And Now, Joey Sweeney’s Unfinished Thoughts On WOGL 98.1FM’s Recent Inclusion Of Hits From The 1980s Into The Canon Of “Oldies”

In accordance with oldies stations all over the country, WOGL 98.1FM, Philly’s longstanding Oldies radio station, has recently opened up their format to allow — “allow” doesn’t really cut it, though, since they’re clearly doing it with purpose — hits from the 1980s. Technically, of course, they’re right: A song like “Borderline,” for instance, which one can hear on WOGL these days, was released in 1984, which would make it 26 years old. When the concept of “oldies radio” was invented in the 1970s, a song that had been released 26 years ago would certainly qualify as the most golden of oldies. And yet, this weekend, sitting on the roof hoping to hear “There’s A Moon Out Tonight” by The Capris or “Come Go With Me” by The Del-Vikings, I couldn’t help but feel like it was still kinda bullshit. Because in addition to WOGL’s format change, they’ve also changed their tagline accordingly; WOGL now brings you, as any jock there will tell you, “the hits of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.” Which is the second sting of it all: The move to play ’80s hits is not really so much an act of inclusion as it is exclusion. The hits from the 1950s, which for so long were the wild engine that made Oldies radio work, are gone.

Imagine the scene, if you will, in Oldies Heaven, where great hits (and some even not that great, like “American Pie”) go to what they thought was their final resting place: After years of valuable service, defining the summers and the souls of listeners from here to Margate, Oldies God calls the hits of the 1950s — from “Do” by The Marvelows to “Lollipop” by Ronald & Ruby — into a nondescript conference room.
“You’re fired,” he says. All of the 1950s Oldies look at Oldies God, and then at each other, darkly mystified.
“Are- are we being downsized?,” they ask.
“Not exactly,” says Oldies God. “You still get to stay here — I mean, you are Oldies, and you will always be Oldies, but you’ll no longer be on the air, unless it’s a specialty show or something. Doo-Woppers, you know how this goes. But you’re being retired from regular airplay.”
“But we already thought we were!,” says one, “we thought that’s what being an Oldie was!”
“Not exactly,” says Oldies God, looking at the clock. “Look, I’m trying not to be callous about this — what you’ve done for everyone, your service to the country and indeed the world — that is something you can be proud of forever. But I’m sorry. We’ve got New Oldies now.”

The group falls silent. Turns out, that final resting place is not so final. And Oldies Heaven could also well be Oldies Hell.

24 Responses to “And Now, Joey Sweeney’s Unfinished Thoughts On WOGL 98.1FM’s Recent Inclusion Of Hits From The 1980s Into The Canon Of “Oldies””

  1. krisis Says:

    Joey, you and I share a mind here.

    As a child the only channel allowed in my father’s care was 98.1. When I first starting getting into pop music I thought it was an annoying and restrictive rule. Then I got to know the songs.

    To this day I have a great, enduring love of the songs – especially doo-wop (SPECIFICALLY “Come Go With Me,” possibly my all-time-favorite), 50s and early 60s (“Let the Good Times Roll”), and non-Motown 60s pop songs (“Lightning Strikes”) that they don’t really play anymore. I spend an inordinate amount of my free time trying to remember their titles and subsequently hunting them down on iTunes and Amazon. How about “Reach out of the Darkness” by Friend & Lover!

    I was always a huge Madonna fan, and I remember asking him one day, “Dad, how old will I be when they play ‘Borderline’ on WOGL”?

    Now I know. Part of me is offended to lose those older oldies, downsized to specific doo-wop shows. Yes, “Borderline” is an oldie now. But it’s on other formats, and on Greatest Hits CDs still moving thousands of units a year.

    What about “Come Go With Me”? Will any eight year old Gaga-loving kid ever have the chance for that to be his favorite song?

    Thanks for this post.

  2. Allan Smithee Says:

    I always enjoyed listening to 50’s music on the radio when traveling on the highway (open road) for extended periods of time, ie, for more than an hour.

    It seemed to fit.

  3. arcticsplasher Says:

    Check out the Geator’s Rock and Roll R&B Express on XPN, saturdays at 6pm.

  4. Allan Smithee Says:

    re: Check out the Geator’s Rock and Roll R&B Express on XPN, saturdays at 6pm.

    I actually listened to that this past weekend. He plays some choice & obscure cuts.

  5. dbritt Says:

    I anxiously await Snoop Dogg’s debut on the Oldies channel in 2020.

  6. amc4232 Says:

    Yeah, this desecration has been going on for a few years now. Time was, we had the best oldies station in the country with great DJs who knew and loved the music (we miss you hyski) – and it was literally all I listened to growing up. But cutting out the 50s for shit like Madonna (sorry 20 and 30-somethings – it’s shit) has officially made the station unlistenable. And it’s not just that, but their 60s and 70s fare has gone downhill too. Do you like Elton John and lesser disco hits? Then you’re in luck. They’re basically B101 without Shania Twain.

    The only station playing classic rock and roll (and no, I don’t mean so-called “Classic Rock”) is wxpn, though of course it’s a part of their broad mix. Someone should give them a bejeesus-load of money so they can start an HD or web-only station for proper oldies like they currently have with yrock and their folk channel.

  7. robot Says:

    Sad, but inevitable. Oldies stations operate on nostalgia, and people prefer the music of their childhood. Now that the boomers are getting so old these stations have to broaden their appeal by dipping into the 80s. Lucky for us there is internet radio.

  8. J T. Ramsay Says:

    Not really sure how they intend to compete with 102.9 for audience. It seems pretty silly to spoil a station with such a strong brand identity if you ask me.

  9. pinchefresco Says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Geator’s show is pretty great, and of course WOGL still plays doo-wop Street Corner Sundays.

  10. chuck63 Says:

    This is the elephants’ graveyard of oldies:
    WRDV 89.3 FM
    “Weekends are rockin’ good times!
    The Roots of Rock
    Rhythm & Blues
    Doo Wop
    Rare Oldies”

  11. ride1076 Says:

    I feel the same way about WMGK playing Bon Jovi.

  12. Adam_B Says:

    @ride1076: And I’m pretty sure ‘MGK sneaks R.E.M. in their playlist a few times too. Gives me a sad.

  13. lord_whimsy Says:

    Yeah, Do-Wop is going the way of Ragtime. It’s sad.

  14. lord_whimsy Says:

    Road trip to Weber’s, y’all.

  15. chuck63 Says:

    @Whimsy…everything goes the way of Ragtime.

  16. lord_whimsy Says:

    Of course, Chuck. What I was getting at was the idea that, like Ragtime, Do-Wop was a popular, ubiquitous musical form whose heyday is now passing beyond the realm of living memory. And when that happens, it becomes foreign–again.

    But yeah: this is the time of year when this stuff bubbles up in the brain, especially during long roadtrips. Stuff has an eerie quality in the wee hours. Ask David Lynch.

  17. chuck63 Says:

    I should have added the caveat…all cultural norms go the way of Ragtime but those which possess enduring qualities, like Ragtime and Do-Wop and Swing (and The Western and the city-beat newspaper column – think Jimmy Breslin or Pete Hammill) will continue to occupy real estate in the generations to come.

  18. thrip jackson Says:

    chuck63’s endorsement of WRDV couldn’t be more spot-on. it’s pretty great. lots of proto-R&B and doo wop on the weekends, lots of big band and swing and crooner stuff during the week, and the occasional totally bizarre specialty shows at night (i’ve heard deep cuts from grand funk railroad and trucker songs and shows dedicated to actual muzak…). i usually get it on 107.3 but that’s been unreliable. perhaps 89.3 is the better option.

  19. blerg Says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post (although it’s a little late). I’ve been lamenting this for a few years now. It’s one thing to add the occasional 80s song. It’s another to completely ditch the 50s and almost entirely block out the 60s — listen for a while and you’ll see it’s almost all 70s and 80s, and a terrible selection of music from those decades to boot. (amc4232 has it right) Streetcorner Sunday is still intact and it’s the only time they play real oldies anymore (Harvey Holiday is still awesome and you can tell he loves those few hours when he gets to play the good stuff.) I don’t buy the audience going away. I mean, boomers aren’t THAT old yet. And there are so many of them — don’t they still want to listen to the music of their youth? I guess advertisers don’t like them though (even radio advertisers??).

  20. Clare Says:

    I was listening to Wired 96.5 (SHUT UP) on the way to work today and they called The Fugees’ cover of Killing Me Softly a “back in the day joint.” I might be 29, but I felt about 70 when they said that.

  21. roozoo Says:

    The oldies from the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s that Oldies 98 won’t play anymore can be heard on Crusin’ 92.1 WVLT. The Geator is on 5-7 Monday thru Friday. They had Wee Willie Webber on until he passed away recently.

  22. Sugar Town Says:

    This reminds me of when I was working at Tower Records and when they did away with the Oldies section (an argument-starter in itself) and the only people who mourned its loss were the doo wop fans.

    As I’ve already posted elsewhere, it’s a shame to see WOGL include 80s because you can already hear 80s on other commercial radio formats, unlike obscure 50s/60s music.

  23. ghostrocket Says:

    what is a radio?

  24. lutton Says:

    The bottom line is the bottom line: audience demographics.

    It’s easier and cheaper to change playlists to keep their demos the same rather than find new advertisers for changing demos.

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