Finding '50s, Early '60s Oldies On The Radio

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.

Reader Comments

Your 2¢, in chronological order — add your comment below.
1  Sam Lit on October 12, 2007 2:06 PM

Hy Lit presents the super sound of Philadelphia oldies. The complete oldies catalogue, hand picked, from the beginning of rock & Roll, at www.HyLitRadio.com

2  Adam Jacobson on October 12, 2007 2:16 PM

How sad it is that we are having this discussion. In 1996, covering my very first NAB Radio Show as an editor at Radio & Records, I asked a very prominent CBS Radio executive what they planned on doing in 10 years as far as moving their stations forward into the 1970s with their music - and, presumably, their imaging and everything else that comes with tweaking a station. I was told, "The music is what it is. These songs are timeless and Oldies are Oldies - it is that core era from the Beates invasion to about 1970."

Well, tune to even the most conservative of Oldies stations, and the playlist starts at 1968 - arguably a very soft year for Top 40. Gone are many of the Motown hits, British Invasion staples and surf pop that dominated radio - and the higher reaches of the music tests from just a few years ago.

Never mind the fact that there are 300 records from pre-1964 that are "timeless classics" that were dumped from Oldies playlists as far back as 1993, when I was an intern at WMXJ under Bill Stedman.

Perhaps I was a naive little punk who was just learning about the wonders of RCS Selector, but I thought Oldies transcended generations. After all, I was all of 21 and loved the music. From "Rock Around the Clock" and "Runaway" all the way to the George Harrison solo stuff, that music was far better than the Top 40 stuff of the early 1990s.

With Radio Disney's debut, Oldies were a component because the original thought process was that kids love the Oldies. It's safe. They can sing along. The music was timeless.

Well, it's not timeless as far as marketing and advertising departments go.

We haven't learned a thing. The programmers have yielded to demographics and ad agencies and the time-honored tradition of "staying young" by purging playlists.

So now we have Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles not only on AC but also on Classic Hits and Oldies and some Classic Rock stations.

Here in Miami, I hear "Sunny" by Bobby Hebb more than I care to. It was always an OK record but it fits in the time window now, so it has to be there.

But c'mon - why can't I play "Blueberry Hill" or "Great Balls Of Fire"?? These songs are timeless. Hollywood has used them in films for years. Everyone knows and loves these songs.

Because the songs are too old and appeal, thus, to listeners that are too old to market to?

Gimme a break.

In 1992, Oldies focused on 1964-70, or in some cases the timeline ended at 1968. That was the classic 25-to-30-year arc. Whatever was a hit 25 years ago was the core of the playlist for anything "classic."

Funny that Classic Rock now plays songs that are older than "The format previously known as Oldies."

I argued for this move - for Oldies stations to move into the 1970s. But the way they've done it is appalling. It's the marketers and advertisers that have dictated how it is to be done, and every ounce of soul (no pun intended) the station had has now been removed.

With the shift to the 1970s, we now have a bunch of lilywhite Classic Hits stations that have no groove except for a Wild Cherry record.

Yet 1970s Top 40 stations were full of disco and soul balanced with rock and pop.

Anne Gress and the WOGL staff get it as far as Oldies moving forward - the imaging, the on-air vibe, the music all click without clunking. K-Earth 101 is almost there after a year of slowly moving in a 1970s direction.

But the new KFRC is NOT my KFRC. Where is the energy and the soul and the pop/soul/disco/rock mix that made it Station of the Year in 1977?

Back to the topic at hand, though, and "Oldies" - I have an iPod shuffle now, and along with Arctic Monkeys, Lily Allen, September, Snap!, Gilberto Santa Rosa, Victor Manuelle, Styx, Bruce Springsteen, James and 400 other artists are songs from Bill Haley & The Comets, Del Shannon, Danny & The Juniors, The Marcels, Dion and The Shangri-La's.

Hell, the Shangri-La's inspired Amy Winehouse to put together a groundbreaking album.

And Elvis is everywhere, although he's still dead.

The "original hits" of the 1950s and early 1960s should not disappear altogether, and "the format previously known as Oldies" should at least put together a Sunday-night sock hop or some program that focuses on this era of music. I'm not saying to go deep with "The Battle of Running Bear" or Miss Toni Grant, but some acknoweldgment to the music that inspired The Beatles and The Stones by the format that saw years or riches from that music is something that may provide a spark to a format that certainly has growing pains and a growing identity crisis.

3  jon bruce on October 12, 2007 5:50 PM

"Killer Joe" by the Rocky-Fellers ! You always had great taste. I played it a few times when we here at KDES-FM Palm Springs were an oldies station. We are now "Greatest Hits" ; 70's and 80's with some late 60's. For oldies I go to richbroradio.com, or KFXM-LP Lancaster,Ca. (96.7 and on line). An old "Radiophiler" Jonny Bruce

4  Joe Montana on October 13, 2007 9:23 PM

Hello: Interesting discussion...I have listed for the past 33 years a guy who is now on the internet named Rockin' Richard. He plays some of the best pre beatles music every week. He is on www.wnhu.net from 6pm to 8pm east coast time. He just had an interview with Kid Kyle who is a 12 year old doowop singer that is just fantastic. Also I remember hearing interviews with people like Fred Paris of the 5 Satins, Bill Baker of the Chestnuts/5 Satins, Bo Diddley, Arlene Smith of the Chantels, Wanda Jackson, Clyde McPhatter & Bill Pinkney of the Drifters etc etc. a show worth checking out if you want the real deal. It's unreal that so many stations are opting out on this great music. Thanks, Joe Montana

5  Ron Norwood on October 14, 2007 2:02 PM

Hi Sean,

I have been a reader of your comments for quite some time.

I have a radio show that plays the kind of music you find missing on the radio. That’s music from the ‘50s and early ‘60s. The name of the show is “The Doo-Wop Express.” We put out seven hours of programming per week that airs on a small number radio stations around the country. My greatest response comes from internet stations and a website that offers the show “On Demand.”

I started doing the show almost six years ago because there was no doo-wop on the radio. One of my first stations was WKAP-AM which carried the show Saturdays at 7:00 am and repeated Saturdays at 5:00 pm. The show was on for three years in Allentown and Reading on WRAW.

Since that time, very few stations play any the music from the ‘50s and early ‘60s. I have expanded my playlist to include classic R & B artists like Ruth Brown, Louis Jordan and even the Inkspots who I refer to as the “Granddaddies of Doo-Wop.”

You might find my website interesting and the music enjoyable. Check out www.doowopexpress.com.

Ron Norwood
“Your Doo-Wop DJ”

6  Mike Shannon on October 15, 2007 11:58 AM

We still 50's and early 60's, a few every hour. We also feature 2 hours Sunday mornings 7a-9a of nothing but 1954-1963. The ratings show people still love those songs and want them.
You can listen live too!
Mike Shannon
WQRK-FM

7  Clark Smidt on October 20, 2007 2:03 PM

Great Sound Always Wins. The 50's & 60's is Passion Music. Great when folks use the older tunes in TV shows, movies and commercials.
If anyone has a moment, pls. tune in KOOL 101, New London, CT., especially Fri PM-Sun. www.kool101.com
Best regards,
Clark

8  Harold Levine on January 28, 2008 3:05 PM

Radio Bop at radiobop.com - "Your never-ending nonstop sock hop!" - has been streaming 50s/early 60s for 3 years now with a playlist of every available song charting on the Billboard Top 40 from 1955-1965 (early Rockabilly through early Beatles) with lots of memorable PAMS jingles...our worldwide monthly cume is well over 10,000 listeners in 80 countries...sister station ROOTSofROCK.US (on LoudCity.com and Live365.com) now in test stage plays songs from the Billboard Pop, Country and R&B charts from 1944-1954...and Radio Bop 60s premieres in just a couple of months featuring all 60s and Drake-inspired formatics... Harold Levine, Program Director

9  Roger on March 22, 2008 1:39 AM

I recommend KVEN, 1450 AM from Ventura, California. Streaming at www.1450theboomer.com. Has a little 60's now but not much. And what there is, is the good stuff. Rock ON! Lee Marshall is the coolest DJ.

10  Ken Rogers on June 25, 2008 11:25 AM

We produced a 4 hour weekly radio program called "The GOLDEN AGE OF ROCK'N ROLL" featuring the music from 1955-1963. We started with 42 stations in 2003, but stopped production at 27 stations thru-out the southeastern USA. It looks like stations that have dropped the program were because of the upper demo's. The show was produced on CD and shipped to stations each week. We did the show on a barter basis and featured original Hot 100 hits from the era with interviews and sound bites of the era. Our regional sponsors were Tracfone, Select Comfort Direct, Schering-Plough Healthcare Products. The commerecials (4 per hour) were placed within the show and affiliates had 10 minutes each hour to fill with local spots or News, PSA's, Promos, etc. Most affiliates programed the show early Sunday mornings or Mid-days on Saturday. We received a good response from listeners via phone calls, but ratings were very top heavy with 90% of the listeners 50+. The best audiences were in areas of retirement like Tampa-St.Petersburg,FL, Asheville, NC, Beaufort, GA, Wilmington, NC, Daytona Beach, FL. Myrtle Beach, SC . The upper demos made it difficult for stations to get agency buys. We had reservations about continuing since two of our sponsors did not renew contracts and no new clients were on the horizon. It's a great era that should be on the air but we found that the 54+ demo just won't support the sponsors. Radio listenership is really bad on the AM dial (even in good time slots) and production of the show is a bit costly.
The 50's Channel on XM Radio has a cume of about 21,000 each hour and that's with XM having over 2.5 million subscribers and more each day. The 50's era music is about to go the way of the big band era.

11  Paul Peters on August 20, 2008 5:46 PM

Hello,

I thought that maybe your readers would be interested to hear that Geoff Kemp and I present a weekly radio show called "The Fabulous 50's Radio Show" on U.K. radio station Forest FM 92.3 www.forestfm.co.uk which broadcasts to East Dorset and the New Forest area of the south of England.

The Show is also avalable as a "Podcast" from KFMJ, the "Oldies" station in Alaska at:- www.kfmj.com

We only play records from 1950 to 1959, and as we say, anything from Rock 'N' Roll to Nat King Cole...Doris Day to Billy May!

Tune in and have a listen.

All the very best,

Paul Peters
fab50.radio@yahoo.com

12  Tom on August 29, 2008 6:49 PM

Killer Joe...WOW!
KVEN 1450/Ventura played that A LOT before they flip flopped to late 60s/70s/80s Classic Hits.
They used to have a playlist that ranged from Rocket 88 to Seargant Pepper.
Now all you hear is Elton John, Doobie Bros. And Wild Cherry's funky music. DAMN

13  paul bizzarro on March 8, 2009 1:13 PM

Some flip side songs are just as good. How about flip side fridays?

14  Michael on December 23, 2009 11:08 AM

Even mid '60s songs are becoming hard to find nowadays! (I just love the Beach Boys, Motown, and some of the British Invasion artists of the era besides the Beatles/Stones/Kinks/Zombies!) Where I live in the Baltimore, MD/Washing, DC area, on weekdays, the "oldest" pop station on the radio is Big 100.3 FM, and it's WORSE than your standard Classic Hits station: it's mostly AC-based Classic Hits! (Little hard rock, and almost NO R&B/Soul/Funk/Disco!) That leaves "classic black music" to 102.3 FM and even that plays some newer stations and is basically Urban Adult Contemporary with some weekend oldies. Jack FM is all that I really care to listen to now (about 35 percent '80s, 20 percent '70s, 25 percent '90s, a few late '60s and a few more current hits), though with decent depth. Only 101.9 Lite FM(outside of the Christmas season) on weekends plays anything that could be close to an "oldies" station- about 60 percent '70s, 10 percent '80s (mostly from the first half of the '80s), and of the 30% that's pre-1970, only about once a day is a pre-1964 song (like Be My Baby or Stand By Me or Louie, Louie) played. But what's weird is that I hear Elvis' All Shook Up and a variation of The Angels' My Boyfriends' Back in regular commercial rotation, so even younger people should enjoy this kind of music! They are still nice collectable records on eBay. But it's sad that the "classic" radio stations on weekdays where I live is 1983-centric!

Even the 92.1 (FUN) the Wave down at Ocean City, MD updated their once good playlist this past year. Up until 2008 it would play NOTHING past the early '70s along with the Sunday Night "Drive-in" hours of pre-Beatles stuff. But this year, it's devolved into a crappy '64-'79 station just like Lite FM for most of this decade before they added the '80s stuff during their flashback weekends (with about one early '60s song every other hour). Terrestrial radio is not designed for people over 40, unfortunately.

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