I was asked recently, “Just what kind of music is it that you play during your show?” Simple answer: AOR, album-oriented rock. Simple to me, of course, because I know what it is, but to someone that doesn’t, it’s not quite as simple. Well until you understand. Let’s face it…the ‘rock’ part is easy. The album-oriented part bears a bit more explanation.
Short of a history lesson based on radio from its infancy, it is fair to simplify that in the beginning there was AM radio. Twenty-something years later there was FM radio. In the late 60s / early 70s, the FCC adopted a non-duplication rule prohibiting stations to simulcast he same programming on their AM and FM station. At that time AM stations were playing ‘hits,’ whereas the FM counterparts out of desperation for something different, they were being more creative with their playlists, playing longer sets of music of mixed genre’s which included spinning ‘B’ sides and deeper album cuts, thus the evolution of freeform radio began.
By the early 70s radio executives, along with major record labels, began standardizing playlists of these freeform stations. A dj in Flint, Michigan is credited for being the pioneer of a "Rock Album Cuts Only" format with its two-hour "WTAC Underground Show.” This included the dj programming the show with LP-based rock music rather than a mixed genre. This rock radio music consisted of longer jams (even playing whole album sides), of not only the popular mix, but additionally a mix of eclectic, lesser known sounds and cuts from an LP; music that segued together without interruption ~ no jingles, few commercials, and certainly no announcer hype. Within a year or two, more and more FM stations caught on to this “radical” type of programming which was in direct contrast to the direction of the stations standardizing playlists.
The term AOR can be attributed during an interview in the mid-70s to an influential Cleveland radio station dj as he observed the changes in radio. He said:"I think the '60s are ending about now. Now we are really starting the '70s. The emphasis is shifting back to entertainment instead of being 'relevant'...In fact, I wouldn't call our station progressive radio. That's outdated. I call it radio. But I heard a good word in the trades, AOR. That's Album-Oriented Rock. That's a name for the '70s.”
During the early-to-mid 80s, AOR radio died…maybe because of the onset of MTV and hit-oriented music; maybe because criticism AOR stations received of the lack of diversity; maybe for a million other contributing factors, but it died. The progression has been to ‘classic rock’ which is, to me, hit-oriented rock music.
So, there you have it….AOR radio is a radio format, nothing more than playing music focused on the album as a whole rather than the ‘hits’ or singles associated with the release of the album. In fact, many albums never saw a 'hit' but was still played, and still enjoyed. Also, an emphasis must be acknowledged that the dj has the freedom to choose what track(s) to play off a given album — as well as latitude to decide what order to play the records in; in essence, playing whatever moves ya.
I can’t imagine growing up with the commercial radio of today where, for example, the djs pre-recorded rhetoric includes standardized relationship tips, as well as how many calories are in a Big Mac. This is not to mention being able set your watch to a specific song on the homogenized play list. To me, that’s not radio. I do miss radio of ole’.
On the RustyString Café, I try to stay true to the true essence of AOR radio ~ doing radio the way it used to be, and in my less-than-humble-opinion, the way it should be. I use turntables and spin vinyl. So, join me if you will…check it out sometime.