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Oldies is a generic term commonly used in the United States and Canada to describe a radio format that usually concentrates on Top 40 music from the '50s, '60s and '70s. Oldies are typically from R&B, pop and rock music genres. Country, jazz, classical music, and other formats are generally not considered oldies music. Occasionally the term is used to describe the rare station that includes '40s music as well, although music from before 1955 is typically the domain of the adult standards format. However, the term constitutes ambiguity for people who like old dancing music.

This format is sometimes called Golden Oldies, though this term usually refers to music exclusively from the '50s and early '60s (also termed "Real Oldies" or "True Oldies" by some radio stations which specialize in music from this era). Oldies radio typically features artists such as Elvis Presley, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, The Supremes, and Sam Cooke; as well as such musical movements and genres as doo-wop, soul music, Motown, the British Invasion, early girl groups, surf music, and bubblegum pop. Most oldies stations limit their on-air playlists to no more than 300 songs, on the philosophy that average listeners will stay tuned provided they're familiar with the hits being played. The drawback to this concept is the endless repetition of the station's program library.

Oldies has some overlap with the classic rock format, which concentrates on the rock music of the late-'60s and '70s and also plays newer material made in the same style.

The state of the Oldies format today

Many oldies stations have made moves to completely drop music from before 1964 from their playlists, as it is believed that doo-wop and other music from the late '50s and early '60s appeals to demographics undesirable to advertisers, namely listeners over 40. As a result, some oldies stations have filled the holes in their playlists with more hits from the mid- to late-'70s and even the '80s, and others have evolved into classic hits (see below) or classic rock. Stations that continue to use the term "oldies" in their on-air positioning generally do not play music made after 1975. Likewise, stations that do play post-1975 music have generally dropped the word "oldies" from their positioners, using identifiers such as "Super Hits," "Classic Top 40" or "The Greatest Top 40 Hits of All Time" (a la WRIT in Milwaukee and KLUV in Dallas/Fort Worth), or "Classic Gold" (a la CFCO in Chatham, Ontario). In Detroit, WOMC recently repositioned itself from "Oldies 104.3" to "The Motor City's 104.3" with little change in playlist.

In response to this, some radio stations such as WSAI in Cincinnati and WRLL in Chicago in the early 2000s adopted the "Real Oldies" moniker and a playlist spanning exclusively the mid-50s through the mid-'60s. Most of these "Real Oldies" stations were on the AM dial and featured legendary personalities from the '60s-'70s golden Top 40 era (for example, WLS legend Larry Lujack was part of the WRLL air staff). However, WSAI soon dropped the format, and WRLL (now WVON) dropped it as well in the fall of 2006, because of a combination of low ratings (due largely to the amount of "unfamiliar" music played on such stations and the fact that they broadcast on AM) and unfavorable ad demographics.

Many other stations have also been forced to drop the format because of low ad revenue despite high ratings. On June 3, 2005, New York's WCBS-FM, an oldies-based station for over three decades, abruptly switched to the Jack FM format, resulting in a tremendous outcry from oldies fans in the Big Apple. WJMK in Chicago (WCBS-FM's sister station) switched to Jack FM on the same day. Some point to the demise of WCBS-FM and WJMK as a sign that the oldies format is in danger, for many of the same reasons that the adult standards format is disappearing. However, WJMK had been struggling for many years, and was in much worse shape than most other major-market oldies stations. In addition, unlike New York City (with the possible exception of WMTR-AM in nearby New Jersey), the Chicago market has not technically been without an oldies station since, due to the existence of the aforementioned WRLL and now WZZN.

Nevertheless, the oldies format remains one of the most popular formats on radio in markets where it is still active. Some of the most successful major-market oldies stations today include KRTH "K-Earth 101" in Los Angeles, WOMC in Detroit, WOGL in Philadelphia, WMJI "Majic 105.7" in Cleveland, WGRR in Cincinnati, WZZN in Chicago, and KLUV in Dallas. However, to illustrate the continued decline in the format, San Francisco's KFRC dropped the oldies format entirely in 2006 in favor of the Rhythmic AC "MOViN" format, leaving most of northern California without a station airing oldies (the lone exception being the small city of Chico). (It should be pointed out, however, that KFRC had already evolved its format and positioning to classic hits at the time it changed to "MOVin".)

Veteran New York radio programmer Scott Shannon developed a format known as the "True Oldies Channel," distributed via satellite by ABC Radio, which features some of the music featured on "Real Oldies" stations as well as hits of the late '60s and very early '70s, but generally nothing after 1975. The most high-profile "True Oldies Channel" affiliate is probably WZZN-FM in Chicago, which adopted the "True Oldies" approach in the wake of WJMK's change to Jack FM. However, WZZN has slowly been adding more local personalities (including vetran radio personality Dick Biondi), and now only airs 'True Oldies' from 10am-3pm weekdays.

Jones Radio Networks, Waitt Broadcasting and Dial Global (formerly part of Westwood One) also offer 24-hour satellite-distributed oldies formats. ABC Radio actually offers two: in addition to the "True Oldies Channel," there is the much longer-running and more established "Oldies Radio" format (formerly known as "Pure Gold"), which focuses mainly on the decade from 1965 to 1975 with some older and newer material.

In North America, Satellite Radio broadcasters XM and Sirius each have more than a dozen oldies radio channels, with separate stations for each decade from the '50s to the '90s, as well as specific genre channels for disco and dance hits, classic rock, and R&B and soul hits. These pay radio channels boast thousands of songs in their libraries, ensuring far less repetition than traditional broadcast stations. As of early 2007, the total number of satellite radio listeners is still under 15,000,000, but it's expected that this will increase over time.

 

Classic hits format

A variation on the classic rock theme is classic hits, which provides most of the playlist of classic rock with an addition of contemporaneous R&B and pop hits as well, striking a balance between the mostly '70s-focused classic rock genre and the more broad-based oldies format.

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