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Radio, Records Reflect On Adult Pop’s First 15 Years

Upon the Adult Pop Songs chart's anniversary, consultants, radio programmers and record executives share their insights on the format.

Following passionate perusal of Billboard’s countdown of the Top 40 Adult Pop Songs 1996-2011, consultants, radio programmers and record executives shared their insight on the format’s evolution, from its early ’90s inception to its potential future direction.

(Plus a TMZ-worthy brush with John Mayer).

Guy Zapoleon
President, Zapoleon Media Strategies

“As Billboard’s list shows, adult pop has centered on pop/rock since its birth. Why? For the majority of the past 35 years, adult women grew up with rock as their top music style.


“When I was national program director for WOMX/Orlando, Fla., in 1990, the station’s GM, Clancy Woods, and I thought, ‘Why isn’t there an up-tempo, current-based adult format that serves the generation that grew up with the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac?’

“That July, Brian Thomas and I created by the first true adult pop station, Mix 96.5, on KHMX/Houston. Beyond the music, Mix 96.5 succeeded – and still does – due to its focus on capturing the Houston adult female lifestyle, serving as listeners’ friend, with strong personalities connecting them with major promotional and charity events.

“WOMX also evolved into a pop/rock ‘Mix’ station and more such signals grew the format, including WRQX (Mix 107.5)/Washington, D.C., and WPLJ/New York.

“Adult pop then evolved to more of a pop/alternative-centered format, under the moniker ‘Modern AC,’ per the programming of KYSR/Los Angeles and WBMX/Boston. That sound, then-popularized by the likes of Sheryl Crow, Hootie & the Blowfish and Alanis Morissette, long centered the format.

“Today, adult pop has reverted to being what we originally programmed in Orlando: a more pop/rhythmic version of the format. Adult pop stations have evolved with today’s 25-39-year-old female listeners because they’ve grown up with R&B/hip-hop as their generation’s music.

“With rhythmic music-preferring Hispanics having accounted for 54% of U.S. population growth, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, it’s logical that the format has more recently adopted more rhythmic components.”

Mike Justin
Interscope Records

“Our format continues to evolve but mainstay artists such as Lifehouse remain timeless. From “Hanging By a Moment” to its latest single “Falling In,” we are extremely proud of this band’s legacy.

“What an honor for ‘You and Me’ to be Billboard’s all-time No. 1 adult pop song.”

Barb Richards
Program director, WAJI/Ft. Wayne, Ind.

“Interscope Records’ (executive) Kurt Biersmith was in my office last Thursday and we were talking about the new Lifehouse song. I told him that for years in our music research, the band’s ‘You and Me’ consistently showed up as our top-testing title.

“Apparently, our listeners had it right.”

Pete Cosenza
Senior VP/promotion, adult formats, Columbia Records

“Columbia has made a commitment to adult pop by signing quality artists and backing them with a strong promotion staff.

“I am extremely proud of the artists that our team has launched and made a staple at this format, such as John Mayer, Train and Adele, and then crossed over to pop and adult contemporary radio.

“As an industry, I believe that we have all showed that adult pop music is viable and wanted by the masses. People have a desire to hear it and buy it. And, with many quality radio stations playing this music, we’ve been able to reach audiences of tens of millions each week, and, over the life of a song, hundreds of millions.

“Adult listeners have many things going on in their lives but listening to mass appeal pop music on the
radio is right in the middle of it all.”

Marc Ratner
Mishara Music

“There was always a void that the adult pop format filled. I’ve found that as many men drift off to talk and sports radio in their 20s, adult women continue their lifelong love of music and music radio. They still love current music and they still rock.

“When I was at Dreamworks Records we promoted Lifehouse’s first single, “Hangin” By a Moment,” it hit everywhere: rock, top 40 and adult pop.

“As evidenced by the two Lifehouse tracks in the top 10 of Billboard’s format retrospective, careers are made, and continued, in this format.”

Following passionate perusal of Billboard’s countdown of the Top 40 Adult Pop Songs 1996-2011, consultants, radio programmers and record executives shared their insight on the format’s evolution, from its early ’90s inception to its potential future direction.

(Plus a TMZ-worthy brush with John Mayer).

Jerry Lembo
Jerry Lembo Entertainment Group

“Adult pop features the best songs performed by great vocalists and musicians who generally have multi-hit careers.

“It provides those of us who are 25-plus with a contemporary music playground that is enhanced by some of the best air personalities in radio.”

Bob Catania
Right Way Music Group

“Adult pop radio brought ‘Say Hey (I Love You)’ by Michael Franti & Spearhead to the mainstream.

“When my partner, Jimmy Fay, and I were hired to promote the song, it had been a significant hit at adult alternative but had not crossed over to other formats.

“Adult pop support led to the song’s, and the act’s, eventual multi-format success. [Now signed to Capitol Records, the band’s third Adult Pop Songs chart entry since 2009, “I’ll Be Waiting,” debuts this week at No. 36].

“This was an artist with no format history, yet adult pop programmers embraced the song and gave it time to become a hit.

“The ability to sell records and create an artist foundation is a testament to the power of the format.”

Keith Berman
RAMP: Radio and Music Pros

“Adult pop songs speak to and connect with listeners. Or, they motivate people to roll down the windows and sing loudly. Sometimes, both.

“In 2002, a co-worker left a copy of a CD by a new group on my desk. It sat there for a few days before I finally had a chance to listen to it. When I did, I was blown away by how great the entire album was. I went back to him and said, ‘This album’s going to be a smash.’

“It took a couple of years, but Maroon 5‘s ‘Songs About Jane’ finally broke through. It remains one of my favorite albums and is one of a select few that I can listen to in its entirety without skipping a single track.”

Charese Fruge
Program director, KSCF/San Diego, KMXB/Las Vegas

“When I worked at KYSR/Los Angeles, we world-premiered John Mayer’s ‘Waiting on the World to Change.’ We had John come in to ‘take over’ the radio station and play his entire album, ‘Continuum.’

“He was in such a good headspace and wanted to host his own radio show so we gave him the forum for it. It was an enormous event for the station locally and for Mayer fans around the world, as 18,000 people tuned in to our stream.

“When I went to meet him in the elevator, he stepped in and named the perfume I was wearing. He nailed the kind of watch I was wearing. He even called the kind of bag I was carrying. He asked me so many questions and was extremely observant of everything around him.

“I know some of those details don’t make him sound macho but they caught me off-guard because of all the superstars I’ve been blessed to meet he was clearly the least self-obsessed.

“After the show, he even invited me to hang with him and friends at the Chateau Marmont. I was quickly in the process of being thrown out when he noticed and came to my rescue. He got up and told the hostess that I was with his party. (It was my own ‘Pretty Woman’ moment, like when Julia Roberts returns to the boutique on Rodeo Drive and asks the clerk if she works on commission and she says ‘yes.’ I chuckled to myself, ‘Big mistake!’)

“If not for John’s kindness, tabloid headlines might’ve read, ‘Psycho Mayer Fan Kicked Out!'”

Kevin Powell
Total Impressions Marketing and Promotions

“I’ve seen the format go through its numerous permutations (having promoted artists including Sara Bareilles and the Fray). There is nothing more professionally satisfying than seeing a project through, from the embryo stage to scoring a bona fide hit.

“It’s exciting to see that the format can still break such pop/rock artists as the Script, Christina Perri and Andy Grammer. The recent success of these artists, and others, will hopefully give programmers the confidence to support great new talent and develop the next wave of core artists.”

Adrian Moreira
Senior VP/adult music, RCA/Jive Label Group

“I’m proud to have promoted seven songs on Billboard’s Top 40 Adult Pop Songs chart. I’m thankful to the artists for providing such great music and to radio for allowing us the opportunity to get that music heard.

“Adult pop has certainly undergone some rather drastic changes in the 10-plus years I’ve been working in the format but a constant is its ability to discover artists and sell records.

“The challenge now will be in maintaining the format’s unique identity and distinction from pop. The format has always had a core group of acts to call its own and I think adult pop’s past history of long-term artist development is one of its many strengths. I hope that isn’t sacrificed solely for tempo driven, younger-end songs that show immediate reaction.

“Crossover pure-pop songs definitely have their place at the format but we’ve also seen many times in the past, through research, that ballads or more adult-leaning songs with no pop profile also pay dividends, just often over a longer period of time.

“Slow to research is often also slow to burn so I hope that the temptation to react in a knee-jerk fashion to early data is often averted.

“If the format finds that happy medium of established crossover hits, core adult acts and emerging future stars, I think that we’ll see continued strength and growth at adult pop for a long, long time.”