David Moore is the former Program Director at KBFX/Anchorage. He is now the Operations Manager at Entercom Madison.
I am driving out of my typical suburban neighborhood this morning. I see two teenage boys, probably around 14 or 15. One of them is wearing a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt, while the other has on the exact same black Led Zeppelin 1977 American Tour T-shirt I purchased at the Pontiac Silverdome (it was called Pontiac Stadium then) on April 30, 1977. While mine came from a Led Zeppelin concert I attended as a 15 year-old, I am guessing his came from Hot Topic (which makes it even more interesting). It struck me that I never see teenagers wearing Nightranger, Starship or Bryan Adams shirts. Those were the artists I remember being played on rock radio in 1985.
In spring of 1985 I was able to get four credits of independent study for my B.A. degree at Michigan State University. To get those four credits, Fred Jacobs kindly allowed me to be involved in the sign-on of WMMQ in Lansing, and wrote something nice enough to my professor to garner one of the few 4.0 grades I ever received. Almost immediately following the sign-on of the station, Program Director Jeff Crowe gave me my first full-time job in radio (actually my first full-time job ever). It was a crappy facility, located 20 miles away from Lansing, in a town called Charlotte (rhymes with “car lot” as any local would tell you, not like the better-known Charlotte in NC).
The issue then seemed to be how long would people want to hear the same old rock songs over and over? Looking back now, the music I listened to was not on the radio. I wasn’t interested in Bryan Adams, Loverboy or Mr. Mr., and the Replacments, R.E.M. and the Clash were not being played on the radio (at least not in most places). However, there was this incredible body of music, from the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, CCR, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and the Who that was only receiving sporadic airplay on rock radio. Most of it was relegated to lunch and Sunday morning programs. Once I began spending most of my waking hours either listening to or playing these artists on WMMQ, it began to dawn on me that not only were these songs far superior to most current rock being played on rock radio, but these songs were far superior to most pop and rock music, period. Perhaps the reason classic rock radio is not only still around, but has thrived, fragmented and grown, is because these are great songs.
The rest, as they say, is history. WMMQ was a huge success. Within a year, Classic Rock stations were signing on all over the country, and suddenly a lot of rock stations began defensively airing loads of Classic Rock.
Back to those teenagers in my neighborhood. It’s possible that it’s just trendy to wear vintage-looking rock T-shirts and that maybe they don’t even listen to that music. However, I bet if you looked at their iPods, you’d find that along with Good Charlotte and Kanye West, you will most likely find some music from Pink Floyd, The Doors, and Queen.