Adult contemporary music

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Adult contemporary music (AC) is a broad style of popular music, ranging from 1950s and 1960s vocal music1 to ballads with a varying degree of rock influence.2 The term is also used to describe a radio format which plays such music.

Adult-contemporary radio plays music other than hip hop, heavy metal, hard rock, teen pop music and rhythm-heavy dance tracks, genres less popular among the target demographic of these radio stations. Radio stations playing this format generally targets the 18–54 age group, the demographic which has received the most attention from advertisers since the 1960s.3

Adult contemporary music has spawned a number of sub-formats: hot AC, soft (or "lite") AC, modern AC, urban adult contemporary, rhythmic adult contemporary, smooth jazz and Christian AC (softer contemporary Christian music). Some radio stations play hot AC, others play only soft AC and others play a variety of sub-genres. It is not considered a specific music genre, since it includes music from a number of different genres.citation needed

According to AllMusic, the three most successful adult contemporary artists on the Billboard charts are Barbra Streisand, Elton John and Neil Diamond.4


Many radio stations played top-40 hits, regardless of genre, until the mid-1970s (when they began to target particular demographic groups).citation needed Specialized radio stations then played specific musical genres.

When rock and roll became popular during the mid-1950s, conservative radio stations wanted to play non-rock hits; these stations included adult standards and big band titles to appeal to listeners who had grown up with those songs. This format was known as middle-of-the-road (MOR), played on WJR in Detroit, WGN and WBBM in Chicago, KGO in San Francisco, WNEW in New York, and WCCO in Minneapolis.citation needed Billboard magazine first published an adult-contemporary music chart in 1961, although it did not use the name "Adult Contemporary" until 1979.

While most popular MOR stations at the time were on AM, beautiful-music and classical stations began to move to FM because of its superior audio quality. Although most easy-listening music was instrumental, adult contemporary music attempt to create a similar ("lite") format with compatible tracks by popular artists.

Early examples of the adult-contemporary format included WHAS in Louisville, Kentucky and KDKA in Pittsburgh, former MOR stations which began playing fewer standards and more contemporary, non-hard-rock music. During the mid-1970s WHAS called its format "Good and Gold", including rock-and-roll oldies on its playlist and playing harder-rock songs on weekends. "Mellow rock" stations (such as WMGK in Philadelphia, WBBM-FM in Chicago, KNX-FM in Los Angeles and WCCO-FM in Minneapolis) emerged on FM, mixing adult-contemporary hits with album tracks by singer-songwriters such as James Taylor, Carly Simon, Carole King, Janis Ian, Paul Simon and Elton John.

VH1 began as an adult-contemporary version of MTV, appealing to viewers in their 30s and 40s. During the mid-1990s, it began playing videos by Hootie & The Blowfish, the Gin Blossoms, Alanis Morissette, Melissa Etheridge, the Spin Doctors, Amy Grant and Ace of Base.

Adult contemporary music has evolved; artists such as Barbra Streisand, the Carpenters, Barry Manilow, Captain & Tennille and Olivia Newton-John peaked in popularity in the 1970s, becoming less popular in the 1980s when artists whose music videos received heavy rotation on MTV, such as Phil Collins, Madonna, Janet Jackson, Culture Club, Cyndi Lauper, Tears for Fears and Whitney Houston, began appearing on the adult-contemporary charts. Phil Collins has been described by AllMusic as "one of the most successful pop and adult contemporary singers of the '80s and beyond."5 VH1 has moved away from its adult-contemporary format with Destiny's Child, Eminem, Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg. Since the mid 2000s, bands such as Wilco and Feist have pushed indie rock into the adult-contemporary format.6


Hot AC

Hot adult contemporary (or "hot AC") is a format in which radio stations play a variety of music from about the previous 30 years; classic hits predominate over newer songs, and the playlist varies by station. Modern adult contemporary, a variety of hot AC, includes modern rock music. In 1997, Mike Marino of KMXB in Las Vegas described the format as reaching "an audience that has outgrown the edgier hip-hop or alternative music but hasn't gotten old and sappy enough for the soft ACs."7 The target audience was 25 to 39, and the format's artists included The Cranberries, Better Than Ezra, Alanis Morissette, Seal, The Wallflowers, Hootie & the Blowfish, Modern English, Counting Crows, No Doubt, Gin Blossoms, Blues Traveler, Sarah McLachlan, Jewel and Sheryl Crow.7 Unlike modern rock, with an 18–34 male target audience, modern adult contemporary appealed to women. Early modern AC stations were KTNP in Omaha, Nebraska, KBBT in Portland, Oregon and KPEK in Albuquerque.8

Soft AC

Known as "the acoustic equivalent to Prozac",9 soft AC (an older-oriented version of AC) began during the late 1970s. Greater Media introduced its Magic format at WMGK in Philadelphia in 1975. WEEI-FM in Boston was the first station to use the term "soft rock", with advertising slogans such as "Fleetwood Mac...without the yack" and "Joni...without the baloney". The longest-running adult-contemporary format in the top ten U.S. markets is 103.7 Lite FM KVIL in Dallas-Fort Worth.citation needed KVIL went on the air in 1962, adopting its current format in 1969. In 1982, WMJX Magic 106.7 in Boston debuted with a soft adult-contemporary format and became the most popular music station in its market. The following year, the Lite format debuted in New York (WLTW) and Chicago (WLIT). KOST in Los Angeles, formerly a beautiful music station, switched to soft adult contemporary that year. Other names for the format include "warm", "sunny", "bee" (or "B") and EZ Rock, and it combines the middle-of-the-road, beautiful music, easy listening and soft rock formats. Some soft adult-contemporary stations capitalize on their appeal to office workers (females aged 25–54, a key advertiser demographic), calling themselves stations "everyone at work can agree on".citation needed

In 1995 Broadcast Programming introduced a syndicated format, AC45+. BP programmer and consultant Mike Bettelli said that adult contemporary stations had dropped Neil Diamond, Kenny Rogers, Barbra Streisand, Anne Murray and Barry Manilow, adding Take That and Bon Jovi. Adult standards and easy listening were for older listeners, and women aged 45–54 were overlooked. A sample hour of the format included Chicago, Olivia Newton-John, Elton John, Smokey Robinson, Bobby Darin, Christopher Cross, Vanessa L. Williams, Simon & Garfunkel, Manilow, Whitney Houston, Charlie Rich, Billy Joel, Maureen McGovern and Lionel Richie; songs by Frank Sinatra, Mariah Carey and Michael Bolton were also played.10

Urban AC

Urban adult contemporary music is geared to adult African-American audiences, playing R&B and soul music rather than hip-hop. Examples of urban AC stations include WBLS in New York, WHUR in Washington D.C., and KJLH in Los Angeles. Sirius XM Satellite Radio features the format on its Heart & Soul channel.

The rhythmic adult contemporary format focuses on uptempo disco, early hip-hop, R&B and dance music for African-American, Hispanic and white audiences. Stations include WKTU in New York, WISX in Philadelphia and KQMV in Seattle.

The rhythmic oldies format focuses on old-school R&B and soul hits from the 1960s to the 1990s, including Motown and disco. The format, also known as "jammin'" or "groovin'" oldies, was pioneered in 1997 by KCMG-FM ("Mega 100") in Los Angeles. Before its popularity faded, it included white artists such as ABBA and the Bee Gees. Rhythmic-oldies stations, targeting an African-American audience, include WRBO-FM in Memphis, Tennessee and WWWS-AM in Buffalo, New York.

A late-night quiet storm format blends urban and soft adult-contemporary music: ballads and slow jams, primarily by African-American and Latino artists. Keith Sweat hosts the Keith Sweat Hotel, a nightly syndicated quiet-storm program.

Christmas music

Some soft adult-contemporary stations play Christmas music in November and December. Although many are contemporary seasonal recordings by artists played in the usual format, vintage songs by older pop, MOR, and adult standards artists such as Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, the Carpenters, Percy Faith, Johnny Mathis and Andy Williams are also heard.

British broadcasters have a Christmas holiday schedule from the first Monday of the school holidays to New Year's Day. Christmas music on U.S. and Canadian radio stations typically begins the week before Thanksgiving Day, ending after Christmas or New Year's Day; a later end may coincide with a format change. Stations sometimes begin the holiday format earlier, in late October or early November, although such music outside the Christmas and holiday season has been unpopular with listeners. The roots of this tradition trace back to the beautiful music and easy listening stations of the 1960s and 1970s. These stations introduced Christmas music into their playlists around Thanksgiving, playing Christmas music exclusively for 36 or 48 hours around Christmas Day. An all-Christmas format beginning around Thanksgiving began at a few stations during the mid-1990s.

Syndicated radio networks and programs

See also


  1. ^ Adult Contemporary Music. Retrieved August 4, 2008.
  2. ^ Musical Terms. American Popular Music. Oxford University Press. Retrieved August 4, 2008.
  3. ^ Brecht, Robert M (31 May 2011). "Advertising Shifting to Targeting Older Demographic Segments". DMN3 Blog. Retrieved 24 March 2014. "Since the 60s, brands have been spending their advertising dollars on influencing consumers in the age 18 to 54 demographic segments. Today more and more advertisers are targeting those 55 and up. The reason is simple: advertising to older adults makes good business sense. Except for certain products designed specifically for older Americans, advertisers have virtually ignored older demographic segments in their advertising campaigns. Advertising sales have come to be based on two main segments, people aged 18 to 49 and those 25 to 54. "With a continued emphasis on these groups, companies are increasingly losing their connection with the 78 million Baby Boomers," Doug Anderson, SVP Research & Development for Nielsen, tells Marketing Daily. While Boomers spend 38.5% of CPG dollars, Nielsen estimates that only 5% of advertising dollars are currently targeted toward adults 35-64 years old (a slice that includes the latter half of Generation X as well as Boomers)." 
  4. ^ Ruhlmann, William. "Neil Diamond Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  5. ^ Ruhlmann, William. "Phil Collins Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  6. ^ Kelley, Frannie (26 October 2011). "Has 'Indie' Become 'Adult Contemporary'?". The Record. NPR. Retrieved 24 March 2014. "On Sunday night New York magazine published a piece by its music critic, Nitsuh Abebe, in which he says Wilco's leader, Jeff Tweedy, accurately predicted the general reaction to his group's recent album, The Whole Love, back in April: "I have no doubt that the second this record becomes available there's somebody sitting in a basement at their computer with the word 'meh' already typed up, waiting to post a review." Abebe concurs with that assessment and goes on to explain it as a result of two things: first, the maturation of a certain type of indie music. Of musicians like Wilco, Feist, and Radiohead he writes, "These acts, intentionally or not, have won; they've taken a lower-sales, lower-budget version of the type of trip Sting once took, from a post-punk upstart to an adult staple." The second reason he says very few people are up in arms about the evolution of a style of music (and musicians) once beloved for its outsider ethos and "authenticity" into something that has been characterized as, variously, "dad rock," "for sale next to the register at Starbucks" or, even, as Abebe does, "NPR Muzak," (not that we're sensitive or anything) is our current oversupply of alternatives. If we're not into it, he says, we no longer have to throw a fit, because we're already on to the next one. But some people will throw a fit, because some people like the feeling they get when they're in the middle of throwing a fit. Abebe's piece this week addresses these people, or, as he says, the "phenomenon" of people whose knee-jerk reaction to "adult contemporary" is to run screaming in the other direction — maybe even without listening first." 
  7. ^ a b Kevin Carter, "KMXB's Mike Marino takes the plunge into modern AC," Billboard, 04/12/1997, Vol. 109, Issue 15.
  8. ^ Marc Schiffman and Dana Hall, "Modern debates value of '80s gold." Billboard, 06/14/1997, Vol. 109 Issue 24, p. 75.
  9. ^ Libby, Haddon (2012). From 33 1/3 to 45. 
  10. ^ "45-Plus AC 'Specially Created for Mom'". Billboard. Sep 9, 1995. Retrieved 2011-10-18. .

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