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On Radio: Oldies are too moldy for Seattle

May 27, 2007

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SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER
http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/tv/316938_radiobeat24.html

On Radio: Oldies are too moldy for Seattle

Thursday, May 24, 2007
Last updated 9:07 a.m. PT

By BILL VIRGIN
P-I REPORTER

A faithful reader of On Radio calls regularly with the same question: Is there any hope of a Seattle radio station playing music from the first decade of rock 'n' roll?

By first decade he means from Bill Haley and His Comets on up to middle-era Beatles -- what used to be generically known in radio as oldies.

Unfortunately for that listener, the answer is always the same: no.

And it's even more "no" than before, what with the market's onetime oldies station, KBSG-FM (97.3), gravitating more toward a '70s playlist.

On a recent day KBSG played such songs as Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama," Supertramp's "The Logical Song" and Fleetwood Mac's "You Make Loving Fun," songs that fit more into the definition of classic rock or classic hits than oldies. Where once the station identified itself as "Oldies 97.3," now the tag line is "greatest hits of all time."

"They are a classic-hits station," says Jay Kelly, program director of another classic-hits station in the market, KJR-FM (95.7), and onetime program director for KBSG. "There's not a lot of Elvis on that station."

What has happened with KBSG is hardly unique, adds Jay Coffey, until recently KBSG's program director (the station is looking for a new program director). "They're not oldies stations anymore," he says. "The oldies label, they don't use it anymore. Sales departments didn't want it, general managers didn't want it," because it's associated with a demographic not considered attractive to advertisers.

If anything, KBSG was unique for holding on to oldies music as long as it did, says Robert Unmacht, radio-industry consultant with iN3 Partners. "The '50s and early '60s, that pretty much disappeared a long time ago," Unmacht says. The next group of music, from the mid- to late 1960s, "proved to be so successful, it probably stuck around longer than it should have."

But as the demographic cohort that grew up and associates with that body of music grows older, the station can either keep its format and age with those listeners, or shift its music that appeals to those now moving into the target-age demo, Coffey says. That means moving into the 1970s.

The problem for KBSG, however, is that the Seattle market hardly lacks for stations playing music from that era. "They were a unique station," Kelly says. When it comes to the '70s, "The Mountain (KMTT-FM), KZOK, Jack (KJAQ-FM) and KJR are all playing the same kind of music."

Unmacht says there are some slight differences. KZOK-FM is a classic rock station. "You're not going to hear the Spinners or Marvin Gaye," he says. KMTT-FM will be more eclectic, featuring artists like Bonnie Raitt. KBSG's sounds a bit like a soft-adult contemporary station, one that can be safely left on in the background. "Others are taking a louder approach," he says.

But radio stations haven't adopted '70s music the way they did that of the '50s and '60s, and they're not presenting it the same way stations in the 1970s did. While stations of the time mixed genres and black and white artists, classic hits, classic rock and rhythmic hit stations of today tend to be more narrowly focused and split black and white artists.

As for the listener who still is hoping for rock's first decade, the best the experts can offer is the Web streams of radio stations in other markets that still do oldies (one example being www.wmtram.com), Internet radio stations in that format and satellite radio with oldies channels.

In other radio notes:

  • Steve Krueger has retired as environmental reporter for KPLU-FM (88.5), where he has worked for 14 years, but the move is more of a shift within a career. Krueger has been in journalism for 40 years, starting with newspapers in Canada, then working for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. in Vancouver and Edmonton (he holds dual U.S. and Canadian citizenship), freelancing and then joining KPLU.

     

    His next journalistic venture: completing a novel, due to be published in Canada this fall. "Manifest Destiny: The Quest for Oil" looks at the world in the wake of a military conflict that destroys oilfields in the Middle East. Krueger says he has some other book projects in mind.

    KPLU-FM has named Liam Moriarity its full-time environmental reporter.

     

  • Lizz Sommars' guests on "Conversations" at 6 a.m. Sunday on KBSG-FM, KISW-FM (99.9) and KKWF-FM (100.7) include Julia Whitty, author of a book on environmental threats, "The Fragile Edge."

     

     

  • Jim Wilke's "Jazz Northwest" at 1 p.m. Sunday on KPLU-FM features a recent performance by the Bill Anschell Trio.

     

     

  • The Sunday edition of Jim French's "Imagination Theatre," heard at 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday on KIXI-AM (880), includes a new Sherlock Holmes adventure.

     


    P-I reporter Bill Virgin can be reached at 206-448-8319 or billvirgin@seattlepi.com.

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