It began with a reader query:
“Are 1960s hits pretty much phased out of local radio now?” he asked. “I know that gradually Classic Hits stations have modernized their playlists somewhat, moving [the ‘90s] in, and deleting ‘Stop! In the Name of Love’ and ‘Mrs. Robinson.’ Is the transition complete? Are ‘60s hits going the way of Big Band era songs?
“If so, that’s sad. I think the ‘60s produced some amazing music, and although 25-54 demos are coveted, I think blowing out those songs is a huge mistake,” he added.
The defections have been prominent, but not total, even among large-market Classic Hits stations. As recently noted, WMJI Cleveland, with an Adult Hits sister station next door, still includes the ‘60s in a ‘70s-centered mix. (Tommy James is headlining an upcoming station show.) WOGL Philadelphia still plays 1-2 ‘60s songs an hour. So does CHLG (LG104.3) Vancouver.
In his recent Ross On Radio guest column, Rich Appel estimated 400 U.S. broadcast stations could still be better classified as Oldies than Classic Hits. Some of those are FM translators that found a place in markets where the Classic Hits format evolved, or disappeared completely. Some are AMs that evolved from Adult Standards, a format that general managers found even harder to sell than “Oldies.”
New stations continue to launch, although not all of them are streaming yet. Not yet available are Cox’s new KONO-AM San Antonio, or Saga’s just launched Pure Oldies 107.5 Springfield, Ill. Monmouth/Ocean, N.J., actually has three stations that play ‘60s in some form. The new WOBM-AM (Beach Radio) is streaming, as is WBHX (99.7 The Island). But WHTG-AM (Great Gold 1410) is not.
Options for the ‘60s extend well beyond broadcast radio, and stations like Great Big Radio and Pop Gold Radio are a (forthcoming) column unto themselves. Sirius XM’s ‘60s on 6 has been chronicled here as well. But if you’re streaming to begin with, broadcast radio choices abound, although most of them are ‘60s in tandem with ‘70s or ‘50s (or both).
WLNG Eastern Long Island — It’s among the best-known destinations of radio’s way-back machine. It has been presentationally streamlined over the years, but I came across a wide variety of ‘50s through ‘70s during my listening. Forget “My Girl”; I heard the Temptations’ “My Baby.” I also heard “Magic Town” by the Vogues. And at least four pre-Beatles songs in a row. More important, WLNG’s other franchise is as the Hamptons’ full-service radio station, and in the last stopset, I heard ads or PSAs for three different community events/fundraisers.
WPTY-HD-2 (Oldies 98.1) Long Island – “Suffolk County’s Good Time Oldies” sprung up on a translator to fill the hole left when WBZO segued from Classic to Adult Hits. The new station is newer musically than WLNG, although wide in its own way. Some segues could have been any big-city Oldies station a decade or so ago (“Baby Love” into “Heart of Glass”). But I also just heard Captain & Tennillle’s “Lonely Night (Angel Face)” into the Doors’ “People Are Strange.”
WBGF (True Oldies 93.5) West Palm Beach, Fla. — Sister to Oldies 98.1, this is the new large-market FM showcase of Scott Shannon’s relaunched True Oldies Channel. The most mainstream/hit-driven of the offerings here, but the hits are still punctuated by “Little Darlin’ by the Diamonds or “I Like It Like That” by the Dave Clark Five (especially if you’re listening to the online feed).
CHTG (92.9 The Grand) Hamilton, Ontario — The center of this recently launched FM is its deeper mix of the ‘70s; its unusual deal with Canada’s broadcast regulator limits the amount of music played from the ‘80s. But the music goes back at least as far as “Tequila,” and the Canadian music is also deeper than most of what’s heard on large-market Classic Hits outlets there.
KQLL (Kool 102.3) Las Vegas has found a foothold in the market for several years now, even on an AM/FM translator combo, and even in a market with both traditional Classic Hits and Supersoft AC on FM. It’s just gone from Jan & Dean’s “The Little Old Lady (From Pasadena)” to Searchers’ “Needles & Pins” to Four Seasons’ “Opus 17” to “La Bamba” (by Richie Valens, not Los Lobos).
4KQ Brisbane, Australia — A remarkable radio station that remains a force in a large market as a music AM. For ‘60s fans, the showcase is “Jukebox Saturday Night,” actually heard Saturday mornings on the U.S. East Coast, which plays ‘50s and ‘60s, with heavy doses of late ‘60s bubblegum and garage rock, as well as Australia’s own rich ‘60s history. Also, check out “Friday Night Fever” with its own wide ‘70s/’80s party mix.
KEZW (Crusin’ 1430) Denver — There was Adult Standards KEZW and there was Oldies Cruisin’ 950, until a station sale brought them together. The center here is the ‘60s, the side lane is the ‘50s, and there are only minor forays into the early ‘70s. Recent set: “Cherry Cherry,” “Incense and Peppermints,” “You Were on My Mind,” “He Will Break Your Heart,” and (again) “The Little Old Lady (From Pasadena).”
KOMJ (Boomer 1490/104.1) Omaha — Another former Adult Standards outlet, it has evolved to a mix of ‘60s and the “Thunder Island” ‘70s under longtime CHR PD J.J. Morgan, who plays his “J.J.’s Jems” feature at 2:40 p.m. daily.
WGHT (North Jersey 1500) Passaic, N.J. & WOLD-LP (Oldies 107.9) Edison, N.J. — North Jersey 1500 got a listener shout-out in “Intriguing Stations of 2016.” But every time I hear its “’50s through ‘90s … and beyond” format, I appreciate its tenacity anew. I came back to it after a long time away just before the holidays, and tuned in as it was playing a Jack Scott Christmas song I didn’t even know existed.
Oldies 107.9 could have as easily been in “Intriguing Stations” as well. Its depth isn’t limited to the ‘60s; it’s just gone from “I’ve Done Everything for You” by Rick Springfield to “Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight)” by Abba, but the ‘60s are there. It’s a low-power non-comm FM, but low-power in densely populated Central N.J. covers a lot of people, and I’ve started hearing it on in public. It’s also the Friday-night home of PBS oldies maven TJ Lubinsky.
WMCE Erie, Pa. & WGVU (Real Oldies 1480) Grand Rapids, Mich. — Two long-playlisted college FMs. WGVU has a special talent for unearthing local hits. WMCE is planning to transition to the commercial band shortly, so make sure to hear it as it has existed for the last four years now.
WNAV Annapolis, Md. — It’s a full-service AM (and FM translator) that just happens to play Oldies, but those span from ‘50s (Bobby Vee, “Devil or Angel”) to ‘60s (Esquires, “Get On Up”) to ‘70s (“Lay Down Sally” and beach tunes such as the Tymes’ “Ms. Grace”).
WKIO (Classic Hits 107.9) Champaign, Ill. – It’s really two playlists. One is a deep cuts Classic Hits outlet (in the old “soft Classic Rock” sense of the term); one is Oldies that spans ‘60s through early ‘80s. So you might hear the Rascals’ version of “You Better Run” or Al Stewart, “On the Border.”
Any sins of omission are inevitable, unintentional, and will be addressed in a future column. If you’re offering an outlet (broadcast or otherwise) for the ‘60s, let me know.