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Should There Be Just One Rock Radio Format Again?

In the Olden Days–the 1970s and early 80s–there was only one flavour of rock radio on FM. AOR–album-oriented rock–played music that was harder than what AM stations played and had a reputation for going deeper tracks on albums. There were subtle differences from station to station, but they all played a wide-ranging form of rock.

As time went on, though, there was format fragmentation. Soft rock. Hard (or “active” rock). Alternative. Classic. This made a lot of sense as stations began to chance specific audiences and certain demographics.

Now, though, this approach doesn’t make as much sense. Today’s music fans–especially the young–are much more ecumenical in their tastes. Radio consultant Sean Ross asks if it might be time to return to the days where there was just one type of rock radio.

Is it time for current-based rock radio to become one format again?

His focus was mostly country radio, but during his keynote at Tuesday’s RAIN Summit Nashville, Big Machine Label Group President/CEO Scott Borchetta talked about rock radio’s recent travails. Rock’s weakness, he said, was due to its splintering into multiple charts—modern rock, active rock, and, in some cases, mainstream or heritage rock. That was why, Borchetta said, he had personally opposed any attempt to fragment the country chart.

While the opposition of Borchetta and many on Music Row to fragmentation goes back for decades, you think he might come around now that Big Machine and radio group owner Cumulus have partnered on a NASH Icon record label specializing in heritage artists, like Reba McEntire. Labels like having radio move in lockstep, but two charts might have sped up the brutal 26-to-40-week incubation time of some hits.

Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37816 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

3 thoughts on “Should There Be Just One Rock Radio Format Again?

  • If it hadn’t been for the old CHUM FM, and Dave Marsden and Dave Pritchard, I would have never been introduced to Roxy Music, Queen, Fairport Convention, Nick Drake, Cat Stevens, Tangerine Dream, David Bowie, Strawbs, and countless others. This station was playing their music years before anyone else. People keep saying there is no good new music. It’s because radio isn’t playing it. You can’t like or appreciate what you don’t or can’t hear.

  • It seems we are being told what we should like by our radio stations.
    However in looking at my Daughter’s playlists from years back I do see evidence of this musical ecumenism;Rush ,Metro,Metric,Motley Crue,The Script,Oasis,cute us what
    We aim for,Europe,etc
    So maybe it is high time to make these changes!!!

  • I don’t think it ever made sense. You cannot assume that age=certain musical tastes, even if it’s just the genre of rock. My music is all over the map and crosses over every decade. Except for the morning drive (which you’ll be happy to hear is Fred and Mel) I station hop based on what’s playing right now. (Hint – if you want me to wait out the commercial breaks then give me a good reason to stay tuned for what is next.) I think when it comes to rock it’s more about mood and tempo. It can change during the day. Artists shouldn’t be pigeonholed into a single category based on their most popular songs. As a listener, as much as I like “classic rockers” I am tired of hearing the same 5 or 6 songs per group. It gets worse when you change stations and then get to hear them again. Throw in a few surprise change-ups so that we go “I remember that. Haven’t heard it in years”.

    I think what radio needs is to go back to cultivating personalities. Give the DJ permission to curate “their” show to suit their likes, knowledge and history. Let them take us on a journey. The best radio hosts are not just announcers, they have a deep love of music and lifelong interest in all it’s aspects.


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