Jon Coleman is the CEO of a Coleman Insights, a media research firm that he founded in 1978.
Classic Rock was not even on my radar screen, but then it wasn’t really on anyone’s screen yet. It was August of 1985 and Coleman was doing focus groups for Q104 in Kansas City. Back then, Q104 was a Top 40 station. We were under attack by a second Top 40 station, so we did focus groups to see if they were making any inroads on our position. We were doing the groups mostly with women between 18 and 34. The groups were comprised of people who were either fans of Q104 or of one of a few competitive Contemporary Pop stations. We were not at all interested in Rock or KY102, Kansas City’s leading Rock station at the time.
Not two minutes into the session, an unanticipated station became the buzz of the groups. It was a station we did not even know about. We wanted to talk about the pitched battle between the two Top 40 stations. The 25-year-old female CHR fans wanted to talk about what they wanted to talk about. So, they talked about The Fox – Kansas City’s new station.
I remember being amazed at the awareness this station had generated, particularly with this group of people. I later found out that The Fox had been on the air for only two months. Because we were so focused on Q104, The Fox was not even in my focus group outline.
In a typical Coleman focus group, we ask listeners for their top-of-mind perceptions and impressions of stations before we do anything else. What is this station about? What comes to mind when you think of this station? Usually, we get a laundry list of descriptions of stations. Listeners say things like “it plays current music,” “variety” or “modern music.”
But, this is not what they said about The Fox. There was nothing vague about people’s responses to KCFX. “What is the Fox?” I asked. “It’s Classic Rock” was the answer. That simple! “What is Classic Rock?” I followed up. “It’s the best Rock groups from the 60s and 70s, all the great Rock that KY102 does not play anymore.”
That was a real learning experience. Up until that point, those who ran most Rock radio stations dismissed the idea of playing oldies in their format. These programmers said that real Rock listeners want current music or that if you play too much older Rock, the audience will soon grow tired of it and the music will burn out. How little they knew about their own audience!
In other research that we had done up to that point, we had seen that stations playing a lot of older rock were able to differentiate themselves from their competitors, but it was not until the birth of pure Classic Rock that people got the idea that a station could play all Classic Rock.
Shortly after this experience, we told Bill Sherard – who at the time ran a low-rated Country station in Washington D.C. – about The Fox in Kansas City. Soon, Sherard adopted the format and put it on WCXR. That station also soon zoomed to the top of the ratings 25-54. As soon as that happened, the rest of the country followed very quickly. From 1985 through 1990, many stations followed in the footsteps of Kansas City’s Fox and Washington D.C.’s WCXR. Today, Classic Rock is one of the strongest-performing formats and Classic Rock music is year after year the best-testing music among all listeners 25-54. Despite the recurring belief in some quarters that Classic Rock would soon run out of gas, it has not. It is still doing very well. I still remember clearly the night the format was born… Or at least born for me in a focus group done for a CHR radio station.