I wanted to write a little about the sharp downfall of the oldies and classic rock radio I cherished so much in my teens and very early twenties.

I’ve been a Monkeemaniac since the ’86 revival, but I wasn’t really into any other vintage bands until I was thirteen. When my family were visiting my paternal grandparents in late ’92, I was watching VH1 and saw the music video for “Daydream Believer.” It reignited my Monkeemania in a huge way, and on 25 January 1993, I began tuning in to the two local oldies stations which were then in business.

The first weekend of February, I listened to Dick Bartley’s Rock and Roll’s Greatest Hits and American Gold (now renamed The Classic Countdown) for the first time. I still remember that the spotlight on Greatest Hits, that very first time I tuned in, was The Dave Clark Five, and it was a really big deal because their greatest hits were coming out on CD.

I was quickly exposed to and enamoured of so many of the awesome bands, groups, and musical acts of the Classic Top 40 era. During this early period of getting to know everything I could about Sixties music, The Monkees ceased being my favourite band, and were replaced by The Four Seasons. Then my third musical love became The Beatles, whom I officially declared as my favourite band on 9 April 1994. My fourth musical love is The Who, since late 2000, though The Beatles are still the musical love of my life. I sincerely believe they saved my life when I was so depressed and angry in eighth grade.

Anyway, there was such awesome variety, and a lot more special weekend programmes than are carried in my area nowadays. Besides The Four Seasons and The Beatles, I also got into The Hollies and Herman’s Hermits during this period, and a number of other artists whom I liked a lot. (I’m very particular about my favourite bands. I prefer a smaller list of quality acts I know I’ll love for the rest of my life, instead of a huge list that’s constantly changing.)

Since early ’95, there’s only been one local oldies station, and only one of Dick Bartley’s programmes, Rock and Roll’s Greatest Hits, is still carried. In perhaps 2007, the one remaining oldies station expanded their playlist to songs from about 1975-89. I was concerned about that development, but didn’t really realise what it meant for the future of oldies and classic rock radio.

Had I wanted to get back in touch with my Monkeemania today, I wouldn’t have such a richness of resources for Classic Top 40 radio. Now that I think about it, there’s a lot less variety today. Barely any pre-1964 music is played, to say nothing of early rock from the late Fifties. And there are far less songs per each act played. You’d think these people only had 4-5 songs each, instead of lots of albums and singles to mine from.

Dick Bartley really sold out when he switched to Seventies and Eighties music, and stopped playing true oldies, the classic rock and pop I fell so in love with at thirteen. As much as I love Eighties music, it’s not classic rock! I don’t want the songs from my childhood to be repackaged as oldies or “classic hits”! They’re Eighties music. It’s not just about feeling old, but about the traditional definition of oldies, about 1955-74.

I can easily think of a lot of songs I regularly heard back in my early teens, which I never or very rarely hear played these days. Apparently this is happening at many other radio stations, the oldest songs being dropped and a focus being on songs from 1975 on. There are some songs I immediately turn off or change the channel on, like “American Pie,” “Hotel California,” and “Pinball Wizard,” because they’ve been so freaking overplayed.

I felt so violated the night Dick Bartley played a shortened version of “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” That was just wrong. If you can regularly play “Hey Jude,” you can play a song that’s a little big longer. He also routinely says he’s not playing the 17-minute version of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.”

So what if the demographic who liked pre-1964 music, or oldies in general, is dying off? Young people like old music too, and now they’ll have less of a chance to discover it. Not all young people are into the music of their generation. I never was. I didn’t even become a Duranie until they were eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, though we all know that élitist jerk Jann Wenner is probably keeping them out just like The Monkees, and many other worthy artists who’ve been eligible for years.

Apparently I’m in a minority for wanting to hear more than the same 500 songs over and over again. I want album cuts, B-sides, Top 100 hits, lesser-known material. Not “Brown-Eyed Girl,” “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” “Hotel California,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress,” and “Suspicious Minds” yet AGAIN. If listeners aren’t exposed to other material, they won’t know about it to request it. Let’s get back to a more diverse programming, not this boring, formulaic crap giving such an incomplete picture of classic rock and pop.

7 thoughts on “The decline of oldies and classic rock radio

  1. Excellent blog post. I too have noticed that pretty much all commercial radio stations have dropped music from before 1964 (with the occasional exception like Louie Louie or Stand By Me). What seems to be the trend now are stations that play music from 1964 to 1989 and label it “classic hits,” and then you have “the best variety” radio stations that play 80s, 90s, 2000s and even some of today’s hits all together on one station. I also liked how you said that even younger folks would appreciate hearing 50s and early 60s on the radio. For example, I was born in the 80s, but I love 50s rock n’ roll and early 60s stuff, especially the Motown hits. I know others my age who do as well. That’s true that people don’t just automatically like or listen to the music of their generation, and like or listen to nothing else. Therefore, I think an oldies station including 50s and early 60s hits would still do well nowadays, since those from younger generations, myself included, are definitely into stuff from way before they were even born.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I too am set back by the lack of oldies stations. Here in Knoxville, TN we have a “Classic Rock” station and a weak oldies station out of Sweetwater, TN. I have turned to my computer for streaming. I can hear Dick Barkley (both broadcast), Mike Harvey (6 nights a week), plus even Scott Shannons True Oldies network. I have 2 Bose speakers on my desktop computer and near all of the streaming stations boadcast in stereo. Just google oldies radio stations and you can hook up with stations all over the country. I’m a bit of a night owl and I listen to Mike Harvey’s all request Super Gold show broadcast from kool97.3FM from Anchorage, Alaska and because of the time difference it plays into the early morning here in Knoxville. You just need to turn your desktop, laptop, tablet or even your smart phone into your new radio.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent point.

    Here in my area, Allentown, PA, out last oldies radio station shut down their playlist in 2006 and we haven’t had any oldies station since then.And sadly, this is happening around the country, radio stations claiming that the demographics aren’t there for the stations, yet, this is a resurgence of oldies music, heck, even young people are getting into the music espically because of video games. Video game series such as Fallout and Mafia are getting people interested in oldies. I know a few young people who stream their gameplay on Twitch and play older music in the background. One of them, Anna, plays 50’s music and above.

    The sad part is that the music industry is changing what the word oldies means. For years, it meant music from the 1950’s- until the early 1970’s. Now the industry is trying to make oldies look like 70’s and 80’s music.

    There are oldies radio stations around the world that play music from the 1950’s-early 1970’s. There is a station from Germany called 1000 Oldies and plays music from the 1950’s-1980’s.

    On the case Dick Bartley, he had Saturday Night Gold which then became Rock and Roll’s Greatest Hits. But it’s sad that he switched to 1970’s and 1980’s music and still called the show Rock and Roll’s Greatest Hits but I wouldn’t blame Dick, it’s the mentality of the radio and music industry, their changing the idea of oldies music to make it so that 1970’s and 1980’s music becames Oldies and the 1950’s and 1960’s music gets taken off. Hell, their even calling 1990’s music oldies.

    As of this year, Rock and Roll’s Greatest Hits is now called Classic Hits and the name suits the show because it plays 1970’s and 1980’s music. The name should have been changed years ago because calling the show Rock and Roll’s Greatest Hits and not playing what made the show is crazy. When I hear the Rock and Roll’s Greatest Hits, I think Elvis, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, Four Seasons, British Invasion, Doo-Wap, Psychadelic era, etc, not 1980’s music. Don’t get me wrong, the 1970’s and 1980’s had good music.

    Yet, the 1950’s and 1960’s music influenced a lot of signers who went on to sign in the 1970’s/1980’s.. Hell, popular signer Bruno Mars was influenced by Doo-Wap and oldies music.

    SirusXM has channels for 1950’s, 1960’s, 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s music so if 1950’s and 1960’s music was truly dead, no stations would be playing it.


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