The Era of Vintage – Mike McVay

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(By Mike McVay) Retro fashions are the rage. During the recent Met Gala Kim Kardashian wore the dress that Marilyn Monroe wore when she sang Happy Birthday to then President John Kennedy. Versace, Louis, and Gucci vintage dresses adorned Billie Eilish, Emma Stone, and Emily Ratajkowski, to name a few. Walk into Williams Sonoma and you’ll see replica blenders, toasters and coffee percolators reminiscent of the 1950s. Classic Cars and Scooters, an Indian Flathead Twin Motorcycle, Classic Art, Vintage Furniture, of course Vinyl and now there seems to be some excitement building for vintage VHS videos. Could radio be next?

Classic Rock welcomed more stations to the format in the past two years than anyone of other than the Contemporary Christian Music format. Classic Hits and Classic Rock have shown the most audience growth at a time when many other formats are losing audience. Go to a bar on Trivia Night and you see thirty-somethings and forty-somethings playing “name the oldie” and answering trivia questions from a time before they were born. Clubs playing 80s and 90s music attract an audience as young as college age. 

There’s something special about all things before your time that screams out that you’re genuine, worldly, deeper than others, respectful of high quality and you are refined. Maybe it’s not that at all and you like to hear your favorite songs because of memories and the most favorite periods of your life. It could be that music on those formats evoke memories or that they’re simply fun to listen to. Whatever the emotion … gold formats are surging. That includes Urban Oldies, Classic HipHop, Classic Country, Oldies Based AC and the aforementioned Classic Rock and Classic Hits.

Check the ratings in the Top-25 markets. Classic Rock or Classic Hits is near the top of the ratings in every market. Yet, many broadcasters avoid the format thinking that the audience is too old. Yet these stations carry the 25-54 age group because of the 45-54 cell. You think that’s old? Hit pause on that thought. Today’s 45-year-old isn’t their parents 45-year-old. They’re more contemporary, youthful, health conscious, have young children at home because they had them later in life, and they’re leading active lives. Then shift your focus for a moment on radio as a platform.  The use of radio by those under 35 is greatly diminished in most markets. Yet the Retro or Vintage fad has captured the interest of those as young as 25. 

Capitalize on this slice of culture by becoming engaged with concerts, club events, activities in your community that scream vintage. Tie-in to experiential events that introduce the community to music from cover bands of the classic artists. Be creative. Challenge your staff to come up with ideas that can be fun for the listener that might even generate revenue. Can you imagine a bracket for a trivia night at a club? These are the things that connect a station to a community and an audience. 

An important key to taking advantage of the classic era as it rolls out is to not sound like an oldies station. You want to sound like a Today station. You want to be contemporary. The air-talent for any station that plays non-current music needs to provide entertainment and content that reinforces that if you listen to the station, you won’t miss what’s important in the world. Radio Stars can create day to day tune-in. Think about it. If the audience doesn’t have the fear of missing out, and there are no new current music surprises, then you’ve failed to create habitual listening. 

Think about it. If we’re living in a world where people are willing to use a pencil to rewind a VHS tape, which they appear to be, then maybe radio can capitalize on the dawn of the Vintage Era. Maybe the convenience of radio can grow listening levels by playing to the audience’s desire to hear music that makes you feel good. If Vinyl Is back, could radio be back?

Five Takeaways for Classic Formatted Stations 

  • Don’t live in the past. Be a “Today” radio station that just happens to play songs from the past. That means personalities that present topical content that your audience is interested in and connect to the community. 
  • Don’t dwell on memories. Your memories are your memories. Don’t influence my memories with your stories as they may not be anywhere close to being my stories. Never say “Back in (year) as that audio note makes someone who was there feel old and isn’t relatable to the person who doesn’t have a memory from then.
  • Take advantage of the Vintage fad by becoming engaged with trivia nights, 80s/90s nights at clubs, concerts that feature the artists whose music you play, and be creative in developing fun events that take advantage of the feeling the music creates.
  • The music matters. The music you play has to be music that the audience can sing along with which serves to create an atmosphere that is stress-free. Be proud of the songs on your station. Sound proud. Embrace the artists. 
  • Radio Stars, on-air personalities, are needed to build day-to-day tune-in. The reason winning stations in the Classic Rock or Classic Hits formats do well is that they have personalities that put on engaging programs that transcend the music. You need more than a personality morning show. The entire station needs to sound like fun and that starts with air-talent. 
Mike McVay is President of McVay Media and can be reached at [email protected]

1 COMMENT

  1. This is more of the same. Any competitive market has at least 1 if not two Classic Rockers, and the same for Classic Hits stations. Classic Hits appeal to the biggest revenue appealing demo for music stations. It’s not magic. 60’s Oldie stations did the same thing from the late 80’s in the mid to late 90’s. Air talent outside of morning drive, except in a handful of instances is either badly tracked, no jock at all-just sweepers, or handled by a bland generic jock. The talent is flat out not there. All this about nostalgia is laughable, rather under 35’s don’t listen to radio anymore, even the target audiences that are still viable for terrestrial radio are seeking other sources for deeper cuts, entertainment or more obscure formats thus the success of Spotify and others. Let’s get serious TSL is in the toilet using these techniques and best practices are no brainers. If this was the early 2000’s okay, but if this is your plan you’re living in the past.

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