Golden Age of FM Radio

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Progressive Rock Radio Format

From: "The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll" (c) 1983

 

Stereo recordings and FM radio both of which made music more vivid, caught on during the Sixties; so did the notion that rock could be significant, and the idea of the album (rather than the single) as an artistic whole. In the mid-Sixties, the Federal Communications Commission ruled that jointly owned AM and FM stations had to present different programming, and suddenly the FM band opened up to rock records, a cheap source of program material. Rather than duplicate the Top Forty format, some programmers assumed that FM listeners were likely to be more mature than AM listeners, and some stations- among them WOR-FM in New York-beganallowing disc jockeys to program "underground" rock as they saw fit. (Some stations, particularly College stations went further and allowed disc jockey to mix rock, jazz, classical and whatever other program material seemed appropriate.) their own music

"Underground" disc jockeys played songs that were unlikely to be released as singles and songs that were longer than three minutes; they also experimented with a less driven, more conversational tone of voice like that of the pre-rock DJs. "Underground" or 'Progressive"

FM radio used longer, less predictable music segments, and also toyed with the segue- overlapping the end of one song with the beginning of the next-to connect records through musical similarities. In the late Sixties, progressive "free form" commercial FM stations reached the burgeoning youth culture and became the medium of choice for advertising concerts, stereos, waterbeds, drug paraphernalia and other hip-capitalist products. And with FM rock radio as an outlet, more musicians began to experiment with five- and seven-minute songs and ideas that could not be shaped into a bouncy, teen-accessible tune for the AM market.

During Richard Nixon's presidency, the FCC did not take kindly to FM radio becoming a seditious hippie intercom, and made vague noises threatening the licenses of stations that played obscene or drug-oriented lyrics in 1971. That scare, the huge increase in the number of albums released (spurred, of course by their chance to be played on the radio) and the more cautious climate of the early Seventies relocated control over playlists in the hands of program directors; there was also competition between the increasing number of FM rock stations.

 

The solution was another format which eventually became known as AOR (album-oriented radio). Once again, play lists were limited, this time to album cuts that program directors (or national programming consultants, like Lee Abrams) believed would not alienate their audiences. The songs might be seven minutes in length and more or less raunchy in content, but they were slotted into twenty-minute segments punctuated by time, weather, news, etc., at regular intervals. In city after city, reassuringly predictable AOR stations began earning higher ratings than free- form competitors, many of whom eventually adopted formats in self-defense. By the end of the Seventies, free-form radio was largely confined to college radio-and even there, some program directors in training made up their own pseudo-AOR formats.

 

 

 

AOR

The music that best fitted AOR formats was conservative, smooth and not radically different from the Rolling /Stones, Beatles, Bob Dylan and Who songs that were staples of free-form radio. Yet tempos slowed and imperceptibly, production values grew more important and it became easier for baby-boomers to use AOR as background music. AOR playlists grew smaller and smaller through the Seventies making it harder for new music that did not segue into the old favorites. Slowly, black music was ruled out of the format almost completely. AOR stations also began to play /am hits, which had begun to reflect FM-nurtured tastes. Disco, and to a lesser extent punk, began to challenge AOR in the late Seventies, particularly in urban areas. Disco spoke directly to a black audience and its steady pulse was just as effective a background-music metronome as AOR. In New York a disco station topped the ratings over both AOR stations and Top Twenty AM formats, and some radio stations rushed to copy the format. AOR fans responded with a battle cry -"Disco sucks!"- that suggested both homophobia and racial hostility; disco radio was rejected outside big cities. Punk never made it into a radio format, but it affected musicians and club audiences. And the fall out from punk and disco-faster tempos and harder rhythms-crept onto AOR via AM radio (where disco had flourished) and through musicians' own interest.

In the early eighties, the AOR format had clearly peaked, as ratings dropped, and programers tried to further restrict playlists, other, more localized formats began to appear, from "urban contemporary" (danceable new wave and funk and disco) to "adult contemporary" (hip easy listening, all ballads and acoustic guitars) to a punk-influenced Top 40 FM to all-country, all-news and, on the flagship Top Twenty AM station of the ABC network, all-talk.

 

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Kansas City Progressive FM Stations

KCJC 98.1FM (later KUDL-FM) was the first and KBEY 104.3FM was the second Progressive format station in Kansas City.

KWKI 93.3FM was the last, ceasing broadcasting in January 1979.

Below is some audio from KBEY FM "Earth News" with Ed and Art.

 

KBEY Earth News

 

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