More than a half century ago, the Fab Four hit the shores of America for the very first time. “Beatlemania” ensued, captivating the country as the British Invasion became the biggest force in music in a generation.
If you were around back then or you follow music history, you'll remember the Beatles made their exclusive TV appearance in New York City on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the weekly variety show that aired on CBS-TV on Sunday nights. This show was “must-watch TV” back then, long before we used the label. Every week, Ed drew the biggest and hottest entertainers and celebrities to his stage (along with wacky novelty acts) to wow and amaze America.
So, it was only logical the Beatles would make the Sullivan show their first major media stop after their Pan Am flight touched down at JFK Airport that February day in 1964.
But radio – New York Radio, to be exact – was a big part of the story, too. The Top 40 radio battle was in full swing at that time. WINS had Murray the K, who became known as “The Fifth Beatle.” There's much footage of this iconic DJ interviewing John, Paul, George, and Ringo in their suite of rooms at the the Plaza Hotel in midtown Manhattan.
Across the street, WABC was taking no prisoners. They became W-A-Beatles-C under the guidance of mastermind Rick Sklar. When I joined ABC Radio a dozen or so years later, Sklar had risen to the company's head of programming. On a couple of late night evenings at industry conventions, Rick spun the stories of Beatlemania from the WABC point of view – including an all-points bulletin to locate Ringo's missing ring. It was the kind of promotion radio stations did back then. It would've made Paige Nienaber proud.
All that is to say, radio owned the Beatles during those heady years. Even when the emphasis shifted to FM around the time “Abbey Road” was released in 1969, radio (and your record player) was where you heard the Beatles.
Fast-forward to the mid-80s when Classic Rock stations started to appear, and the Beatles were the foundation of this new radio format. It was not uncommon to hear Beatles A-to-Zs to commemorate the anniversary of an album release, or even marking the date when the Fab Four played your hometown.
But all that shifted as the 25-54 year-old dictate became cemented in radio advertising circles. While the Classic Rock generation aged, the agency demo did not, leaving programmers with something of a dilemma.
In general, 60's music – including its patriarchs, John, Paul, George & Ringo – began to gradually disappear from Classic Rock playlists out of fear of the dreaded “demographic cliff.” Soon, the Stones, Kinks, Animals, the Jefferson Airplane, and Steppenwolf started to fade from playlists – at least on broadcast radio.
In personal collections and on streaming services, this music is alive and well. SiriusXM's “60's on 6” channel features this music front and center, played by former radio stars like Cousin Brucie and Shotgun Tom Kelly.
A few Classic Rock and Rock stations continue to prominently feature the Beatles and rock n' roll's roots. WMGK, WDRV, and KLOS come to mind, – but for the most part, British Invasion music has become increasingly missing in action in recent years.
Numerous radio stations around the country recognized “Abbey Road's” momentous anniversary last week. A handful honored the event, MGK (congrats on the Marconi, you guys) actually built a weekend around this seminal album.
A look at Nielsen BDS spin data reveals more Beatles airplay during this celebratory time. Looking at the entire country last week, the Beatles earned 4,467 spins compared to 3,876 the week before. That's an increase of nearly 15% week to week.
As for “Abbey Road” airplay, these songs generated 1,302 spins – +40% over the previous week. That's a good sign.
Why does this matter?
Because a number of radio's new media competitors stepped up big time. On SiriusXM's blog – “Hear & Now” – you can see how the network pulled out the stops. They included a live broadcast from Abbey Road Studios, along with an interview of Giles Martin (son of George who remixed the album for this anniversary).
Spotify also provided big-time coverage of “Abbey Road” – with data. According to a story by AdWeek‘s David Cohen, Spotify created an “Abbey Road” playlist (below), and also noted that “Here Comes the Sun” from that album is the all-time streamed song by the Beatles – 350+ million plays.
They also provided a list of the most-streamed Beatles songs – by age:
- 18 through 24: “Yesterday”
- 25 through 29: “Come Together”
- 30 through 34: “I Want to Hold Your Hand”
- 35 through 44: “Blackbird”
- 45 through 54: “Here Comes the Sun”
- 55+: “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”
Radio broadcasters may still want to mostly shy away from the Beatles to keep themselves out of demographic jeopardy. But off their air, there's opportunity to celebrate these occasions with no collateral damage to the ratings. Videos featuring members of the audience telling us their favorite “Abbey Road” tracks, online playlists, and even dedicating an HD2 channel to the album for a week are all ways to acknowledge and celebrate.
These are the times when syndicated shows could be repurposed for this type of off-air placement, Corporate digital departments should be hard at work creating assets for their groups of radio stations across the country to prepare them for moments like this. At a time when radio broadcasters are hungry for web content, these milestones mark the perfect occasion to provide web resources.
And if you're looking for some reinforcement, here's another fun fact from Spotify:
The demographic group that streams the Beatles the most – over 30% of all streams – is 18-24 year-olds. You read that right.
And it's even more reason why radio's Classic Rock stations need to stay focused on the pillars of the format – even if they don't “test” like they used to. Spotify, Pandora, SiriusXM, and other music channels are acknowledging these events – radio needs to be in the game, too.
After all, your kids may be listening to these bands more than you are.
Special thanks to Nielsen's Haley Jones and Adam Foster for the data.
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