATIONS.

mark richards

June 13th, 2012
6:28 pm

I’ve ruined the format twice, would love to get another crack.

Joseph

June 13th, 2012
7:21 pm

Maybe the format will have to come back on the AM dial

squirrelly McCheesy Pon Pon Poin

June 13th, 2012
7:22 pm

The best radio station is already on the AM dial, 1690 AM.

PMom_GA

June 13th, 2012
7:37 pm

Hope oldies come back – soon! Having to use my iPod thru the radio to get the music I want to hear while in the car, not what they, the radio hot shots, think you need to hear.

PMom_GA

June 13th, 2012
7:50 pm

Rodney – QUESTION:

Any news on ratings for the News format yet?

jackass

June 13th, 2012
8:00 pm

trip west put 106.7 off the air because he talked to much hes been fired from star 94 105.7 and now 106.7

Al B. Back

June 13th, 2012
8:10 pm

Just spend the $10-12 bucks a month on Sirius/XM and quit the continual whining about oldies. They’ve got several oldies channels for pop, rock and urban. People subscribe to cable and satellite television to get programming not offered by broadcast stations. Same logic applies here.

Brent

June 13th, 2012
8:14 pm

To Al B. Back, I am not paying to listen to radio. Radio stations should pay us with what we vwant to hear.

Brent

June 13th, 2012
8:22 pm

The 60s will never die call me a hippie. I was, I went to Woodstock in 69, the 60’s was the best music., The SH** on the dial today is abysmal……

Juan Archila

June 13th, 2012
8:25 pm

I heard “Under the Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers, 90s song, on 97.1 the River. Talk about feeling old!

Tom

June 13th, 2012
9:30 pm

I wonder if some people who commented even read Rodney’s post.

A 60’s/70’s focused radio station is simply not coming back to Atlanta… ever. The corporate interests do not believe they are financially viable; you may disagree with them but until you win MegaMillions (and go through the arduous process of being cleared to own a radio station) it really doesn’t matter what your opinion is.

I sympathize with those individuals who wish radio hadn’t changed… but that’s the nature of life. The fans of the big band era felt that way about 60’s music.

Brent

June 13th, 2012
9:45 pm

Tom, Why do other top 10 markets have them and they are doing well???. Atl is the worst top 10 market …………………………….

finally

June 13th, 2012
9:50 pm

Of course there is a want and need for oldies, we need less Adele, Katy Perry, Green Day and Red Hot Chili Peppers. I have noticed that it is hard to tell which radio station you have stopped on without looking at the dial. dave, star, b985 and Q play some of the same songs ad nauseum. I really liked the initial concept of Dave but it has watered down to bla no matter what type of different feature that they come up with. I listen to project 961 more and more because they have (or seem to have) more variety and l like their personalities. I like to laugh in the mornings and while they may be crude, Kidd Chris and his crew are always talking about something different every day not just another rehash of same old crap nothing grates me more than the “in case you missed it/flashback segments” some other stations use. It screams lazy programming by repeating the same segment over and over. Lame!

OTP

June 13th, 2012
10:53 pm

There’s radio in Atlanta? I listen to my CD’s or Pandora.

Rodney Ho

June 13th, 2012
11:49 pm

We won’t get any real data til the end of the month on All News 106.7’s ratings.

JackFM

June 13th, 2012
11:49 pm

This city needs a station that plays ANYTHING!! JackFM would fit well here in my opinion..

Mario

June 14th, 2012
12:47 am

SiriusXM = Oldies Music Whenever You Want It

(or Don’t)

Greedy Kilowatt

June 14th, 2012
12:53 am

There are already 2 Classic Hits stations in this town.

CBS is moving away from music wherever it can.

What are you smoking?

Eric

June 14th, 2012
2:46 am

I remember Peach/Lite FM on 94.9, before Clear Channel switched it in 2006 to The Bull (country music)… I’m not a big country music listener. I’m not really into V-103, Kiss 104.1, and Hot 107.9.

Rhubarb Jones had a good morning radio show on 106.7 for 23 years, before he was let go. Randy & Spiff had a good morning radio show on 97.1 for 14 years, then they jumped to Clear Channel’s 105.7 and 94.9, and later jumped to 106.7… I’m guessing they were eventually let go. B98 was carrying Delilah at night, after 94.9 dropped the syndicated show… I don’t think B98 is even carrying it anymore. Star94 let Steve & Vikki go after 17 years… their show moved to B98, where it stayed for less than 2 years… and was quickly disbanded. Kelly & Alpha had a good morning radio show too. Kelly McCoy recently departed from B98. Star moved Cindy & Ray from afternoons to mornings… and have since been disbanded. Q still has The Bert Show… and I’m not a big Q100 listener.

As for music variety… I’m not a big fan of “over-kill” either. IMO, B98 is bad about over-playing and over-promoting those same Kelly Clarkson, Chris Daughtry, and Matchbox 20 songs. The same can be said about Star, Q, and a few other Atlanta radio stations too. It seems that Atlanta radio is very out of touch with the audience.

Backwoods Hick

June 14th, 2012
8:11 am

The best oldies station in the Atlanta area was Lake 102.3 FM (on the air in the 80’s and 90’s). They not only played the big hits that are played ad nauseum on most oldies stations,but also played the minor hits as well. There was always a chance you would hear a song that you hadn’t actually heard SINCE the 60’s or 70’s. We need another station like that.

Brent

June 14th, 2012
8:37 am

Another thing about Lake, was that they played “beach” music I am sure most of you know what that was, it was an incredible little station. RIP

Pippy Short Stockings

June 14th, 2012
9:07 am

Sadly the oldies will be back. Just when you think they are gone for good, some radio station exec who hasn’t learned from others’ past mistakes starts it up again. And eventually they bring in Randy and/or Spiff into the mix. The beginning of Spiff is the beginning of the end for the radio station.

Brent

June 14th, 2012
9:16 am

I never like Randy and Spiff

Anne

June 14th, 2012
9:18 am

It is unbelievable that a city this size doesn’t have a decent oldies station! Radio in Atlanta is a vast wasteland. If major corporations and advertisers think that “youth” has all the money, I suggest they do a new study. Probably a bunch of 30-something year old twerps making the decisions. I really miss the 60’s and 70’s music…

Brent

June 14th, 2012
9:58 am

Anne I feel the same way.

IT_Guru

June 14th, 2012
11:00 am

Both Lake 102.3 and Sunny 100.1 were two of the best stations ever. Fox 97.1 in the early 90’s was a great station too and then Cox bought it and turned it into “Good Times and Eight Oldies”. Atlanta used to have so many great radio stations but now that Cox, Clear Channel, Cumulus and Radio One own most of them there’s nothing worth listening to anymore.

Brent

June 14th, 2012
11:28 am

Hey, IT, give me a call……..

radioBoy

June 14th, 2012
1:29 pm

there are FIVE rock stations in the ATL. can’t we make one of them oldies?

Bobo is Not the Problem

June 14th, 2012
1:39 pm

Where was “Atlanta’s Greatest Oldies” on the dial? From the comments above, sounds like it was at 106.7? I never even knew it was there.

I miss Z-93 from the 70s (I still call 92.9 “Z-93″, NEVER “Dave-FM”) with Ross and Wilson in the morning, and 94Q of the 80s with Gary McKee, Craig Ashwood, etc. Remember when 94Q played “Jazz Flavors” at night?

Brent

June 14th, 2012
3:26 pm

From the beginning when 106.7 went from country to oldies it was never good. Atl was too big to have Shannon and the true oldies channel syndicated, then they get rid of him for someone who has no idea how to program an oldies or greatest hits station. So, you didn’t miss much.

Tom in GA

June 14th, 2012
3:35 pm

Brent, because the demographics of Atlanta do not justify it… saying other large markets have it so we should too is too simplistic.

Atlanta skews towards minorities (which typically do not listen to pop oldies), has a younger population base (which is much less likely to listen to pop oldies), and is in the south where country music cut into pop music’s appeal 50 years ago.

The big cities that have oldies stations typically do not have at least two of those factors going against it (Chicago – older/not southern, San Fran – less minorities/not southern, Boston – older/not southern, Detroit – older/not southern, Miami – MUCH OLDER).

Now notices the markets that don’t have a significant oldies presence… New York (younger/large minority base), L.A. (younger/large minority base), Dallas (younger/southern/large minority base), and Houston (similar to Dallas).

I promise you that if a company could come in and sustain for several years a reasonably profitable oldies station they would… it’s time to come to grips with the truth tho, it isn’t happening.

Brent

June 14th, 2012
3:38 pm

I do not agree Tom, sorry.

steve

June 14th, 2012
4:15 pm

For great oldies music from classic artists, contact East Coast Entertainment, home of the 100& markup.

Brent

June 14th, 2012
4:45 pm

What is that Steve???? Anyway I want a station with a OMG factor, like when you hear a song you say, “wow I use to love that song”, not the same BS oldie playlist that has been done over and over, these are why oldies stations fail, damn I wish I could be a program director, I’d blow the roof off this town…… A Sunny 100.1 or Lake 102 format were jewels.

IT_Guru

June 14th, 2012
11:10 pm

Brent, I’ll call you Friday afternoon. Off all day but running errands in the morning.

richard whiskey

June 15th, 2012
6:54 am

don’t listen to 106.7 now,to much news out there as it is, who cares about another shooting in SW atlanta

Backwoods Hick

June 15th, 2012
8:29 am

For those of us who live in the boondocks of north Georgia (I think Early Cuyler might be my neighbor), the former Bulldog 103.7 recently changed formats from news/sports talk to something called “Chuck FM” (”We Play Everything”–including a bunch of crap). Sometimes they play a good song if you catch them at the right time.

World's Oldest Teenager

June 15th, 2012
11:06 pm

Best music mix would be some late 1950’s, a lot of 1960’s and some early 70’s. NOTHING BEFORE OR BEYIOND. There are still some well known and capable DJ types living in the metro area like Randy and Spiff (Fox 97) John Moore (WSB) Dave Kirschner (WSB) John Doyle (WSB)
and perpahs the likes of Paul Drew (WGST and WAKE)…..all these guys could provide a great mix on the air, and some of them could program that station LIKE THEY DID when those songs were
all over the radio. Sad today that the only choice is Sirius XM channel 5, 6 and 7, and since none
of the local stations know how to program this music, the names mentioned here KNOW the music and can PROGRAM the music. It’s just that new ownership like Cumulus, Cox, Clear Channel
are monsters who cannot see anything but bottom lines and money. A great station playing
the 50’s 60’s and some 70’s would be wonderful. But til then, send you checks to Sirus XM and
enjoy the music with no commercials.

Backwoods Hick

June 16th, 2012
7:07 am

Almost forgot–there’s also Thunder 104.3 in Dahlonega. Through the week they play a unique classic rock/country mix, but on Sunday they play Gospel and bluegrass (and NASCAR races). Sadly, it’s all automated.

Tom

June 16th, 2012
7:59 am

I’m used to that… I have a 16 year old son who, when all the facts are laid out to explain why he wants isn’t viable, says the same thing (although with a surly attitude to go with it).

To quote an old country song, “(here’s) to those who stand on empty shores and spit against the wind and those who wait forever for ships that don’t come in.”

bravedawg

June 16th, 2012
9:23 am

I miss 94Q to this very day. Best ever. Z93 and 96 rock too. The best morning show ever was Gary McKee. 70s best music era. 60s and 80s great too. Since I am 54 I don”t count anymore. So its ipod talk radio or when in the truck its sirius radio. I can”t stand the robot talking junk even if music is ok. At least Mara”s still real. And by the way, stations their are more than 10 songs in any era.

Eric

June 16th, 2012
11:50 pm

I also still remember 99X on 99.7 dial position… Q100 on the 100.5 dial position… before Cumulus moved Q100 to 99.7, and moved 99X to 100.5, it being renamed as Rock 100.5. 99X had a very good morning show for a while… The Morning X with Steve Barnes, Jimmy Baron, and Leslie Fram.

Gary McKee, formerly of Z93 (now DaveFM), B98, and 94Q (now Star94)… and Rhubarb were Atlanta radio gold during Atlanta radio’s hey-day.

Randy Cook and Spiff Carner came along… then Steve McCoy and Vikki Locke came into the picture… both their shows were well liked. I also remember 96Rock’s Wake-Up Crew show, before The Regular Guys displaced Wake-Up Crew. Clear Channel later retired the 96Rock name, for what we know today as Project-9-6-1.

In recent years… V-103 parted ways with Mike Roberts and Carol Blackman’s morning show… in favor of Frank Ski and Wanda Smith. Bert Weiss came along, as did Kelly Stevens and Alpha Trivette. Cindy Simmons and Ray Mariner came into the picture too.

I don’t know about the Z93 name making a come-back anytime soon. I could picture JackFM working for Atlanta radio… if CBS Radio wanted to experiment with the JackFM format on 92.9.

Bandmom 09

June 17th, 2012
12:53 pm

I found a great station out of Gainesville…Chuck FM 103.7. Plays everything, I hope it gets a stronger signal so I can tune in at work in the ATL.

World's Second Oldest teenager

June 18th, 2012
12:42 pm

I liked Scott Shannon’s True Oldies Format. Bring it back. Concentrate on 1963-73 or like World’s Oldest Teenager said late ’50’s to early ’70’s.