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Goodnight, my love

Rick Shaw, the last South Florida veteran of Top 40 radio, announced his retirement this morning on his WMXJ show. And when Shaw packs up his microphone after his final show, he probably should go ahead and take WMXJ's records -- well, mp3s -- with him. Oldies radio radio is dying fast -- big stations in New York, San Francisco and Chicago have dumped the format in the past 18 months -- and it's hard to see Shaw's departure as anything but an ominous portent of things to come, soon. Do not ask for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for Elvis Presley, the Four Tops and Aretha Franklin.

04shaw19_mdp_cpj Even stations that don't formally renounce the format are quietly shedding it like an old skin. Hardly anybody anymore plays Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly or other 1950s rock and roll giants. And an increasing number of oldies stations are abandoning 1960s music, too. Although Gene Pitney hit the charts 24 times during the 1960s, you can't hear him on WMXJ -- not Town Without Pity, not (The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance, not It Hurts To Be In Love, not I'm Gonna Be Strong, even though they were all Top 10 chart records. Even before Shaw announced his retirement, WMXJ had one foot in the 1970s and was headed inexorably for the 1980s. Any day now, expect to hear an "oldies" station that plays U2 and eminem.

It's not that there's no audience for 1960s rock and roll. Are you kidding? Baby Boomers are the biggest demographic bulge in human history and will remain so for another 20 years. And they still want to hear their music, which is why Barbra Steisand and Paul McCartney have made more money than anybody else on tour in the past year. The problem is the same one that afflicts television, the belief by advertisers and their hunchback assistants, the programming consultants, that anybody over 50 might as well be dead. WMXJ finished 10th in the market in the summer Arbitron ratings period, ahead of 17 other commercial stations, but too many of its listeners are past that deadly 50th birthday.

Someday advertisers are going to wise up; there are all kinds of studies showing that Baby Boomers have a lot more money than anybody else and, as part of their lifelong obsession with being hip, are eager to use it to try new things. Until that happens, the best bet for 1960s music is satellite radio, which doesn't care how old its listeners are as long as they fork over the $13 a month subscription fee. In fact, Rick Shaw in his mid-60s incarnation as a WQAM boss Top 40 jock can sometimes be heard on XM satellite radio, which uses old tape to recreate the sound of 1960s stations.

Meanwhile, I laughed out loud this morning when the first thing Shaw did after announcing his retirement was to violate WMXJ's Stalinist playlist restrictions: He cued up Goodnight My Love by Ray Peterson, the 1959 record that was his signoff back in the Top 40 days. Maybe, before his final shift at WMXJ next month, he'll even play a Gene Pitney record. (I vote for Looking Through The Eyes Of Love, Rick.) What can the programmers do, fire him?

What they'd do if they were smart is give Shaw a couple of hours on the weekends and let him play anything he wants: hits, near-hits, misses, flip sides, novelty records, anything that struck his fancy during 46 years in South Florida radio. Come on, WMXJ. Give us decrepit 50-year-olds something to listen to while we shop for satellite radios.


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