Where is our “classic rock”?

So I’m listening to my favorite (music) radio station, 96 Rock (WBBB) in Raleigh, and I hear the word “classic” in regards to one of the songs – something by Hendrix or someone like that, so it’s not a question of whether or not it’s a “classic”. The thing that sticks in my head is “how long is this going to be called ‘classic’?”

Follow me here – Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along The Watchtower” cover was released in September of 1968. That’s 42 years ago. If you want to call it “classic rock”, that’s fine, but 20 years ago, when I was in high school, a 42-year-old song was not “classic rock” – it was an “oldie”. Hell, even “oldie” doesn’t really cover it since “oldies” stations generally played rock and Motown stuff, and rock n’ roll wasn’t technically “born” until 1955 or so (Bill Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock” came out in ’55). “Watchtower” today is as old as something by The Andrews Sisters or Bing Crosby was then.

What happened during that twenty year timeframe? Simply put – the genres never changed. Back in 1990, “classic rock” was rock from the 70s, while rock from the 80s was still “current” and played on Top 40 and stations that catered to more “mainstream” music. It easily fit into decades, an area people love to classify music into, as if the recording industry cancels all contracts on the first day of a new decade and huddles up to launch a different style of music that will identify the decade.

Then the 90s came and fucked up station managers. Grunge got huge, and while that became the rock that stations that played current music played, “classic rock” stations elected to stay with their mostly 70s playlist. The remaining rock of the 80s found itself without a home, still apparently too current for the classic stations, and way too dated for the current stations. Certain songs and bands continued to see radio play, but only if their music fell into other genres, such as adult contemporary. The ballads would live on, but no thanks otherwise.

By the late 90s, “rock” was different again. “Alternative” was no longer “alternative” since it was the popular music, and that was eventually replaced in the mainstream by the more radio-friendly punk/ska/rock/pop from artists like Green Day, No Doubt, Blink-182, The Offspring, and The Prodigy. The stuff from the early 90s from Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam wasn’t current any more so it had no place on the current stations, which meant it was off the radio since it was way too current for “classic rock” stations to touch. The gap continued to get larger – now there was almost 15 years of music without a home.

As time passed, more and more rock music would gain and lose popularity and seemingly fall into the abyss of radio airplay, but “classic rock” would remain that apparently magical time between Hendrix in ’68 and the birth of MTV in 1981. 13 years worth of music apparently on such a pedestal that stations can build themselves around it while ignoring (or at best cherry-picking from) nearly 30 years of music. How does this happen?

Look – I understand why the format exists and I’m all for it. But I don’t get why that format can exist but rock from the 80s and 90s can only be added to that and not stand on its own. I know there have been channels that do that on satellite radio, but there are channels for every subgenre on satellite radio. If 25-49 is such a key demographic, why couldn’t a “classic 90s rock” station succeed? People who graduated high school in the 90s (let’s face it – high school is a key time for musical memory) are right in that age range. Why should someone like me – at 35 – have to sit through a bunch of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Who, and the Rolling Stones in order to hear a Stone Temple Pilots, Nirvana, or Green Day song? Are there radio stations that even play the Cranberries, Garbage, or Silverchair?

Some are trying to say that iPods and mp3s are going to be the death of radio, but really it may just be that radio – for the mostpart – is sticking to formats created over 25 years ago. Could you imagine if television did that – if networks were still writing sitcoms the same way they did in the early 80s? Why hasn’t anyone tried this?

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