the squeaky pickle gets the cheese

Dear Classic Rock Radio Programmers,


Hi guys, John Wessling here…long-time listener, long-time caller. The reason I’m writing you this letter is because I’ve been a fan for my whole life and I’m getting a little bored with your playlists. Seriously, you guys are phoning it in. Don’t get defensive, we can all tell that you haven’t done anything new – or anything at all really – since about 1994.

Now I can already hear what you are saying…”It’s classic rock, there isn’t supposed to be anything new.” That’s not what I mean and you know it, you guys have been playing the same three songs from every artist over and over and I can’t stand it anymore!! Diversify your playlists, dig just a little bit deeper in the library, play something I haven’t heard in years.

For example, did you guys know that The Cars released more than two songs? IN FACT, they released more than two whole ALBUMS. candyo

Crazy huh? You wouldn’t know that if you listened to your average classic rock radio station, all you’ll hear there is “You Might Think” and “Drive”

…every once in a blue moon, they might give you “My Best Friend’s Girl” but usually it’s too “country trending” for them. Barf.

Now most of these stations have one or two shifts, or special shows a week where they might get a little experimental in the the deep dark of night, Jim Ladd in LA at KLOS is a great example…but that’s not enough in my opinion. I want to hear deep cuts and way out tracks at all hours of the day. I want to wake up on a Tuesday and hear Frank Zappa…

and Iggy Pop on my way to work.

I want to hear some Yardbirds playing Live during my lunch hour

…there are people out there who think Eric Clapton is just a soft rock guitarist thanks to Tears in Heaven, lets hear some of the grittier stuff from when he was on heroin.

On the way home, perhaps some Allman Brothers

or some ZZ Topp from the early 70’s,

or why not some G-D Parliament?!

And while I love them dearly, maybe Metallica should be a little less MANDATORY.

My point is, just because your music comes from the past doesn’t mean there isn’t anything new out there to play. If you don’t broaden your horizons and throw in more of the Album-Oriented cuts and some more obscure bands, you run the risk of becoming just another oldies station with long hair and good weed.


I still love you guys, I just think its time to evolve.


John “Knight in White Satin” Wessling


5 Responses to “Dear Classic Rock Radio Programmers,”

  1. I never listen to anything anymore but XM Radio and I find their Deep Tracks channel to be along the line you’re suggesting…and they do play Frank Zappa. I also like their Led Zeppelin and Grateful Dead channels.

    Don’t give up, dude. The music’s out there. Go satellite!

  2. If my aunt had balls, she’d be my uncle.

    From November of 1994 (coincidentally, the year you cite in your essay) to August of 1995, we worked at a classic rock radio station.

    We were merely the “creative team” for the afternoon drive host, so, when we complained about the tightness of the playlist, our opinion was dismissed (as it should have been). We abandoned that tack. But, since our host had a and subtly tried to influence the list by suggesting certain songs– “The Man Who Sold The World” off the MTV Uplugged Nirvana CD for one. (We figured it had all the elements– Hard rockish, tragic figure at the helm, formerly recorded by Classic Rock God David Bowie– so it was a natural way to freshen up things a bit and still stay true to the Classic Rock format. The suggestion was politely refused.

    However bored we were by the playlist, we eventually discovered how the playlist was created– by a man in a small, darkened room sitting at a computer that was hooked up to the early internet (Literally!) He received detailed demographic information and focus-group data and, from an already tightened and refined list, he selected a still finer and still tighter list to play on the station in our market.

    Of course, we knew that formats were tight, but we had no idea just how tight.

    One of the stunts we created– having in-studio guest Bob Keeshan (Capt. Kangaroo) recite the lyrics to “Truckin'” as he would a dramatic reading– was an aesthetic home run. But the GM was disappointed, as we had picked a Grateful Dead song that was not on the approved playlist. “Couldn’t you guys have picked a song that was on our playlist?” he plaintively asked.

    We eventually realized that the format was a force greater than all. Even the GM had to answer to it. (Of course, the success of the Classic Rock format cannot be denied– it sells a lot of cars and beer.) Our attempt at influencing the playlist was futile.

    Your open letter is equally futile.

    Richard is right– go satellite. Or get yourself an mp3 player and program your own personal radio station. Or go old school and cop a 200-disc changer from eBay (they’re going for under $100 bucks) and program your own format. Or go to Pandora and wig out.

    Postscript: The station we worked for eventually abandoned the Classic Rock format and started playing a slightly more interesting mix of songs and artists according to a newfangled format that incorporated Heart, The Cars and The Dead with newer, contemporary artists like Nirvana. (Actually very similar to what we had envisioned. I suppose that makes us visionaries. Or it makes us just slightly ahead of a focus group or two and a computer program.)

    In 1975, I entered journalism school with the ostensible intent of becoming a journalist. I secretly wanted to be a disc jockey. I thank the lord that, through a series of mishaps and stupidity, I became neither, as being a journalist or a disc jockey might be two of the worst occupations to occupy in 2009!

  3. Great blog! I find my music via Pandora.com, surfing Myspace and finding nifty Youtube Channels.

    Check this channel:


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