Songs and Stories

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My radio station went all-70s on Saturdays in 1989. The details changed over the years (start time, end time, American Top 40 shows came and went), but it remained essentially an all-day thing, until the first Saturday of 2022, when management dropped the all-day 70s program and put it on from seven til midnight only.

That first day, with Ed Sheeran and Dua Lipa playing all day instead of Elton John and Donna Summer, caused the station’s Facebook page and studio e-mail box to melt down. I wasn’t especially surprised by the volume of the response, only at the harshness of a lot of it. This went on for six or eight weeks before things calmed down. Now those “what happened to 70s music” e-mails have become infrequent, whenever the occasional coma victim wakes up.

Every now and then a message or a phone call would come in from somebody who seemed sincerely interested in the reasoning behind the decision, so I would try to explain. It comes down to the passage of time, I said. Our radio station has always been targeted at people aged 25 to 49. In 1989, that meant people born between 1940 and 1964, people whose formative music years were essentially from the mid 1950s to the late 80s. Seventies music falls right in the middle of that. In 2022, people in the target audience are born between 1973 and 1997. Their formative music years run from the late 80s to, well, right now. I said to one woman, “70s music means as much to our target audience today as 40s music did to us when we were 30.”

“Oh,” she responded. “I get it now.”

The decision to put the 70s show on from seven til midnight was coupled with another one: to make me the sole host and producer of the show. I have probably gotten too old and tired and jaded to fully appreciate what management did: they handed me five hours of airtime and said, “Play 70s music, and do it any way you want.”

Some of you are thinking, “Wow, I’d love that.” But consider this: free-form radio is harder than anybody imagines. Anybody reading this could probably program a decent five-hour 70s music show—one time. Doing it a second and third and fourth and nineteenth time, when you have to change it up again and again, is far more difficult, especially if you don’t want to turn it into a wank-fest for your own amusement. I have no desire to work that hard. So I’m still letting the music software schedule most of the show, although the lineup always has to be edited by hand, because the human touch can’t be removed from radio programming no matter how hard the industry tries to make it so.

I went through the library and recategorized a lot of songs. We were regularly playing only about half of the 70s songs in the library, with a vast number of classics collecting dust for some reason. I’m still trying to get the category rotations tweaked to my satisfaction. I have replaced some edited songs with better full-length versions, and I have also added a few songs that seemed like howling omissions. (No “Mr. Blue Sky”? Seriously?) And I will confess to having put in a couple of songs just because I want to hear how they sound on the show. (Coming up one night soon: the Raspberries’ “Overnight Sensation.”)

This doesn’t mean that the show as it was built and nurtured through the 90s, 00s, and 10s was wrong or bad. My approach is a difference in philosophy. It’s a different kind of specialty show now, more concentrated, and not all-day wallpaper. The audience that has followed the show to Saturday nights likely has a greater interest in stories about the artists and songs, and in hearing a greater variety of music. I’m giving them both.

I do the show live most of the time, although I could easily take advantage of the technology and record it in advance. I do it live because I feel like it’s important to actually be there for the listeners (and to play requests, because how better to boost listener loyalty?), and because The Mrs. and I never go anywhere on Saturday nights anyway. And because it’s fun. And for one other related reason, which will require a future post to discuss.

12 thoughts on “Songs and Stories

  1. Another reason you do your show live:
    As you have previously discussed in this space, in the event of emergency, you will be well-positioned to provide your listeners with timely, more-or-less-local information on the tornado/snowstorm/Martian landing, thus fulfilling another of radio’s core missions.

  2. As a former DJ I both envy and feel sympathy for you. Envy comes from the permission to play anything you want & the latter comes from exactly what you said about how hard it is to keep things fresh. In my case, the envy part would override the hard work.

  3. TimMoore

    Nothing makes you feel older than hearing the songs you grew up on , on the oldies station.. unless it’s having them taken off for too get the demographic stuff..I always thought the stations should play the next song on the album, each time it comes around. I know I would love to hear different songs off of many albums but know others would not. But many many forgotten songs ..

  4. Scott Bennett

    I was born in ’63, so I missed a lot of 60’s music. I really enjoyed listening to oldies stations when they were playing that 60’s stuff. I got caught up on a lot of it, but I’m sure there’s plenty that I missed that will never see the light of day again. Most of my older sister’s 45s are songs I’ve never heard on the radio since, like Mashmakhan or Jeff and the Geno’s.

  5. Leo Edelstein

    In the 80s and 90s, sister Mid-West Family’s WMGV, Oshkosh, Magic 104 played Dick Bartley’s Solid Gold Saturday Night. It was a special treat kinda show, turn it on at home or in the car coming back from pizza at Cranky Pat’s. That’s the magic of your new creation. I could care less about target audience, I like Little Stevie Wonder and Elton John and Crazy Arthur Brown. Crank it up Jim. And, thanks!

    1. Tim M

      Those were some fun days in the mid-80’s when Magic 104 ran the Dick Bartley show on Saturday nights. Listeners would throw Saturday night parties to listen and dance to Bartley’s show. I recall one time we did a remote from a big venue in Appleton that ran our broadcast of Bartley’s show on the PA system. The FM PD (Steve Ward) worked a deal with Bartley to do a couple shout-outs about the remote during his broadcast (yes, it was a live show). Jim’s Saturday night show on Magic 98 is sort of an updated version of the Bartley show. I listen online a lot from coastal Connecticut.

  6. Wesley

    “Anybody reading this could probably program a decent five-hour 70s music show—one time. Doing it a second and third and fourth and nineteenth time, when you have to change it up again and again, is far more difficult, especially if you don’t want to turn it into a wank-fest for your own amusement.” One of the truest statements I’ve ever read about the disadvantages of being a freeform deejay. Yes, even if you’re airing only songs from one decade. And doing it live like you’re doing–man, that’s another obstacle in the mix.

    To be successful in doing this, you have to make concessions and play some songs you like less than others or maybe even dislike. You have to consider song flow and artist combinations to prevent aural train wrecks. (I still dread an oldies show I heard decades ago where they had a horrible transition from In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida to The Love I Lost). And when you’re doing it live, you’ve got to factor in commercials, PSAs and any sort of updates and chatter you want to place between songs as well. Do that five hours continuously every week and, well, you may not want to spin a platter ever again afterward, to coin an old phrase.

    Great job on this, jb. Looking forward to the followup on it.

  7. Pingback: One Thing Right – The Hits Just Keep On Comin'

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