Written Oct. 12, 2007 by Sean Ross in Content + HD Radio + Internet Radio with 14 Comments
The call came from somebody outside the business who had found an old Ross On Radio column about the former WRLL (Real Oldies 1690) Chicago and its pre-Beatles format. When the 1690 frequency became the new home of News/Talk WVON, the old format remained on-line and he continued to listen. But now, he said, even that stream was starting to filter in some music from the mid-to-late '60s. What about all those other stations I wrote about at the time, back in 2003-'04 when many in the industry were hoping that pre-Beatles Oldies would allow every Adult Standards station in America to update?
Sorry, many of those stations are gone as well: no more WWKB Buffalo, N.Y., WSAI Cincinnati, WCOL Columbus, Ohio, or WKAP Allentown, Pa. Of those stations, only WKAP got significant ratings traction for a while. Others, like WOKY Milwaukee, quickly settled in a mix of eras not that different from the FM stations they replaced. (I just checked out WOKY and it was playing "Lyin' Eyes.")
WRLL's Web stream, by the way, still plays a lot of pre-Beatles music. When I flipped them on, they were going from Little Willie John to Eddie Cochran to the Flamingos. But there was also "Michelle" by the Beatles and "Sunny Afternoon" by the Kinks. And even on new Oldies AMs like WMTR Morristown, N.J., and CKWW (AM580) Detroit that play some pre-Beatles songs that you don't usually hear elsewhere, you're still going to hear late '60s and even early '70s. Only the '50s channels on Sirius and XM continue to concentrate primarily on pre-Beatles and, remember, even they are adding a little early '60s to their original '50s emphasis.
A lot of the pre-Beatles Oldies AMs were claimed by the rise of Air America and liberal talk. And when the rush to blow up Oldies FMs slowed down a little this year, there wasn't the same sense of opportunity that had existed a few years ago. My favorite station for obscure oldies, WNYH Long Island, N.Y., plays a broad mix that ranges from standards to '70s with a lot of deep pre-Beatles in between. But they don't stream yet.
So it's hard if you're a purist. But here are some stations that might be worth checking out:
* KXKL (Kool 105) Denver's "Kool 105 Classics" HD-2 channel: Kool 105 has made the same era move into the '70s as most of its counterparts. But their HD-2 station has picked up the slack; it went from the Flamingos into the Ronettes into Paul Anka when I turned it on this morning.
* The "Real Oldies" format at the Clear Channel Format Lab: It was created by the same people who gave us WRLL, WSAI, and many of the others. But it now contains mid-to-late '60s as well.
* WMID Atlantic City: Again, I heard Mitch Ryder's "Sock It To Me! Baby," which is never a problem for me, but I also heard the Angels into Johnny Mathis' little-heard "Small World." And they bill themselves as "broadcasting from the doo-wop capital of the world."
* WMTR - As previously mentioned, they've moved into the late '60s and early '70s now--not nearly as deep as they were a year ago when it was possible to hear a Royal Teens song other than "Short Shorts." But there's still a lot of pre-Beatles music on there. And it's still the station I go to when I have an urge to hear "Killer Joe" by the Rocky-Fellers.
* Suburban Detroit's WPON, which bills itself as "talk and rare Oldies."
* WSAI's successor, WDJO, which has some of the same staffers and plays a 50/50 mix of pre- and post-Beatles.
For what it's worth, I miss the pre-Beatles AMs, too. I started listening to pop music in 1967, so a lot of the late '50s and early '60s are lost on me--particularly the Connie Francis/Neil Sedaka/Paul Anka ballads. But WSAI--the best of the category, I thought--was a well-produced, well-executed radio station, the kind that could make me sit through a song I didn't like. (Besides, they were all two-minute songs!) There are doubtlessly Internet-only stations specializing in pre-Beatles. But I'd rather hear them in the context of a full-service radio station.
But please chime in with your suggestions on pre-Beatles Oldies and where to hear them by clicking the comments tab above.