I recently had lunch with a market manager who oversees a highly successful cluster in a big market. This is one of those guys who knows how his stations sound, despite their format diversity.
And as the waiter delivered our salads, he asked me “the question” that always makes me stop and think before I flip off a prepared answer:
“So, Fred, what's new with Classic Rock?”
It may sound like a trick question, but it's not. For a format that's now fully established in the radio broadcasting industry after nearly 35 years of success, Classic Rock still has its unique struggles in the ratings and in sales departments all over the country.
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As Nielsen continues to remind us, the Classic Rock format continues to excel in the 25-54 “money demo” – many stations are Top 5 – the “demographic cliff” (as Ted Ruscitti calls it) continues to get closer, as more and more format fans age out of these stations.
(Actually, it's more correct to say these listeners aren't leaving the format – radio is leaving them, because of its myopic focus on the same 30-year age target it's been frantically chasing for decades now.)
And in sales department, the challenges are profound, even when Classic Rock stations have desirable ratings. Many media buyers are in their 20s, not exactly in the heart of the format's epicenter. The conversation is likely to be more about Billie Eilish and Cardi B than it is about when the Stones' tour will resume.
That's a reminder to all of us involved in programming and overseeing Classic Rock stations that there's an ongoing need to remain “current.” As consultant Rick Peters explained to me many years ago, when a radio station doesn't have that infusion of new music every week, it has to manufacture its “currents” – its imaging, personalities, promotions, and contests.
And the good news is that just in the everyday routine of the news and entertainment cycle, Classic Rock garners more press and buzz than it did back when the music itself swept the world back in the '60s and '70s – if you look for it.
Today's post will answer that question, “What's NEW with Classic Rock,” with three big stories that continue to help keep the music, its artists, and the lifestyle fresh:
ICYMI the new Elton John music biopic opened last weekend. And just to be clear, it will not be as successful as Bohemian Rhapsody. It's a tougher story than Freddie Mercury's (if you can believe that), there's a bit more self-pity, and it's a musical. That's right. Unlike the Queen movie, a brilliant actor, Taron Egerton (Kingsmen), plays Elton – and sings all the songs.
The film is more like La La Land than Bohemian Rhapsody. It is flamboyant, fun, and yet very sad at times, But it works.
I love making Oscar predictions nine months before the 2020 awards show, but I'm betting Egerton is nominated for a Best Actor statuette. And the film should earn nominations for its costumes, choreography, and other assorted honors. This video captures some of the magic of his talents – a duet with Elton John performing “Tiny Dancer” at his annual AIDS Foundation viewing party:
So, if you're a Classic Rock morning show, did you have something planned for this morning to capture the immediate buzz? Did you make sure that at least one of your cast members actually saw Rocketman over the weekend?
Did your station sponsor the premier and/or have you bought out a local theater to stage your own showing of Rocketman this coming weekend? Did you (or will you) pop a little more Elton back in rotation, even if he is no longer a core artist? (Remember what happened to the Queen catalog after the film hit its stride.)
If you work in Classic Rock, this is your “automatic add” this week.
2. Mick's back
We talked about Mick Jagger's heart valve replacement in a post a couple months back. At that time, arguably rock n' roll's most famous, resilient lead singer had to postpone the North American leg of this year's “No Filter” tour. Most of us know someone who's in their mid-'70s who has had serious heart surgery. You just never know how it will affect them.
Unless, of course, you're Mick Jagger. To make the point, he took to Twitter a couple weeks back, posting this video – leaving no questions about his readiness to hit the road with the Stones:
— Mick Jagger (@MickJagger) May 15, 2019
Note the tweet used zero words. The video said it all about his health and the band's immediate future.
3. Aerosmith's Vegas residency
Like many bands, the idea of going off the road and playing a long series of shows in Las Vegas is becoming more and more popular. These residencies are easier on an aging band, and as importantly, allows for complete and total technical consistency from night to night.
A recent story in Digital Trends by Parker Hall – “Dream on: The concert of the future is in Vegas, and Aerosmith leads the charge” – showcases how the band is setting new standards for the concert audio experience.
In detail, Hall talks about how Team Aerosmith is using smartphones and earbuds, combined with THX sound and French speaker manufacturer L-Acoustics to create an immersive audio experience.
We're used to seeing concerts in stereo – especially iffy for those sitting on either side of an arena or concert hall. This is Aerosmith's 50th anniversary, and for these shows at MGM's 5,400 seat Park Theater, the band set out to create a unique audio experience using the latest software and a gargantuan speaker system.
It's a new story how a Classic Rock band is using the occasion off a residency to upgrade its audio experience beyond what other bands have done. And it speaks to the notion that Classic Rockers want to enjoy new experiences with their favorite bands.
Bonus: “Rock This Town”
The life and times of concert promoters during rock n' roll's glory years are stories that involve radio. I was fortunate to attend a talk here in Detroit with Jules and Fran Belkin, Cleveland's premier concert promoters. As PD of WRIF, I worked with Belkin Productions, and the late Phil Ober. They were a together, honest operator. When you worked on co-promotions with Belkin, you knew what you were getting and what you weren't.
Fran Belkin has written a book, Rock This Town, detailing her family business with an emphasis on “swag.” I didn't know the full extent, but for the key bands they promoted, the Belkins worked hard to create custom clothing, bags, and other stuff for the bands and their organizations. It was a form of public relations, but also a sign of respect for the artists and their crew members.
The book's subtitle is “Backstage in Cleveland: Stories you never heard & swag you never saw.” As you might expect, it's loaded with great photos of these exclusive wearables as well as the stories behind them.
One of the best was a “Belkin presents” during Bruce Springsteen's seminal “River” tour. Bruce was always a Cleveland favorite, thanks in no small part to the support the band got from WMMS. So, the Belkins knew they wanted to make a memorable piece of clothing to commemorate the tour, and Bruce's return to Cleveland. No expense was spared for the making of this personalized swag – hand-stitching, embroidery – any touch that would make the item stand out and be embraced and appreciated by the band.
The shirt you see pictured here is what the Belkins came up with – a very cool article of clothing that any of us would love to have in our rock n' roll swag collection.
But when Fran showed it to Springsteen's manager, he politely informed her Bruce hated to be called “The Boss.” As she notes in her book, “Our custom embroidered shirt probably didn't impress.”
The book is loaded with amazing photos of all this unique swag – stuff you've not likely seen before – as well as great stories from bowling to Van Halen ('86) to KISS' financial struggles ('77) to French maids costumes for the Who ('82).
So, that's the answer to the question:
What's NEW with Classic Rock?
Programmers and personalities don't have to work especially hard to find things to talk about to make their Classic Rock stations sound “current.” It is truly remarkable that decades and decades after this music was originally popular, it continues to be celebrated by the media, fans, and of course, radio.
Thanks, Stacey Sherman.