Why Classic Rock Radio Sucks

Why Classic Rock Radio Sucks

   As a kid, my source of music was AM Radio, WABC in New York to be particular. They played all the hits. If it was a hit song, it was being played on WABC…. all day long. Top 40 ruled the air waves and my friends and my musical purchases. My musical horizons grew during my later teens, the late 70’s to be specfic. I still listened to the radio like everyone else, but now it was FM, a much freer format… I’d put on of several Rock stations in the Tri State area… my go to was WNEW in New York City. What made WNEW special was they went deep. They played more than the hits. Back then, most FM DJs could play whatever they wanted… personal favorite off a 5 year old Savoy Brown album ? Go for it… a new disc by a long time session guy ?, give it a spin… throw in some Cheech and Chong or vintage George Carlin to keep the listeners on their toes… that was the beauty of FM radio… Free Format. THAT would soon change.

   In just a few short years, every ROCK station across the country, would be playing the same 30 songs over and over and over ….. Rock and Roll Radio was going corporate. As a college intern at my local rock station, I would sit in on my “professor”’s show. He was the overnight guy at the time, he told me how they were getting rid of 75% of their vinyl….the stations program director (does that title even exist anymore), had decided that the station only needed to have Greatest Hits albums. It was over. New music became less frequent… Rock radio had become “Classic” Rock… meaning the same five songs from Led Zeppelin, the same seven songs from The Rolling Stones, the same two songs from Lynyrd Skynyrd, and sometimes the same songs from other great bands, that weren’t even their best songs…  ZZ Top anyone ? 

   As with any successful industry, Rock radio became less concerned with the product, and more concerned with revenue. It would be a few decades later, with the “invention” of streaming music, that the radio industry would realize they screwed up. Their solution was the putrid I “Heart” Radio campaign, but I digress. 

   Led by Pandora, and then more successfully (in my opinion) with Spotify, music streaming services offered consumers of music more choices… ALOT more choices. Listeners were given access to thousands of artists’ entire catalogs (whether or not the artists are compensated fairly is an argument for another day). If you like that Allman Brothers song, you now had the choice to hear similar artists, like Government Mule, The Derek Trucks Band, or Widespread Panic, with just the power of click. Want to listen to just The J. Geils Band for three hours straight ?, just “shuffle” their song list.

   Do you want to be exposed to new up and coming artists in your favorite genre ? There are streaming stations and blogs galore to satisfy that fancy as well. Personally, I love Blues and Blues flavored rock…. I have a whole arsenal of music choices to feed my fix… here are just a few…  SOUNDCLOUD, MIXCLOUD, LITTLE STEVEN’S UNDERGROUND GARAGE, BAND CAMP, REVERB NATION, FEEDBANDS… and then there’s the podcasts…. BLUES UNLIMITED, COLOR RADIO, JUKE IN THE BACK, MIKE KERR’S BLUES NATION, RAVEN and The Blues, THE BLUES KITCHEN, THE BLUZNDABLOOD BLUES RADIO SHOW, and so many more, each packed with icons in that particular musical genre, and up and comers. If that’s not enough, I also highly recommend the Rock and Blues Muse facebook page… 

   If all you want is background music, then pay no heed, but if music fills a void for you then, then dive into the above lists and explore. Having all those music options at your disposal, yet choosing to listen to the radio, is like having Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches everyday, when you could be going to a five star buffet.

The first 5 people to comment on this will be emailed a special 20% off Sales code for the purchase of either my Bohemian Bongo Beach Party art print (any available size), or my BONGO BEACH PARTY tee, any available size both from the MARTYTOONS SHOP. The code is valid for one week only, one time use only and expires on Tuesday, March 26th at 5:00 pm ….

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  • Hey Jake… thanks for the comment… sounds like a storied career. I interned at what would be our local classic radio station shortly before it began it’s decline into the mess you described in your comments. I miss those days of classic deep dive FM rock radion.

    Marty Qatani

  • I was born in 1962 in Flint, MI. Radio captured me as an infant and one of my first memories was that of an old Zenith tube AM/shortwave radio that would zap you if you touched it wrong. I had figured the radio out by the age of 2 and taught myself to read by age 3, because of 45 record labels. Radio was simply incredible in those days, locally as well as shortwave from across the globe. But my neighbor two doors down was a DJ at WTAC in Flint, and often took me to work with him at my mom’s behest (I was also a pioneer “ADHD kid”).

    By age 6, the engineers there helped me set up a small AM “pirate” station using the telephone lines as an antenna. Shortening a long story, I was working in radio by age 14. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to work on our local AM Top 40 stations when they were still great, and also worked at FM “Album Rock” stations before they degenerated into 60-song rotations (when it was possible to hear Marvin Gaye flow into Blind Faith!). Working in AOR really expanded my musical tastes, and I was blessed to have a decent music director who would give me records they didn’t intend to “add” as well as a dupe here and there. I still have quite a bunch of those records. I remember the first “classic rock” station to come on the air, WMMQ in Lansing, Michigan, sometime around 1985. They were great, mostly because they were live, locally programmed and had a very deep playlist of some 8000 albums and still very “open” policies on what could be played. WMMQ still is on the air today, but a shell of it’s former glory and “yet another stale radio station”.

    Radio started to shrink playlists and libraries in the early to mid 80’s, but really began to go to sh!t after the Telecom Act of 1996 allowed giant corporations like Clear Channel (or “iHate Radio” or whatever they call themselves now) and Cumulus to own literally every station in a city and drop automated, generic puree of “radio” on all their stations. I left radio in 1998, seeing enough carnage from TCA1996 already by then.

    However, both radio and music are “in the blood”. I still do occasional “pirate” broadcasts on shortwave, using an ancient Ham radio transmitter and other discarded broadcast gear I’ve hoarded during my career. If you have a shortwave radio, tune around 6.850 and 6.990 MHz on the dial. I run two stations, WILD and “Worldwide Basement Radio (WWBR)” playing a lot of songs nobody ever plays anymore. It gets pretty active on the weekends, especially holidays, primarily late afternoon into evening. 6.925 is a really popular frequency. Stations vary in quality from simply dreadful to awesome, but pretty much any of them are an improvement over most radio stations.

    Jake stakwako

  • Ron… thanks for the suggestion… Radio Paradise sounds like it’s right up my alley. Checking it out now.

    Marty Qatani

  • Rover… thanks for the comment. I agree 100%. Most of my online music feed and discoveries from online groups instead of streaming services. Might I recommend Rock Blues Muse…. great source for current music with the classic 70’s Rock sound. I compile a playlist on Spotify for the groups I like there, and then do a deep dive with the “If you like This, you may be interested in this…” found some really good artists that way.

    Marty Qatani

  • Hi Elmore… thanks for the comment. I share you’re sentiments. AM radio was my first introduction to modern music at the time… WABC in New York, as well. Used to listen on a little transistor radio in my bedroom. You’re timelines are dead on. I studied radio and television production at my local community college right about the time FM started to fade from deep cuts. It was only a few years later that FM spiraled down to the commercial nonsense that it is today.

    Marty Qatani

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