Adult contemporary music

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Celine Dion, referred to as the "Queen of Adult Contemporary", is one of the biggest international stars in music history, selling more than 220 million albums worldwide. Celine Dion Concert Singing Taking Chances 2008.jpg
Celine Dion, referred to as the "Queen of Adult Contemporary", is one of the biggest international stars in music history, selling more than 220 million albums worldwide.

In North American music, adult contemporary music (AC) is a form of radio-played popular music, ranging from 1960s vocal and 1970s soft rock music [3] to predominantly ballad-heavy music of the present day, with varying degrees of easy listening, pop, soul, rhythm and blues, quiet storm, and rock influence. [4] [5] [6] Adult contemporary is rather a continuation of the easy listening and soft rock style that became popular in the 1960s and 1970s with some adjustments that reflect the evolution of pop/rock music. [7]

Popular music is music with wide appeal that is typically distributed to large audiences through the music industry. These forms and styles can be enjoyed and performed by people with little or no musical training. It stands in contrast to both art music and traditional or "folk" music. Art music was historically disseminated through the performances of written music, although since the beginning of the recording industry, it is also disseminated through recordings. Traditional music forms such as early blues songs or hymns were passed along orally, or to smaller, local audiences.

Vocal music is a type of music performed by one or more singers, either with instrumental accompaniment, or without instrumental accompaniment, in which singing provides the main focus of the piece. Music which employs singing but does not feature it prominently is generally considered instrumental music as is music without singing. Music without any non-vocal instrumental accompaniment is referred to as a cappella.

Soft rock is a derivative form of pop rock that originated in the late 1960s in the U.S. region of Southern California and the United Kingdom. The style smoothed over the edges of singer-songwriter and pop rock, relying on simple, melodic songs with big, lush productions. Soft rock was prevalent on the radio throughout the 1970s and eventually metamorphosed into the synthesized music of adult contemporary in the 1980s.


Adult contemporary tends to have lush, soothing and highly polished qualities where emphasis on melody and harmonies is accentuated. It is usually melodic enough to get a listener's attention, and is inoffensive and pleasurable enough to work well as background music. Like most of pop music, its songs tend to be written in a basic format employing a verse–chorus structure. [8] The format is heavy on romantic sentimental ballads which mostly use acoustic instruments (though bass guitar is usually used) such as acoustic guitars, pianos, saxophones, and sometimes an orchestral set. The electric guitars are normally faint and high-pitched. However, recent adult contemporary music may feature synthesizers (and other electronics, such as drum machines). [9]

Melody linear succession of musical tones in the foreground of a work of music

A melody, also tune, voice, or line, is a linear succession of musical tones that the listener perceives as a single entity. In its most literal sense, a melody is a combination of pitch and rhythm, while more figuratively, the term can include successions of other musical elements such as tonal color. It may be considered the foreground to the background accompaniment. A line or part need not be a foreground melody.

Harmony aspect of music

In music, harmony is the process by which the composition of individual sounds, or superpositions of sounds, is analysed by hearing. Usually, this means simultaneously occurring frequencies, pitches, or chords.

Background music refers to a mode of musical performance in which the music is not intended to be a primary focus of potential listeners, but its content, character, and volume level are deliberately chosen to affect behavioral and emotional responses in humans such a concentration, relaxation, distraction, and excitement. Listeners are uniquely subject to background music with no control over its volume and content. The range of responses created are of great variety, and even opposite, depending on numerous factors such as, setting, culture, audience, and even time of day.

An AC radio station may play mainstream music, but it excludes hip hop, dance tracks, hard rock, and some forms of teen pop, as these are less popular among adults, the target demographic. AC radio often targets the 25–44 age group, [10] the demographic that has received the most attention from advertisers since the 1960s. A common practice in recent years of adult contemporary stations is to play less newer music and more hits of the past. This de-emphasis on new songs slows the progression of the AC chart. [11]

Hip hop music music genre consisting of a stylized rhythmic music that commonly accompanies rapping

Hip hop music, also called hip-hop or rap music, is a music genre developed in the United States by inner-city African Americans and Latino Americans in the Bronx borough of New York City in the 1970s. It consists of a stylized rhythmic music that commonly accompanies rapping, a rhythmic and rhyming speech that is chanted. It developed as part of hip hop culture, a subculture defined by four key stylistic elements: MCing/rapping, DJing/scratching with turntables, break dancing, and graffiti writing. Other elements include sampling beats or bass lines from records, and rhythmic beatboxing. While often used to refer solely to rapping, "hip hop" more properly denotes the practice of the entire subculture. The term hip hop music is sometimes used synonymously with the term rap music, though rapping is not a required component of hip hop music; the genre may also incorporate other elements of hip hop culture, including DJing, turntablism, scratching, beatboxing, and instrumental tracks.

Dance music music composed specifically to facilitate or accompany dancing

Dance music is music composed specifically to facilitate or accompany dancing. It can be either a whole musical piece or part of a larger musical arrangement. In terms of performance, the major categories are live dance music and recorded dance music. While there exist attestations of the combination of dance and music in ancient times, the earliest Western dance music that we can still reproduce with a degree of certainty are the surviving medieval dances. In the Baroque period, the major dance styles were noble court dances. In the classical music era, the minuet was frequently used as a third movement, although in this context it would not accompany any dancing. The waltz also arose later in the classical era. Both remained part of the romantic music period, which also saw the rise of various other nationalistic dance forms like the barcarolle, mazurka, ecossaise, ballade and polonaise.

Teen pop is a subgenre of pop music that is created, marketed and oriented towards preteens and teenagers. Teen pop incorporates different genres such as pop, R&B, dance, electronic, hip hop, country and rock. Typical characteristics of teen pop music include autotuned vocals, choreographed dancing, emphasis on visual appeal, lyrics focused on teenage issues such as love/relationships, finding oneself, friendships, teenage angst, teen rebellion, coming of age, fitting in and growing up and repeated chorus lines. Teen pop singers often cultivate an image of a girl next door/boy next door.

Over the years, AC has spawned subgenres including "hot AC", "soft AC" (also known as "lite AC"), "urban AC", "rhythmic AC", and "Christian AC" (a softer type of contemporary Christian music). Some stations play only "hot AC", "soft AC", or only one of the variety of subgenres. Therefore, it is not usually considered a specific genre of music; it is merely an assemblage of selected tracks from musicians of many different genres.

Urban adult contemporary is the name for a format of radio music, similar to an urban contemporary format. Radio stations using this format usually would not have hip hop music on their playlists, and generally include some mix of contemporary R&B and traditional R&B.

Rhythmic adult contemporary is the name of a popular format used on radio stations in the United States and Canada. It is aimed at the demographic aged 25 to 54. Stations using this format play disco from the 1970s and early 1980s, dance/pop music, adult-friendly hip hop/old school tracks, R&B, dance/freestyle of the 1980s and house music of the late 1980s/early 1990s. Like many adult contemporary radio stations, rhythmic AC stations normally do not play rap. These stations often compete with rhythmic top 40 stations as well as other adult contemporary stations.

Contemporary Christian music genre of modern popular music

Contemporary Christian music is a genre of modern popular music which is lyrically focused on matters concerned with the Christian faith. It formed as those affected by the 1960s Jesus movement revival began to express themselves in a more contemporary style of music than the hymns, Gospel and Southern gospel music that was prevalent in the church at the time. Today, the term is typically used to refer to pop, rock, or praise & worship styles.


1960s: Early roots; easy listening and soft rock

Johnny Mathis concentrated on romantic readings of jazz and pop standards for the adult contemporary audience of the 1960s and 1970s. Johnny Mathis 1960.JPG
Johnny Mathis concentrated on romantic readings of jazz and pop standards for the adult contemporary audience of the 1960s and 1970s.

Adult contemporary traces its roots to the 1960s easy listening format, which adopted a 70—80% instrumental to 20–30% vocal mix. A few offered 90% instrumentals, and a handful were entirely instrumental. The easy listening format, as it was first known, was born of a desire by some radio stations in the late 1950s and early 1960s to continue playing current hit songs but distinguish themselves from being branded as "rock and roll" stations. Billboard first published the Easy Listening chart July 17, 1961, with 20 songs; the first number one was "Boll Weevil Song" by Brook Benton. The chart described itself as "not too far out in either direction". [13]

Easy listening is a popular music genre and radio format that was most popular during the 1950s to 1970s. It is related to middle-of-the-road (MOR) music and encompasses instrumental recordings of standards, hit songs and popular non-rock vocals. It mostly concentrates on music that pre-dates the rock n' roll era, mostly concentrating on music from the 1940s and before. It was differentiated from the mostly instrumental beautiful music format by its variety of styles, including a percentage of vocals, arrangements and tempos to fit various day parts during the broadcast day.

Rock and roll is a genre of popular music that originated and evolved in the United States during the late 1940s and early 1950s from musical styles such as gospel, jump blues, jazz, boogie woogie, and rhythm and blues, along with country music. While elements of what was to become rock and roll can be heard in blues records from the 1920s and in country records of the 1930s, the genre did not acquire its name until 1954.

<i>Billboard</i> (magazine) American music magazine

Billboard is an American entertainment media brand owned by the Billboard-Hollywood Reporter Media Group, a division of Eldridge Industries. It publishes pieces involving news, video, opinion, reviews, events, and style, and is also known for its music charts, including the Hot 100 and Billboard 200, tracking the most popular songs and albums in different genres. It also hosts events, owns a publishing firm, and operates several TV shows.

Initially, the vocalists consisted of artists such as Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Johnny Mathis, Connie Francis, Nat King Cole, Perry Como, and others. The custom recordings were usually instrumental versions of current or recent rock and roll or pop hit songs, a move intended to give the stations more mass appeal without selling out. Some stations would also occasionally play earlier big band-era recordings from the 1940s and early 1950s. [14]

Frank Sinatra American singer, actor, and producer

Francis Albert Sinatra was an American singer, actor and producer who was one of the most popular and influential musical artists of the 20th century. He is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold more than 150 million records worldwide.

Doris Day American actress, singer, and animal rights activist

Doris Day was an American actress, singer, and animal welfare activist. She began her career as a big band singer in 1939, achieving commercial success in 1945 with two No. 1 recordings, "Sentimental Journey" and "My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time" with Les Brown & His Band of Renown. During the war, troops referred to her as "the American V-2" She left Brown to embark on a solo career and recorded more than 650 songs from 1947 to 1967.

Johnny Mathis

John Royce "Johnny" Mathis is an American singer-songwriter of popular music. Starting his career with singles of standard music, he became highly popular as an album artist, with several dozen of his albums achieving gold or platinum status and 73 making the Billboard charts to date. According to Guinness Music Chart historian Paul Gambaccini, Mathis has sold well over 360 million records worldwide, making him the third biggest selling artist of the 20th century. Mathis has received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for three separate recordings.

After 1965, differences between the Hot 100 chart and the Easy Listening chart became more pronounced. Better reflecting what middle of the road stations were actually playing, the composition of the chart changed dramatically. As rock music continued to harden, there was much less crossover between the Hot 100 and Easy Listening chart than there had been in the early half of the 1960s. Roger Miller, Barbra Streisand and Bobby Vinton were among the chart's most popular performers. [13]

One big impetus for the development of the AC radio format was that, when rock and roll music first became popular in the mid-1950s, many more conservative radio stations wanted to continue to play current hit songs while shying away from rock. These middle of the road (or "MOR") stations also frequently included older, pre-rock-era adult standards and big band titles to further appeal to adult listeners who had grown up with those songs.

Another big impetus for the evolution of the AC radio format was the popularity of easy listening or "beautiful music" stations, stations with music specifically designed to be purely ambient. Whereas most easy listening music was instrumental, created by relatively unknown artists, and rarely purchased (especially as singles, although Jackie Gleason's beautiful music albums sold well in the 1950s), AC was an attempt to create a similar "lite" format by choosing certain tracks (both hit singles and album cuts) of popular artists.

In terms of record sales and career longevity, Barry Manilow is one of the most successful adult contemporary singers ever and the most best-selling of the 1970s. Barry Manilow 1979.jpg
In terms of record sales and career longevity, Barry Manilow is one of the most successful adult contemporary singers ever and the most best-selling of the 1970s.

1970s: Soft rock forms as a radio format

Late 1960s hard rock had been established as one of rock genres [16] . From the end of the 1960s, hard rock and soft rock became popular in rock scene [7] , with both emerging as major radio formats in the USA. [17] Soft rock was often derived from folk rock, using acoustic instruments and putting more emphasis on melody and harmonies. Major artists included Barbra Streisand, Carole King, Cat Stevens, James Taylor [18] and Bread. [19] [20]

The Hot 100 and Easy Listening charts became more similar again toward the end of the 1960s and into the early and mid-1970s, when the texture of much of the music played on Top 40 radio once more began to soften. The adult contemporary format began evolving into the sound that later defined it, with rock-oriented acts as Chicago, the Eagles, and Elton John becoming associated with the format. [13]

Soft rock reached its commercial peak in the mid-to-late 1970s with acts such as Toto, England Dan & John Ford Coley, Air Supply, Seals and Crofts, Dan Fogelberg, America and the reformed Fleetwood Mac, whose Rumours (1977) was the best-selling album of the decade. [21] By 1977, some radio stations, notably New York's WTFM and NBC-owned WYNY, and Boston's WEEI, had switched to an all-soft rock format. [22] As Softrock 103, WEEI was famous for its promotional campaigns, featuring slogans such as "Joni, without the baloni." and "The Byrds, without the nyrds." [23] By the 1980s, tastes had changed and radio formats reflected this change, including musical artists such as Journey. [24] [25]

Radio stations played Top 40 hits regardless of genre; although, most were in the same genre until the mid-1970s when different forms of popular music started to target different demographic groups, such as disco vs. hard rock. This evolved into specialized radio stations that played specific genres of music, and generally followed the evolution of artists in those genres.

By the early 1970s, softer songs by The Carpenters, Anne Murray, John Denver, Barry Manilow, and even Streisand, began to be played more often on "Top 40" radio and others were added to the mix on many AC stations. Also, some of these stations even played softer songs by Elvis Presley, Linda Ronstadt, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Billy Joel, and other rock-based artists.

Much of the music recorded by singer-songwriters such as Diana Ross, James Taylor, Carly Simon, Carole King and Janis Ian got as much, if not more, airplay on this format than on Top 40 stations. Easy Listening radio also began including songs by artists who had begun in other genres, such as rock and roll or R&B. In addition, several early disco songs, did well on the Adult Contemporary format.

1980s: Adult contemporary succeeds as radio format

"Careless Whisper" stayed at the #1 spot in the adult contemporary chart for 5 weeks. The song was George Michael's first solo single. George Michael.jpeg
"Careless Whisper" stayed at the #1 spot in the adult contemporary chart for 5 weeks. The song was George Michael's first solo single.

On April 7, 1979, the Easy Listening chart officially became known as Adult Contemporary, [13] and those two words have remained consistent in the name of the chart ever since. Adult contemporary music became one of the most popular radio formats of the 1980s. The growth of AC was a natural result of the generation that first listened to the more "specialized" music of the mid-late 1970s growing older and not being interested in the heavy metal and rap/hip-hop music that a new generation helped to play a significant role in the Top 40 charts by the end of the decade.

Mainstream AC itself has evolved in a similar fashion over the years; traditional AC artists such as Barbra Streisand, the Carpenters, Dionne Warwick, Barry Manilow, John Denver, and Olivia Newton-John found it harder to have major Top 40 hits as the 1980s wore on, and due to the influence of MTV, artists who were staples of the Contemporary Hit Radio format, such as Richard Marx, Michael Jackson, Bonnie Tyler, George Michael, Phil Collins, and Laura Branigan began crossing over to the AC charts with greater frequency. Collins has been described by AllMusic as "one of the most successful pop and adult contemporary singers of the '80s and beyond". [28] However, with the combination of MTV and AC radio, adult contemporary appeared harder to define as a genre, with established soft-rock artists of the past still charting pop hits and receiving airplay alongside mainstream radio fare from newer artists at the time.

The amount of crossover between the AC chart and the Hot 100 has varied based on how much the passing pop music trends of the times appealed to adult listeners. Not many disco or new wave songs were particularly successful on the AC chart during the late 1970s and early 1980s, and much of the hip-hop and harder rock music featured on CHR formats later in the decade would have been unacceptable on AC radio.

Although dance-oriented, electronic pop and ballad-oriented rock dominated the 1980s, soft rock songs still enjoyed a mild success thanks to Sheena Easton, Amy Grant, [29] Lionel Richie, Christopher Cross, Dan Hill, Leo Sayer, Billy Ocean, [30] Julio Iglesias, Bertie Higgins, and Tommy Page. [31] No song spent more than six weeks at #1 on this chart during the 1980s, with nine songs accomplishing that feat. Two of these were by Lionel Richie, "You Are" in 1983 and "Hello" in 1984, which also reached #1 on the Hot 100.

In 1989, Linda Ronstadt released Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind , described by critics as "the first true Adult Contemporary album of the decade", featuring American soul singer Aaron Neville on several of the twelve tracks. The album was certified Triple Platinum in the United States alone and became a major success throughout the globe. The Grammy Award-winning singles, "Don't Know Much" and "All My Life", were both long-running #1 Adult Contemporary hits. Several additional singles from the disc made the AC Top 10 as well. The album won over many critics in the need to define AC, and appeared to change the tolerance and acceptance of AC music into mainstream day to day radio play.

1990s: Subgenre formations/radio crossovers

Latin artist Marc Anthony's self-titled English-language album released in 1999 had singles that crossed over to the AC charts. Marc Anthony 2009 White House.jpg
Latin artist Marc Anthony's self-titled English-language album released in 1999 had singles that crossed over to the AC charts.

The early 1990s marked the softening of urban R&B in the shape of new jack swing, at the same time alternative rock emerged and traditional pop saw a significant resurgence. This in part led to a widening of the market, not only allowing to cater to more niche markets, but it also became customary for artists to make AC-friendly singles. At the same time, the genre began adopting elements from hard rock as tastes were shifting towards louder music, while AC stations in general began playing more rock acts. "Softer" features such as light instrumental music (carried over from the beautiful music format—many AC stations carried the format until the early 1970s), new age songs and most pre-1964 artists were gradually phased out from AC radio throughout the early-mid 1990s.

Unlike the majority of 1980s mainstream singers, the 1990s mainstream pop/R&B singers such as All-4-One, [33] Boyz II Men, Christina Aguilera, [34] Backstreet Boys and Savage Garden [34] generally crossed over to the AC charts. Latin pop artists such as Lynda Thomas, [35] Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony, Selena, Enrique Iglesias and Luis Miguel also enjoyed success in the AC charts.

In addition to Celine Dion, who has had significant success on this chart, other artists with multiple number ones on the AC chart in the 1990s include Mariah Carey, Phil Collins, Michael Bolton, Whitney Houston and Shania Twain. Newer female singer-songwriters such as Sarah McLachlan, Natalie Merchant, Jewel, Melissa Etheridge and Sheryl Crow also broke through on the AC chart during this time. [36]

In 1996, Billboard created a new chart called Adult Top 40, which reflects programming on radio stations that exists somewhere between "adult contemporary" music and "pop" music. Although they are sometimes mistaken for each other, the Adult Contemporary chart and the Adult Top 40 chart are separate charts, and songs reaching one chart might not reach the other. In addition, hot AC is another subgenre of radio programming that is distinct from the Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks chart as it exists today, despite the apparent similarity in name.

In response to the pressure on Hot AC, a new kind of AC format cropped up among American radio recently. The urban adult contemporary format (a term coined by Barry Mayo) usually attracts a large number of African Americans and sometimes Caucasian listeners through playing a great deal of R&B (without any form of rapping), gospel music, classic soul and dance music (including disco).

Another format, rhythmic AC , in addition to playing all the popular hot and soft AC music, past and present, places a heavy emphasis on disco as well as 1980s and 1990s dance hits, such as those by Amber, C&C Music Factory and Black Box, and includes dance remixes of pop songs, such as the Soul Solution mix of Toni Braxton's "Unbreak My Heart".

In its early years of existence, the smooth jazz format was considered to be a form of AC, although it was mainly instrumental, and related a stronger resemblance to the soft AC-styled music. For many years, George Benson, Kenny G and Dave Koz had all had crossover hits that were played on both smooth jazz and soft AC stations.

2000s–present: AC music goes mainstream and mainstream music goes AC

A number of Michael Buble's singles and albums topped the AC charts in the 2000s and 2010s. MichaelBubleDanceFeb2011.jpg
A number of Michael Bublé's singles and albums topped the AC charts in the 2000s and 2010s.

During the 2000s, the AC market gained an increased presence in the music industry, as its radio formats were popular nationwide -- Smooth jazz and "Urban AC" stations were ubiquitous in the East Coast, while Soft rock and "adult standards" stations were common in the Midwest, and pop-oriented "Hot AC" and "world music"/Hispanic AC stations were easily found in the West Coast and the "Sun Belt". This led to the presence of numerous genres on the AC charts, often crossing to the "pop" charts, winning over many critics in the need to define AC, and increased the tolerance and acceptance of AC music into mainstream day-to-day radio play.

Josh Groban's single "You Raise Me Up" and Michael Bublé's "Fever" are often considered to be key examples of the high production values and ballad-heavy sound that defined 2000s-era AC [13] , often dubbed as "jazz-pop", heavily carrying classical, jazz and traditional pop influences. Artists such as Nick Lachey, James Blunt, Jamie Cullum, John Mayer, Jason Mraz, Norah Jones, Diana Krall, Amy Winehouse and Susan Boyle also achieved great success during this period. During most of the 2000s, country music/countrypolitan musicians such as Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken, Faith Hill, Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, LeAnn Rimes and Carrie Underwood scored hits on soft AC. A popular trend in the late 1990s and 2000s was remixing dance music hits into adult contemporary ballads, especially in the US, (for example, the "Candlelight Mix" versions of "Heaven" by DJ Sammy, "Listen To Your Heart" by D.H.T., and "Everytime We Touch" by Cascada).

Key to the success of AC in the 2000s was the 25-34 demographic which had outgrown the pop music offerings of the time, most new rock became too alternative and harsh for AC radio and most new pop was now influenced heavily by dance-pop, hip-hop and electronic dance music. [38] . At the same time, the music industry also began to focus on older audiences and markets generally considered "niche".

During the late 2000s, certain pop songs began entering the AC charts instead, generally after the songs had fallen off the Hot 100. Adrian Moreira, senior vice president for adult music for RCA Music Group, said, "We've seen a fairly tidal shift in what AC will play". Rather than emphasizing older songs, adult contemporary now began playing many of the same songs as top 40 and adult top 40, but only after the hits had become established. [13] An article on MTV's website by Corey Moss describes this trend as: "In other words, AC stations are where pop songs go to die a very long death. Or, to optimists, to get a second life." [39] As adult contemporary has long characterized itself as family-friendly, "clean" versions of pop songs began appearing on the AC chart, as were the cases of "Perfect" by P!nk, and "Forget You" by Cee Lo Green, both in 2011. [13]

AC radio's shift into more mainstream pop was a result of the changes on the broadcasting landscape following the 2005-2007 economic downturn and eventual recession, as advertisers preferred more profitable chart-based formats, which meant the demise of many AC-based formulas, primarily those aimed at older audiences, with tastes changing towards more modern music among all age groups. Diminishing physical record sales throughout the 2010s also proved a major blow to the AC genre, and there are concerns that the portable people meter, a device being used to determine radio listenership, may be incompatible with AC songs and may not accurately pick up that a person is listening to an AC station because of the pitches and frequencies used in the style. [40]

Key AC artists of the 2010s include Bruno Mars, Adele and Ed Sheeran, featuring a mostly pop-influenced sound, faster-paced and more energetic than the typical AC fare of previous years. The earlier years of the decade also saw alternative and indie rock acts such as Coldplay, Wilco, Feist, The 1975, Imagine Dragons, Mumford & Sons, Of Monsters and Men, The Lumineers and Arcade Fire quickly becoming AC mainstays. [41] [42]

Adult contemporary formats

In radio broadcasting, adult contemporary is divided into several sub-formats, each with their own musical direction and demographic targeting. Hot adult contemporary formats generally feature an uptempo selection of recent hits that appeal to a wide adult audience, [43] soft adult contemporary formats have a more conservative sound oriented primarily towards adult women, urban AC focuses on R&B and soul music that appeal to African American adults, and rhythmic AC focuses on dance music and other rhythmic genres. A station formatted as adult contemporary with no qualifier, also referred to as "mainstream" adult contemporary, generally has a similar playlist to hot AC stations, but are broader in their playlists—especially in their inclusion of classic hits from past decades.

Hot adult contemporary

Hot adult contemporary radio stations play a wide range of popular music that appeals towards the 18-54 age group, [44] cherry-picking uptempo songs from pop, pop rock, alternative, and indie rock genres, while excluding more youth-oriented music such as hip-hop. It serves as a middle ground between the youth-oriented contemporary hit radio and harder modern rock formats, and adult contemporary formats (such as "mainstream" and "soft" AC) that are typically targeted towards a more mature demographic. [45] [43]

The "hot AC" designation began to appear in the 1990s, to describe adult contemporary stations with a more energetic presentation and uptempo sound than their softer counterparts. [46] The launch of the "Mix" branding and format by Houston's KHMX was a notable milestone for the burgeoning format. Seeking to fill a void in the market as determined by focus groups, the station focused on pop-rock music targeting young adult women, as well as emphasizing community involvement. In the six months after its launch, KHMX slowly climbed from 14th place in the market to 3rd, and its format and branding was widely replicated by other stations. [47]

The hot AC format leans towards current music, with recurrents usually reflecting familiar and youthful music that adults had grown up with. Initially focused more on pop rock, the format has evolved to reflect changes in the composition of this audience; by the mid-2000s, the format had evolved to include more uptempo pop music with wide appeal. [48] [43] This shift helped to expand the demographic reach of hot AC stations, especially among younger listeners such as millennials; Nielsen Audio ranked hot AC as the third most-popular format among millennials, behind pop and country music. [43] [45] Of the format's expanding demographic reach, WOMX-FM program director Dana Taylor stated that hot AC stations "may not be the radio station that everybody agrees on, but it's a radio station that everybody goes, 'I'm okay with that'." [43] Many hot AC outlets are among the top stations in their respective market. [43]

Hot AC stations typically keep a larger body of recent hits in rotation than those with rigid, chart-driven formats like contemporary hit radio (CHR) or urban contemporary. As these stations' playlists have become concentrated towards airing only the current hits at a given time, hot AC stations can help build and sustain the popularity and familiarity of a particular song over a long-term period. This effect has been credited in helping build an audience for early singles from new acts such as Adele, James Arthur, Rachel Platten ("Fight Song", which achieved mainstream popularity after its use during Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential election campaign), and Max Schneider (whose 2016 single "Lights Down Low", over a year after its original release, became a notable sleeper hit on the Billboard Mainstream Top 40 and Hot 100 due in part to strong hot AC promotion and airplay). [43] [49] [50]

Rolling Stone noted that hot AC has been a popular outlet for matured pop artists, such as the Backstreet Boys, Jason Mraz, John Mayer, and Pink, as well as alternative and indie rock crossovers (such as Foster the People, Imagine Dragons, Lovelytheband, Portugal. The Man, and Twenty One Pilots). [43] The format has also appealed towards listeners alienated by the downtempo direction of recent mainstream pop music, in contrast to the more familiar and uptempo direction of hot AC. [45] The popularity of the hot AC format prompted mainstream adult contemporary stations to evolve in a similar direction, displacing softer songs in favor of the uptempo adult pop associated with hot AC, while still featuring older recurrents than those typically played by hot AC stations. [45] [43]

Modern adult contemporary

Modern adult contemporary refers to AC formats with a modern rock-based presentation. In the 1990's and early 2000's, this format was typically oriented towards pop rock, and often targeted women. In 2001, Time noted that the format gave prominent airplay to female pop rock vocalists, including Indigo Girls, Jewel, Sarah McLachlan, Shawn Colvin, and Sheryl Crow (all of whom also associated with McLachlan's all-female Lilith Fair tour), as well as folk-influenced bands such as Counting Crows and The Wallflowers. [51] [52] [53] 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." [54]

Soft adult contemporary

The Soft adult contemporary format typically targets women 25-54 and at-work listening. Soft AC playlists are generally conservative in comparison to hot AC, focusing on pop ballads, soft rock, and other familiar, light hits. [55] Upon its establishment in the 1980s, the soft AC format was positioned as being a more upbeat version of easy listening that would appeal better to a younger audience, mainly by excluding instrumental beautiful music. Easy listening stations had begun shifting to the format out of concern that their existing programming would not appeal to the current generation of listeners. [46]

In a 1990 article, James Warren of the Chicago Tribune characterized soft AC stations as being "as middle-of-the-road and unthreatening as modern media get", with personalities that were encouraged to be as inoffensive and "low-profile" as possible, and a more conservative music library than hot AC-leaning stations. In particular, Chicago's WLIT did not have its airstaff talk over the beginning and endings of songs (in contrast to the hot AC-leaning WFYR), and played Bob Seger's "We've Got Tonite" but not "Old Time Rock and Roll" (which was part of WTMX's playlist). The director of a soft AC station in Connecticut, WEZN-FM, told Warren that he had banned their personalities from reading top-of-hour news headlines, so that listeners wouldn't be tempted to tune to an all-news competitor. [46]

Soft AC stations tend to be more selective in their music libraries than other adult contemporary stations, preferring proven songs over current hits. [46] Upon the onset of the format's popularity, core artists typically included singers such as Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow, Johnny Mathis, and Barbra Streisand. By the 1990s, to improve their appeal among changing demographics, some soft AC stations began to widen their playlist to include selections from contemporary acts such as Bon Jovi, Mariah Carey, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Elton John, and Whitney Houston. On the other hand, by 1996, New York's WLTW had begun to phase out its softer music in favor of a more uptempo direction. [46] [56] [57] [58]

In 2017, Inside Radio reported that soft AC had the third-largest decrease in U.S. stations offering the format over the past decade (at 128), ranking behind only adult standards and oldies — a shift credited to aging demographics and a major boom in the wider-appealing classic hits format (which saw the largest overall increase over the same period). Consultant Gary Berkowitz argued that the soft AC format had become increasingly irrelevant in comparison to mainstream and hot AC, due to PPM markets preferring uptempo music. [59]

At the same time, however, soft AC began to experience a resurgence. In April 2016, iHeartMedia flipped its San Francisco classic soul station KISQ to soft AC as The Breeze; as of November 2018, it was the top station in the Bay Area. The trend continued into 2017 and 2018, with iHeartMedia extending its Breeze brand to other soft AC flips, and the brand (among others) being adopted by competitors such as Entercom. [23] [55] Industry analyst Sean Ross argued that older demographics were becoming more lucrative due to changes in listening habits among younger audiences, which prefer digital platforms such as music streaming services over linear terrestrial radio, and also noted how mainstream AC was dependent on the Top 40 charts to break new songs. [55]

Current soft AC stations have continued to feature recurrents such as Michael Bolton, Celine Dion, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Hall & Oates, and Whitney Houston, but have also featured contemporary musicians such as Adele and Michael Bublé. [60] [61] [55] [59] In addition, the soft AC sound has diversified to include more songs that are "safe and universal" and not necessarily "soft", with Ross presenting examples such as "Don't You (Forget About Me)", as well as the retroactively-defined genre of yacht rock. [55] Evanov Radio Group's Jewel-branded soft AC outlets in Canada air an evening program devoted to adult standards and smooth jazz. [62]

Urban adult contemporary

The Urban adult contemporary format focuses primarily on current and classic R&B and soul music. The format typically targets African-American adults: July 2018 numbers from Nielsen Audio recorded it as the top format among African-Americans 25-54 and 35-64. [63]

The format typically excludes youthful rhythmic music, such as hip-hop and rap, that are usually associated with the rhythmic contemporary format. [64] [65] [66] The urban AC format is also associated with programming typically referred to as the "quiet storm", which focuses on mellower R&B ballads and slow jams — often in a jazz-influenced style. [67] [68] [69] [70]

As rhythmic contemporary stations prefer hip-hop songs with an energetic, mainstream sound over "mature" R&B, labels typically service R&B songs to the urban AC format only. Current R&B musicians have complained that this has created an artificial divide that prevents them from reaching a wider, mainstream audience (citing the relatively smaller number of urban AC outlets in comparison to rhythmic), even with attempts to give some singles a hip-hop-influenced sound to improve the potential for crossover appeal. Some acts, such as FKA Twigs (who has been known for blending various electronic and rhythmic genres in her work) [71] have attempted to disassociate themselves from "R&B" to reduce the effect of this stigma. However, the growth of music streaming services has helped to expose R&B music to a wider audience beyond urban AC radio. [72] [73] In addition, the urban AC format has a sizable popularity among younger African-Americans, ranking behind rhythmic contemporary as the second-most popular format among African-American adults 18-34 as of July 2018, with an 18.9 audience share. [63]

Rhythmic adult contemporary

The Rhythmic adult contemporary format generally focuses on a variety of current and classic dance music, such as dance-pop, hip-hop, and R&B (often resembling a blend of the Classic hits and hot AC formats in practice). The exact composition of current and recurrent content can vary between stations, and recurrent content can also depend on factors such as the history and heritage of rhythmic formats in the market, ranging from late-80's/early-90's dance hits (including freestyle), to disco and Motown. Rhythmic Hot AC has also been used as a format, popularized by stations such as New York's WKTU and Seattle's KQMV. [74] [75] [76] [77] [78]

Smooth adult contemporary

Smooth Adult Contemporary was evolved from smooth jazz stations, in order to attract more younger listeners (particularly in the important 25-54 age demographic) without completely alienating jazz fans. Smooth AC stations played more of the vocalists popular on smooth jazz stations, such as Luther Vandross, Sade, Anita Baker, and Basia, Diana Krall, [79] while incorporating more mainstream and urban AC material from artists such as Celine Dion, Mary J. Blige and limiting instrumentals to two or three cuts an hour (and usually restricting airplay of instrumentals to artists such as Kenny G and Chuck Mangione who had crossover pop success). In markets where they existed, Smooth AC stations were meant to fill a void for soft music created by the mainstream Adult Contemporary format's overall move toward more uptempo adult Top-40 musical fare.

One of the first high-profile stations to adopt the Smooth AC approach was pioneering smooth-jazz station KTWV in Los Angeles ("The Wave"), under new program director Jhani Kaye. KTWV's transition was successful in improving the station's 25-54 ratings. Other stations followed suit, including the late WLFM-LP in Chicago; WXJZ in Gainesville, Florida; KIFM in San Diego; and WNWV in Cleveland, which relaunched under its former "107-3 The Wave" identity as a Smooth AC on January 4, 2012. However, the Smooth AC format for the most part did not succeed: WLFM, WXJZ and KIFM have switched to other formats, WNWV has evolved back into smooth jazz, and KTWV has continued to progressively downplay (while not entirely eliminating) instrumental music in its shift to a "Smooth R&B" Urban AC format. The Smooth AC format is now virtually extinct on commercial radio, with one exception being KJZY in the Santa Rosa, California market, which continues as a hybrid of smooth jazz and adult standards.

Contemporary Christian music

Contemporary Christian music (CCM) has several subgenres, one being "Christian AC". Radio & Records , for instance, lists Christian AC among its format charts. There has been crossover to mainstream and hot AC formats by many of the core artists of the Christian AC genre, notably Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Kathy Troccoli, Steven Curtis Chapman, Plumb, and more recently, MercyMe, for KING & COUNTRY and Lauren Daigle.

Christmas music

Since the 1990s it has become common for many AC stations, particularly soft AC stations, to play primarily or exclusively Christmas music during the Christmas season in November and December. While these tend mostly to be contemporary seasonal recordings by the same few artists featured under the normal format, most stations will also air some vintage holiday tunes from 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 – many of whom would never be played on these stations during the rest of the year.

These Christmas music marathons typically start during the week before Thanksgiving Day and end after Christmas Day, or sometimes extending to New Year's Day. Afterwards, the stations usually resume their normal music fare. Several stations begin the holiday format much earlier, at the beginning of November. The roots of this tradition can be traced back to the beautiful music and easy listening stations of the 1960s and 1970s.

Syndicated radio shows and networks carrying the adult contemporary format

Former syndicated programming includes Dick Clark's US Music Survey (1996-2005), Casey's Hot 20/Casey's Countdown/American Top 20/10 (1992-2009, Top 30 USA, And The Weekly Top 30 With Sean Hollywood Hamilton (2002-2016).

See also

Related Research Articles

Urban contemporary, also known as urban pop, or just simply urban, is a music radio format. The term was coined by New York radio DJ Frankie Crocker in the early to mid-1970s. Urban contemporary radio stations feature a playlist made up entirely of genres such as R&B, pop-rap, British R&B, quiet storm, adult contemporary, hip hop, Latin music such as Latin pops, Chicano R&B, Chicano rap, and Caribbean music such as reggae. Urban contemporary was developed through the characteristics of genres such as R&B and soul. Largely a US phenomenon, virtually all urban contemporary formatted radio stations in the United States are located in cities that have sizeable African-American populations, such as New York City, Washington, D.C., Detroit, Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, Philadelphia, Montgomery, Memphis, New Orleans, Cincinnati, Dallas, Houston, Oakland, Los Angeles, Flint, Baltimore, Boston, Birmingham, and Jackson.


KBIG is a commercial radio station that is licensed to Los Angeles, California and serves the Greater Los Angeles area. The station is owned by iHeartMedia and broadcasts a hot adult contemporary format heavy on music from the 1990s to the present day. KBIG has studios located in Burbank, California and its primary transmitter is based on Mount Wilson.

Contemporary hit radio is a radio format that is common in the United States, Brazil, United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa, and the Philippines, that focuses on playing current and recurrent popular music as determined by the top 40 music charts. There are several subcategories, dominantly focusing on rock, pop, or urban music. Used alone, CHR most often refers to the CHR-pop format. The term contemporary hit radio was coined in the early 1980s by Radio & Records magazine to designate top 40 stations which continued to play hits from all musical genres as pop music splintered into adult contemporary, urban contemporary and other formats.

Mediabase is a music industry service that monitors radio station airplay in 180 US and Canadian markets. Mediabase publishes music charts and data based on the most played songs on terrestrial and satellite radio, and provides in-depth analytical tools for radio and record industry professionals. Mediabase charts and airplay data are used on many popular radio countdown shows and televised music awards programs. Music charts are published in both domestic and international trade publications and newspapers worldwide. Mediabase is a division of iHeartMedia.

Classic hits is a radio format which generally includes songs from the top 40 music charts from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s, with music from the 1980s serving as the core of the format. Music that was popularized by MTV in the early 1980s and the nostalgia behind it is a major driver to the format. It is considered the successor to the oldies format, a collection of top 40 songs from the late 1950s through the late 1970s that was once extremely popular in the United States. The term is sometimes incorrectly used as a synonym for the adult hits format, which uses a slightly newer music library stretching from all decades to the present with a major focus on 1990s and 2000s rock and alternative songs. In addition, adult hits stations tend to have larger playlists, playing a given song only a few times per week, compared to the tighter libraries on classic hits stations. For example, KRTH, a classic hits station in Los Angeles, plays power songs up to 30 times a week, which is another differentiator compared to other formats that share songs with classic hits libraries.

A radio format or programming format describes the overall content broadcast on a radio station. In countries where radio spectrum use is legally regulated, formats may have a legal status where stations are licensed to transmit only specific formats.


WDVD is a Hot Adult Contemporary radio station in Detroit, Michigan, broadcasting at 96.3 MHz on the FM dial. Owned and operated by Cumulus Media, WDVD's studios and offices are located in the Fisher Building in Detroit's New Center district near downtown, while its transmitter is located in Oakland County in Royal Oak Township at 8 Mile Road and Wyoming Avenue.

Rhythmic contemporary, also known as Rhythmic Top 40, Rhythmic CHR or rhythmic crossover, is a primarily American music-radio format that includes a mix of EDM, upbeat rhythmic pop, hip hop and upbeat R&B hits. Rhythmic contemporary never uses rock or country in its airplay, but it may occasionally use a reggae, Latin, reggaeton, or a Christian/gospel hit. Essentially, the format is a cross between mainstream radio and urban contemporary radio formats.

The Adult Contemporary chart is published weekly by Billboard magazine and lists the most popular songs on adult contemporary radio stations in the United States. The chart is compiled based on airplay data submitted to Billboard by stations that are members of the Adult Contemporary radio panel. The chart debuted in Billboard magazine on July 17, 1961. Over the years, the chart has gone under a series of name changes, being called Easy Listening(1961–1962; 1965–1979), Middle-Road Singles(1962–1964), Pop-Standard Singles(1964–1965), Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks(1979–1982) and Adult Contemporary(1983–present).

KYOT Adult hits radio station in Phoenix

KYOT is a commercial adult hits music radio station located in Phoenix, Arizona, United States, broadcasting on 95.5 FM. Owned and operated by iHeartMedia, its studios are located in Phoenix near Sky Harbor Airport and its transmitter is in South Mountain Park.

Billboard Radio Monitor was a weekly music trade publication that followed the radio industry and tracked the monitoring of current songs by format, station and audience cumes. The magazine was a spinoff of Billboard magazine and was mostly available through subscription to people who work in the radio industry as well as music chart enthusiasts. It was developed in Columbia, Maryland, initially by Alan Smith and Jonas Cash, principals of the music company called AIR. AIR created music listening competitions for radio programmers in five different musical genres and were looking for a "qualifier" for the contests. The contests involved testing new songs' potential by having radio programmers listen to and respond to each song's hit potential using a national chart as the qualifier. After using Radio and Records chart for the first 10 years of the competition, AIR developed the BAM, and went into partnership with Billboard Magazine to produce and market the magazine. As members of the Board of Directors, the AIR principals continued to improve its features over the next eight years under the new name of Billboard Radio Monitor.

WMIA-FM rhythmic adult contemporary radio station in Miami Beach, Florida, United States

WMIA-FM is a Hot Adult Contemporary radio station that is licensed to Miami Beach, Florida. It broadcasts on 93.9 MHz. Its studios are located in Miramar and the transmitter site is in Miami Gardens.


WRRM is an adult contemporary station broadcasting on the FM frequency of 98.5 MHz in Cincinnati, Ohio. The station is owned by Cumulus Media, which acquired the station from Susquehanna Radio Corporation. Its studios are located in North Cincinnati and the transmitter site is just west of downtown.

WISX soft adult contemporary radio station in Philadelphia

WISX is a commercial FM radio station licensed to serve Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and airing a Soft Adult Contemporary radio format. The station is owned by iHeartMedia, through licensee AMFM Radio Licenses, L.L.C. Studios are located in Bala Cynwyd and the station's broadcast tower is in Wyndmoor.

KTXR is a radio station broadcasting a country music format, licensed to Springfield, Missouri, United States. The station is owned by Stereo Broadcasting, a subsidiary of Meyer Communications.

Adult album alternative is a radio format. A spinoff from the album-oriented rock format, its roots trace to the 1960s and 1970s from the earlier freeform and progressive formats.

The Adult Top 40 chart is published weekly by Billboard magazine and ranks "the most popular adult top 40 as based on radio airplay detections measured by Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems."

Christian Adult Contemporary is a radio format. In the United States, Christian adult contemporary radio stations cater to a mostly adult audience and are similar to mainstream adult contemporary stations in that they play hits often and for long periods of time.


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