With "sameness of sound and too much repetition" reoccurring listener complaints right now, is it time for a station playing country classics from the 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's, allowing the today's/hot/new country stations to be just that, especially in this age of consolidation with one owner controlling two or three country FM's in a market, fortressing the format and looking to broaden country's reach and defend all flanks?
A&O&B works with a number of very highly-rated (12+) diary market classic country stations, so we are big believers in "classic country" viability and saleability in the right situations.
I ask the question right now given two recent developments.
Good news for the format: L & L Broadcasting sees potential in Oklahoma City to fill the hole left when KKNG went religious.
Meanwhile, in Calgary, new owner Bell Media dropped it in favor of comedy in this PPM market on what had been Canada's only classic country station.
In the history of format radio, country's CUME has NEVER been smaller "THIS year" than it was "LAST year." The constant cume growth for country, plus the fact that we have ALWAYS needed at least 30% of the mix to be current to get any significant 25-54 numbers means classic country (oldies-based country) takes a special broadcaster who knows how to sell an upper-demo, leading edge boom audience to make it work in a stand-alone situation unless it's an owner who simply wants a non-competitive niche and really is committed to selling without ratings.
Rock oldies of the 60's, classic rock and adult standards are mass appeal rebirths of formats that were MASS APPEAL at the time the songs were popular.
Country has always been a niche format and never truly been MASS APPEAL in that sense even during its high water marks of popularity.
It has really only been since 1989 that 25-34 discovered it in any quantity at all. By 1993, THAT group of 25-34 year-olds had already started to turn 35.
Even after the boom of the last several years mainstream country skews older than it has for years. There are many theories as to why this might be.
Mine: today's Gen Xer was a teen at a time when country was in the doldrums and even though their kids love country they never developed as deep a love for it during their formative years, musically.
As a result, a lot of very solid mainstream country stations do best 45+ and then 18-30 with a "dip" in 35-44. Boomers and Millenials, of course, are the biggest population groups, but a smaller share of the smallest generational cohort has meant that mean ages of many leading country stations are now in the low to mid-40s, leaving even less room for a classic station to create a large enough cume to be competitive.
Frankly, in many markets, I don't think that we really WANT a 45+ version (classic-based). It would only serve to segment and fragment already very competitive (due to the adult impact of CHR today) 18-44 shares.
Hank/Indianapolis, for example, has done much better over the last few years as Emmis' management team moved it from a "male country music" position to mainstream country.
Even as today's boomers age out of 25-54 to be replaced by Gen Y when mean ages will evolve back downward due to the size of that age cell, the question will be (as was true in the early 1990's, for example) will there be a large 45+ group feeling unserved because stations will no longer play the hits of the late 80's and early 90's? If so, will they also want to hear 60's and 70's?
We who believe in classic country - in the right areas - are going to find out as we watch the playlists of Hank and his friends.
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