Back when WLS radio in Chicago was a rock station that could be heard over most of the nation, during the summer WLS would run a top-of-the-hour jingle that started with the headline and then the singing of “Music Radio, WLS, Chicago!’

Then would be played what Inside Radio writes about now, referring to Portable People Meters, a measure of radio or TV audience:

All indications point to another battle between classic hits and classic rock to be crowned the Format of The Summer of 2018. June and July PPMs show what has become an annual trend: As the temperature rises, so do ratings for the two formats. In June the classic hits format saw its highest 6+ share (5.9) in PPM markets since Nielsen began tracking national format ratings. Classic rock has also begun its share ascent, moving from a 4.9 share in the first five months of the year to a to a 5.2 in June. The Format of the Summer is based on the format with the most uplift in audience between June and August, compared to the first five months of the year. Classic rock has been named the summer’s fastest-growing format for the past two years, while classic hits took the title in the two years prior, 2014 and 2015. …

Inside Radio caught up with a number of programmers specializing in these gold-based formats to see why the heat brings the ears to classic hits and classic rock stations over the summer months. “Classic rock has always been a ‘windows in the car down, hair blowing in the wind, singing every word loudly, taking you back nostalgically to a great point in your life’ kind of format,” explains WCSX Detroit PD Jerry Tarrants. The longer summer days, he says, increase TSL from the station’s P1’s. That, along with an influx of tune-in from P2 and P3 listeners, “certainly works to our advantage.” he said.

Summertime activities also lead to more tune-in opportunities. Cumulus Media VP/Programming classic hits Brian Thomas notes, “People are outside, at the beach, on the boat or having a BBQ and love to hear the classic hits they know. All the songs are familiar.”

Adds Scott Jameson, VP/classic rock for Cumulus, “Many markets have limited warm weather seasons, so it’s a great time to activate the audience on many levels. When you add it up, the energy and activity of the summer many times translates to higher ratings.”

Jim Ryan, classic hits formatcaptain at Entercom, doesn’t believe listeners flock to classic hits or classic rock stations simply because of the summer months, but he does think that “they are more inclined to stay with the format in the warmer months.” Expanding upon Jameson’s thoughts about parts of the country that get all four seasons, Ryan added, “Between November elections and winter snowstorms, there is more of a need to sample news radio stations and those are our people.”

Without a doubt, the summer months change people’s perspective. Long summer days turn into warm summer nights and radio serves as an ideal companion.

“I try to drive tempo more in the warmer months because people want the music on the radio to reflect their mood,” Ryan says. “When someone is up and happy they are more inclined to turn up and sing along with songs like ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ rather than ‘Who’s Crying Now.’” Thomas agrees: “The audience wants to have fun. Bring on the party.”

Jameson sees a difference in the mindset of the audience during summer, “particularly in Midwest and northern markets where warm weather doesn’t last long,” he explains. “With kids out of school and parents looking for things to do, rock formats provide a great soundtrack for a variety of activities.”

The summer months, with their built-in long holiday weekends – Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day – lend themselves to specialty programming that fits in nicely with the classic hits/rock formats. “I advise the classic rock stations I work with to develop creative ways to re-package the format using these holidays as a backdrop,” Jameson tells Inside Radio. “Gold-based stations don’t have the luxury of exposing new music, so we need to find clever ways to allow old music to sound fresh again. Whether it’s a ‘Rock n’ Roll 500’ over Memorial Day or ‘Four on the Fourth,’ it lets the format breathe a bit and listeners love the various themes.”

Thomas says “specialty weekends bring in big audience for classic hits. We see this in every market where the station that does a Memorial Day Top 500 scores big.”

Tarrants likes to keep the specialty weekend themes going throughout the year, not just when the temperature gets above 80 degrees. “In Michigan we experience such significant changes in seasonal climate it allows us some good opportunities to emotionally charge our listeners with some creative imaging all year,” he explained. “We do as much fall/winter seasonal pieces as we do summer.”

Besides theme weekends, Ryan brings back the tempo of the music and how it shifts from season to season. “In every category in my music scheduling program, you will find ballads on top,” Ryan said. During the warm weather months, he finds himself “skipping over those big time… Save those ballads for a rainy Monday night.”

Thomas, who previously programmed WCBS-FM before joining Cumulus, says, “We have joked that once it hits 70 degrees in Chicago or 75 when I was in New York we don’t play anymore slow songs, especially on the weekends.” This is something he has seen AC stations do as well, with “no slow songs weekends.”

Tarrants adds, “Musically when the weather breaks in the spring, I will groom the library… throttling back the darker songs and accelerating the brighter fun-filled themed titles.”

The Milwaukee radio market proves this point. In the July Nielsen ratings classic hits WRIT (95.7 FM) was rated first by a sizeable margin above news/talk WTMJ (620 AM), with classic rock WKLH (96.5) third.

That’s somewhat the case in Madison too. The spring ratings showed classic-hits WOLX (94.9 FM) first, contemporary hits Z104 second, news/talk WIBA (1310) third, alternative Triple M fourth, and classic rock WIBA-FM fifth.

What is the difference between classic hits and classic rock? The always accurate Wikipedia defines “classic hits” as “rock and pop music from the early/mid 1960s through the mid/late 1980s (occasionally early/mid 1990s in some markets),” and “a contemporary version of the oldies format.” “Classic rock,” meanwhile, is “developed from the album-oriented rock (AOR) format in the early 1980s. In the United States, the classic rock format features music ranging generally from the mid-1960s to the late 1980s, primarily focusing on commercially successful hard rock popularized in the 1970s.”

WIBA-FM in Madison was an AOR station in the 1980s, and has basically not changed the music it plays since the 1990s. WOLX converted from elevator music to be one of Wisconsin’s first oldies stations in the late 1980s, when much of the music it plays now was on such pop stations as Z-104.

Here are a few YouTube opinions:

Why might songs of the ’70s or ’80s be more popular than songs of today? Maybe because, despite the unquestionable technological improvements of today, the music then was better … perhaps because the artists and producers had to work harder at it. This New York Times slideshow shows how summer music was quite diverse — as measured by average volume of the song, creative sound, energy, danceability and use of acoustic instruments instead of e-instruments — in the 1980s and 1990s …

… specifically 1988 …

… and quite non-diverse in terms of sound this decade:

There are some songs that, regardless of when they were recorded, say summer, beginning with the official start of summer when …


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