I grew up listening to what today is called classic or progressive rock.
When I was 11 years old, I began my work career delivering newspapers in the afternoon – The Philadelphia Bulletin. My first major purchase was a Panasonic FM radio that cost $35. I started listening to the Philadelphia FM classic rock station WMMR. Ed Sciaky was the king of the airwaves. Ed was known for promoting bands he liked and educating the audience with facts about the songs and musicians. It was a far cry from the Top 40 AM stations I previously had listened (e.g. WFIL).
For the next 10 years, I continued listening to Philly classic rock on new stations such as WYSP and WIOQ. The DJs and songs became interchangeable during this time period but the artists and the music made a lasting impact on my evolving teenage brain.
In my early 20s, I moved to CA and found new rock stations to listen.
They played many of the artists and songs I was previously familiar, but a West Coast version of classic rock became my new normal. And during this same time period, the music and bands were themselves evolving into an 80s sound. By the 90s, I was mostly done listening with any interest. I’d be musically familiar with the current popular songs, but I rarely knew the names of the either the artists or the songs. It was all just background noise. I remember thinking they don’t make songs like they used too. I had become my parents – I didn’t understand 90s and 2000s music just as they didn’t understand the music of the 60s and 70s.
It was during this time period that I’d seek out the familiarity of classic rock stations and listen with a yearning for the good old days. And as I traveled around the country working in different cities and markets, I’d always spin the radio dial until I found some familiar version of a classic rock station.
Three years ago I spent two extended time periods back in the Philadelphia area.
I learned that WMGK was the Philly rock station. And a childhood friend from grade school, Ray Koob, was one of the DJs. I listened with a renewed interest and fascination to the songs MGK played. And with each subsequent trip back east to visit family, I’d always tune-in to MGK to hear what was strangely familiar – and not heard in the other parts of the country that I had traveled and lived.
Here are 8 things I’ve learned about myself and classic rock radio stations:
- Not all classic rock stations are equal. The playlists vary greatly.
- Philly classic rock is uniquely Philadelphia and very different than everywhere else. The grouping of artists played and specific songs from each artist (as a mix) are only heard in Philadelphia.
- Other classic rock stations around the country do play the same artists and many of the same songs, but the top-to-bottom playlists somehow feels very different. Their mix is unique to their area and market. These other regions only feel 50% familiar to me at best.
- None of this made sense to me until I started listening intently a few years ago. It all previously seemed normal as I lived in my fishbowl of rock music. I couldn’t hear what I couldn’t hear. Then, suddenly, I could hear it.
- The music I listened to as a child, pre-teen, and teenager has made a lasting impression and elicits memories that no other music produces.
- My top ten list of most influential rock artists from that period include: Beatles, Stones, Springsteen, Billy Joel, Elton John, Steely Dan, Who, Bowie, Eagles, & ELO. All are played regularly on MGK.
- There are several dozen more artists that made an impression and I love hearing their classic tunes.
- The music created by all my favorite rock artists after the mid-80s is mostly unknown to me and not part of my foundational influence. I want to hear the classics – not something they wrote in the last two or three decades.
The journey of life continues. The Grateful Dead eloquently stated, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”
Jazz, Blues, Dixie, Big Band, Classical have all played bit parts during my journey, but Rock is the foundation. Or as Simon and Garfunkel sang, “I am a rock.”