Thoughts on “oldies” radio

Many people today probably are unfamiliar with “oldies” radio format. I enjoyed listening to it when I was in the car with my mom because it was something we could both enjoy. I couldn’t enjoy the easy listening/adult contemporary station she liked, and she hated anything loud or fast, so that made listening the modern/mainstream rock stations out of the question.

But oldies was a sweet spot we could both enjoy. The mixture of 50s rockabilly, soul, bubblegum pop and 70s AM pop sounded great together. This format has pretty much disappeared entirely from the local airwaves, and seems to be a rarity nationally as well. “Classic hits” is the new format, and it focuses primarily on 80s, with some 70s and 60s thrown in as well.

Back in 1991, the real height of the format for me anyway, there were a couple of stations playing this format and both of them focused on music from around 1954-75. Which to a certain extent is hilarious. 16 year old songs as “oldies”? Well, to somebody who was 13-14 at the time, of course they were oldies. They were older than me. How could they not be oldies? Hell, new wave songs from 10 years earlier were “oldies” to me.

Of course the real absurdity of it all is when you realize that 2007 was 16 years ago. The oldest Rural Citizens Band songs date from December 2006, which means they are now older than those 1975 songs were in 1991. Putting that aside and only looking at the pop hits of 2007, we’d need to call Kanye, Rihanna, Fall Out Boy and Arctic Monkeys “oldies” and nobody would think that.

Of course, the big difference between 1991 and now is that music hasn’t changed that much in the meantime. A song from the mid 70s sounded like an oldie in 1991, whereas now songs from 2023 and 2007 sound pretty much the same. Even punk and new wave music from the 70s doesn’t sound that different from indie rock of 2023. I can be an old scrooge and listen to the latest indie rock songs and pick out nicks from The Fall, Wire, Gang of Four, etc.

The same goes for the “classic rock” format. Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, etc will never sound right on classic rock because they’re so different than the arena rock bands of 70s. Even though Pearl Jam at times sounded like The Who or Led Zeppelin, they were far too arty to sound like a perfect ape of those bands.

In general though, there was something charming about having that division between music. Listening to oldies radio was a something far different than listening to contemporary pop and rock radio. It’s something that’s been lost.

But of course I could just be nostalgic for seemingly better times. I say seemingly better because there are plenty of painful memories from that time that I’m glad I am where I am now.