As we firmly move into the second half of 2017, the format ratings stories of the year are becoming clearer. As we've seen in the past few years, an odd demographic pattern has been forming around both the Classic Hits and Classic Rock formats in PPM markets:
They are both very competitive among 18-34 year-olds.
In fact, Nielsen declared that Classic Rock is in serious contention to be this year's “format of the summer.” Not bad for a collection of songs that was first heard on the radio 30, 40, and even 50 years ago.
Whether Classic Rock earns summertime honors or not, it continues to defy format logic by maintain strong shares in all demos – 6+, 25-54, and amazingly, those 18-34s. Here's the updated chart from Nielsen, tacking the format each June in metered markets:
(BTW if you work for a Classic Rock station, you have Nielsen's permission to post this chart in every sales cubicle and in the jock lounge.)
Earlier in the week, musicologist, radio pro, and mega-blogger Alan Cross posed today's post title as a question in his highly entertaining blog, “A Journal of Musical Things.” Quoting a story in the Vancouver Province by Stuart Derdeyn, the burning issue on the table is whether “Classic Alternative” is poised to be the next incarnation of Classic Rock.
As we learned over the years – and I include myself in that group – there have been many different successful iterations of the original format, from Classic Hits to Classic Rock That Really Rocks.
The “Classic Alternative” concept floats to the service every few years or so. As Derdeyn points out in his story, many Alternative bands from the '80s (actually, they were more often referred to as “Modern Rock” back then) are still popular concert bands today – especially at the myriad summer festivals scheduled throughout North America.
Artists like the Psychedelic Furs and Violent Femmes are part and parcel of the phenomenon Derdyn says could be on the verge of happening. And in his story set-up, Cross alludes to the fact that most Classic Rock stations have beefed up '80s music on their playlists.
Derdeyn notes many of these bands didn't get a “fair shake” when they first hit the music scene back in the '80s. And certainly here in the States, there were many markets that did not have a true Modern Rock station back then. Most of these songs didn't cross over to Top 40, while most mainstream rockers (known in those days as AOR) didn't touch them. They were visible on MTV during that time, but less prominently played on FM radio.
While these bands may do well at state fairs and other summer festivals boasting well-stocked lineups of bands, their ability to support a format is questionable. Classic Rock – and its derivatives – as well as Oldies stations were predicated on the power of nostalgia – not just for a few thousand fans in a market, but for tens of thousands or more of die-hard supporters. We're talking mass appeal vs. niche.
If you've never heard of the band pictured at right*, 7 spins a week on a Classic Alternative station isn't going to turn their music into high-testing big hits in 2017. It's hard to create a groundswell of support for poorly exposed music that's now 30+ years old.
Personally, I'm a fan of a lot of this stuff, despite the fact it received consistently sporadic airplay in Detroit where I programmed. Oddly enough, one of my favorite satellite music channels is “1st Wave,” which features a steady diet of bands like New Order, Depeche Mode, and others that Derdyn mentions in his column. I would bet the folks at SiriusXM would tell us it's not among the most popular of their themed music formats.
For a new nostalgia-based format to succeed on a sustained basis, it needs a strong base of existing fans that loved and adored the music in real-time – when it was first released. That's just not the case here.
Just because music is old doesn't make it classic.
And by the way, imagine how Sean Ross' head will explode if the song of the summer of 2017 turns out to be “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
* It's Echo & The Bunnymen
Thanks to Nielsen and Jon Miller for the data.