When Scott Shannon's nationally syndicated True Oldies Channel launched a decade ago, it was for listeners who weren't happy with the incursion of the early '70s (or beyond) into their oldies format. It was for those who felt that "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" or "The Logical Song" weren't exactly "good-time oldies."
Now, Shannon has moved to mornings at WCBS-FM New York. TOC owner Cumulus Media, which announced the channel's demise several months ago, is finally set to take it dark later this month. And when we took a "Final Listen" recently, the average year of the music was 1971. Late 1971. And both "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" and "The Logical Song" were in the hour we heard.
But so were the Cowsills. So was Aretha Franklin's "Think," one of those songs that was once common enough to be nothing special on oldies radio (aside from being, you know, "Think" by Aretha Franklin) but has long disappeared. Shannon's stated intentions at the time were to be older than the format mean, but not as old as the handful of "Real Oldies" AMs of the time that super-served the pre-Beatles era. In that regard, TOC is going out the way it came in.
When I wrote about TOC at its launch, the oldest song was from 1954. The newest was 1974, the only '70s song I encountered. Four years later, the span was 1957 to 1983. On the newest stretch, the range was 1964 to 1983. With each year, the True Oldies Channel became a little newer, but remained consistently older than the FM version of format that didn't even want to be called oldies.
The evolution of the greatest-hits format elsewhere has been back-and-forth. The successful relaunch of WCBS-FM in 2007 emboldened programmers to go further into the '80s, but that station also used special programming to play the pre-Beatles era (and depth everywhere else). Clear Channel launched new oldies stations in markets that had lost them, some of them even branded "Oldies." Now, a few of those stations have changed handles again. And the '80s are almost the center lane on CBS-FM.
The same goes for the "strength vs. variety" discussion at the format. The days when WCBS-FM could spike "Open Up Your Door" by Richard & the Young Lions on a garage-rock weekend are long gone. I don't hear anything surprising on CBS-FM now. And I wouldn't have expected to if former PD Brian Thomas, having programmed WCBS-FM's ill-fated stretch as Jack-FM as well, hadn't carried over a little of that variety aesthetic for a while.
When TOC launched, the format's sagging numbers could be seen as rebellion against the 15-year-super-tightness of stations like KRTH (K-Earth 101) Los Angeles. Now, KRTH is playing some songs (mostly its '80s powers) nearly 30 times a week and is experiencing a ratings rebound.
As for the pre-Beatles oldies format that was proliferating a decade ago, the Clear Channel "Real Oldies" stations AMs that powered it have long disappeared, but a few have hung on, particularly WMTR Morristown, N.J. Non-commercial outlets such as WGVU-AM (Real Oldies 1480) Grand Rapids, Mich., and WMCE Erie, Pa., have sprung up. What makes an oldies station interesting doesn't usually guarantee it a long happy life. But there's always somebody new popping up in the space. This week it's WWBZ Athol, Mass. And the availability of Sirius XM's 50s on 5 channel takes some of the urgency out of what any one station does.
But it's impressive that the True Oldies Channel hung in for a decade. It's not surprising that it didn't outlast its creator. When Shannon announced his departure from mornings at Cumulus-owned WPLJ New York, the announced intent was for him to remain part of TOC. Once he announced his move to CBS-FM that seemed unlikely. Shortly after Shannon's departure, I heard TOC segue from Brian Hyland's "Sealed With a Kiss" to Tommy Tutone's "867-5309/Jenny." The late June sign-off date was announced shortly thereafter.
Meanwhile, CBS-FM has revealed itself as Shannon's true oldies channel. Even with Shannon's personal affection for all of rock history, New Yorkers know him for the '80s music that was WHTZ (Z100)'s stronghold when it was current, and WPLJ's calling card when it was "oh wow." WCBS-FM has been up slightly in mornings and risen dramatically overall, thus ending any questions about whether a full-service morning show might not be the right thing for an already successful station.
Here's the True Oldies Channel just before 8 p.m. in mid-May:
Bob Seger, "Still the Same"
Manfred Mann, "Do Wah Diddy Diddy"
Emotions, "Best of My Love"
Santana, "Black Magic Woman"
Peter Frampton, "Baby I Love Your Way"
Aretha Franklin, "Think"
Badfinger, "Come and Get It"
Cowsills, "The Rain, the Park and Other Things"
Supertramp, "The Logical Song"
Archie Bell & Drells, "Tighten Up" (No. 1 on "Time Machine" Countdown)
Naked Eyes, "Always Something There to Remind Me"
Stevie Wonder, "You Are the Sunshine of My Life"
Beach Boys, "Fun, Fun, Fun"
Chicago, "Make Me Smile"
Commodores, "Brick House"
Loggins & Messina, "Your Mama Don't Dance"
Beatles, "I Should Have Known Better"