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Like a lot of kids who grew up in the suburbs, I spent a large amount of time in my pre-adolescent years riding around in the backseat of my parents’ car, listening to FM radio. My parents had little interest in the contemporary pop music of this time period – a mix of artists like Debbie Gibson, Milli Vanilli and “hair bands” – so 99 percent of the time our radio was tuned to the Twin Cities’ local “golden oldies” station, 107.9 KQQL, aka KOOL 108.


For them, the oldies were simply the music of their youth. However, thanks to their constant presence in my life, they ended up becoming the music of my early youth as well. The concept of musical preference, taste, or anything like that was foreign to me at the time, but I do remember liking the majority of the songs that KOOL 108 played.


Looking back now, I can’t blame this version of myself. Oldies back then were a mix of early rock n’ roll (Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly), Doo Wop, British Invasion (early Beatles, Stones, Animals, etc.), surf music (Beach Boys, Jan and Dean), Motown, and other pop chart-toppers. All the songs were super catchy and about two minutes long, so the station could seem to cram in about 20-some songs an hour. Simply put, KOOL 108 was a home for many of the greatest pop singles ever recorded. Why wouldn’t a kid like it?


Which is why it’s such a shame that even though KOOL 108 still exists in Minneapolis, it does so in name only. The oldies that I loved so much as a kid are nowhere to be found on the station – or anywhere else on FM radio – while I am driving my 3-year-old daughter around the city. In their place, KOOL 108 usually treats me to Loverboy’s "Working for the Weekend" about five times a day.


Today, the station’s tagline is “Minnesota’s Greatest Hits.” Based on my unscientific research, this more or less means hefty amounts of Loverboy, Poison, Journey, Bryan Adams, and Wings – lots and lots of Wings, Paul McCartney’s sort-of-tolerable band from the 1970s that is a far cry from that other band he was a part of in the 1960s.


I write this not to pick on KOOL 108 specifically – its transformation over the years is similar and indicative of dozens of other radio stations’ evolutions all across the country. I realize FM radio has way more competition than it did 20 years ago, stations have to get advertisers to survive, and they need listeners in order to get advertisers. Apparently there must be some demand for what they play, or they wouldn’t do it. I can even accept the fact that, on some level, Poison and Bryan Adams songs are technically “oldies” in 2015.


But how and why I can’t find the Temptations, Buddy Holly, The Supremes – even early Beatles songs – anywhere on FM radio in one of the bigger media markets in the country is beyond me. Am I the problem? Does everyone else agree that hearing "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" 34 times a week is a perfectly acceptable reason for wiping Marvin Gaye from our collective musical memory.


It’s one of those self-centered outlooks parents like myself have sometimes, but I want the opportunity

for my daughter to grow up listening to the true golden oldies just like I did when I was her age.

She’ll listen to whatever she wants when she gets older of course, but I think schooling her in early

rock n’ roll, R&B, Doo Wop, etc., is a good way

to show her the blueprint for what is on the pop

charts today.

Much like history classes teach about George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to give a basis for how modern government came to be, oldies can offer a similar blueprint for the current state of rock and pop music. But on FM radio (which is the only thing I get in my “not new” car), there is sadly and shockingly little rock music played that was recorded before 1970.


Even 92.5 KQRS, Minneapolis’ classic rock station that has been around for decades, has altered its playlist over the years. Whereas it used to play plenty of what I think of as classic rock – Hendrix, Zeppelin, Stones, Doors, Allman Brothers – today it seems to rely more on artists like Billy Squire and .38 Special than any of the classic ‘60s bands.


I am fully aware that with satellite radio and Spotify,

I can easily listen to just about any song ever recorded within seconds, so the concept of complaining about what gets played on FM radio is pretty archaic. However, I see the gradual phasing out of this music on mainstream channels in cities across the country as an indicator of a larger cultural problem.


It’s not that there is anything that harmful about

what does make it on FM radio nowadays. The issue

is what doesn’t make it. If I have trouble finding

the effing Beatles on my FM radio, then what chance

do Del Shannon, the Platters or the Tremeloes have

of making any sort of impact on my daughter’s generation?


It would be one thing if this generation of music was a mere footnote of history – an innovative yet rudimentary preamble to greater things, like an Atari or Apple II computer. But that’s not the case at all. I would make the opposite argument – that, as far as the pop charts go, a large chunk of the singles that have come out in the last 40-plus years are derivative and inferior to the songs that came out in the first decade of rock history.


Don’t believe me? Listen to the top 10 songs on the R&B Hot 100 chart today and then put 10 songs on at random from a Motown playlist. Tell me which ones you like more. Do the same thing with today’s Billboard Top 100 chart and the songs from the American Graffiti soundtrack.


Obviously, this music I speak of won’t be completely forgotten. There will always be a segment of the population that is into it, regardless of its age. But 30 or 40 years from now, I fear it may be awaiting a similar fate as jazz. Prior to rock’s emergence in the 1950s, jazz was the most popular music in America. But today, it’s a niche interest at best with the Millennial generation. Mention Charlie Parker or Dave Brubeck to most 20- or 30-somethings and you will likely be met with blank stares.


It’s not inconceivable it will be the same blank stare I’ll get many years from now when I mention James Brown or Otis Redding to my daughter’s future college roommate. Ain’t that a shame, as Fats Domino would say.  


 

Marc Ingber is a communications specialist and writer for a nonprofit based in Minneapolis, MN. He was born and raised in the Twin Cities and attended journalism school at the University of Kansas. His primary interests include rock n' roll, movies, food and drink, the Minnesota Vikings and the Minnesota Twins - probably in that order.


Read this article in Vhcle Issue 18


Read other articles by Marc Ingber

FM Radio: Where the ‘Oldies’

Are No Longer Golden



By

Marc Ingber

--

Vhcle Magazine Issue 18, Music