1980s Hits: Then vs. Now

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One of the interesting things about playing 80s pop is that while most of today’s listeners grew up with this music when it was first on the charts, several things make a countdown of the biggest hits at the time different from a countdown of the biggest hits today from the same year.

Although generally teenagers and young adults are the ones requesting songs from radio stations and purchasing singles at the record stores, older listeners can still influence the charts. As one example, the last record my grandmother ever bought was “Chariots of Fire” by Vangelis. She was approaching 70 at the time. My uncle who was in his 30s in the 80s, was also purchasing albums such as the “Do They Know It’s Christmas” maxi-single, Madonna’s “Who’s That Girl” soundtrack, and Vanity 6’s LP.

These age groups aren’t necessarily fans of 1980s music but found songs they liked released in the decade and pushed them up the charts alongside the songs liked by the teenagers and 20-somethings of the era. You’ll have Joan Jett, Tone Loc, and Motley Crue alongside Barbara Streisand, Andy Gibb, and Barry Manilow.

Today, the older generations have mostly passed on or are focused on the music of their youth, leaving the listeners of 80s radio to be those earlier-mentioned teens and 20-somethings of the 80s. Even tweens and kids from the 80s may find appeal in this music if they had an older brother or sister who played the local top 40 station all the time during the decade.

Another complication in playing “the most popular songs” is the persistent rumor that the charts may have been, at times, “less than honest.”

Some of this could have been accidental, such as a radio station Music Director just guessing at how many requests a song has gotten over the past week or a record store owner estimating how many copies of a single he has sold.

Unfortunately there may have been more deliberate subversion, including radio stations being asked by a label to report airing a song even if they didn’t play it or a record store because of personal biases not wanting to report sales of a specific artist or genre.

It has even been suggested that money may have, at one point or another, exchanged hands with chart makers to make sure a particular song hit a particular peak on a particular chart.

A final complication is the aging of tastes. This is a complicated enough topic I could write an entire article just on it!

In some cases, we’ve just heard a great song way, way too many times over the past 40 years. Maybe the message of the song rang true to our teenage hearts, but as a 40 or 50-something year old, it no longer affects us the same way. Maybe a musical style was unique and fresh at the time of release, but we’ve heard so many people do the style and do it better or expand on the style that what sounded hot at the time no longer impresses us.

On the flip side, a song that we may not have liked at the time may now bring back good memories, or our musical tastes may have broadened to include more and varied styles.

I know for me growing up if it didn’t have a beat I didn’t want to hear it. Today I really love a lot of the slow songs and mellow ballads from the decade when back then I would have consistently shut them off. (A lot of those love songs took on deeper meanings after hormones kicked in, too!)

So, how does BlackLight Radio know what 1980s songs to play and which ones to toss? The answer is simple: we ask you!

We have a music advisory board, made up of listeners just like you and me, folks who grew up in the 1980s and love this decade of music. Every week we have them listen to nine songs from the 80s and tell us if they want to hear the song regularly on BlackLight Radio. If the majority of the advisory board wants to hear it, we put the song in hot rotation. If the majority say they don’t want to hear it frequently, we move it to a light rotation where you’ll rarely hear it.

The result is a radio station that is fine-tuned to you and your favorite 1980s songs. We still have plenty of songs waiting for us to go through, but BlackLight Radio already sounds dramatically different (and dramatically better) than it did a year ago. Every week the playlist gets just a little bit better as fans just like you help us decide what songs to play and which songs to toss.

I think a lot of things make BlackLight Radio special: we play the songs at the speed the radio stations used to play them at, the songs are segued in such a way that they rarely fade, the announcements have lots of special effects, and we play audio clips from movies we all went to see at the cinema in the 1980s.

Being able to find out what songs you want to hear… not just guessing based on my personal preference, and not just following the charts from the era, and CERTAINLY not following what broadcast radio is playing, is our secret weapon. It is the magic ingredient that makes BlackLight Radio better than any other 80s radio station in existence, on or off the web.

(If you’d like to join the BlackLight Radio Music Advisory Board, please contact me for details on how you can help shape our music library!)

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