Progressive rock (radio format)

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Progressive rock is a radio station programming format that emerged in the late 1960s, [1] in which disc jockeys are given wide latitude in what they may play, similar to the freeform format but with the proviso that some kind of rock music is almost always played. [2] It enjoyed the height of its popularity in the late 1960s and 1970s. [1] The name for the format began being used circa 1968, when serious disc jockeys were playing "progressive 'music for the head'" and discussing social issues in between records. [3] During the late 1960s, as long playing records began to supplant the single in popularity with rock audiences, progressive rock stations placed more emphasis on album tracks than their AM counterparts. [4] Throughout the 1970s as FM stations moved to more structured formats, progressive radio evolved into Album-oriented rock (AOR). [5] [6]

The original inventors of radio, from Guglielmo Marconi's time on, expected it to be used for one-on-one wireless communication tasks where telephones and telegraphs could not be used because of the problems involved in stringing copper wires from one point to another, such as in ship-to-shore communications. Those inventors had no expectations whatever that radio would become a major mass media entertainment and information medium earning many millions of dollars in revenues annually through radio advertising commercials or sponsorship. These latter uses were brought about after 1920 by business entrepreneurs such as David Sarnoff, who created the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), and William S. Paley, who built Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). These broadcasting business organizations began to be called network affiliates, because they consisted of loose chains of individual stations located in various cities, all transmitting the standard overall-system supplied fare, often at synchronized agreed-upon times. Some of these radio network stations were owned and operated by the networks, while others were independent radio owned by entrepreneurs allied with the respective networks. By selling blocks of time to advertisers, the medium was able to quickly become profitable and offer its products to listeners for free, provided they invested in a radio receiver set.

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.

Disc jockey Person who plays recorded music for an audience

A disc jockey, more commonly abbreviated as DJ, is a person who plays existing recorded music for a live audience. Most common types of DJs include radio DJs, club DJs, who perform at a nightclub or music festival and turntablists who uses record players, usually turntables, to manipulate sounds on phonograph records. Originally, the "disc" in "disc jockey" referred to gramophone records, but in the 2010s, DJ is used as an all-encompassing term to describe someone who mixes recorded music from any source, including cassettes, CDs or digital audio files on a CDJ or laptop. The title "DJ" is commonly used by DJs in front of their real names, adopted pseudonyms, or stage names. In the 2010s, it has become common for DJs to be featured as the credited artist on tracks they produced despite having a guest vocalist who performs the entire song, as with Marc Ronson's 2015 hit Uptown Funk.



When FM broadcasting licenses were first issued by the FCC, broadcasters were slow to take advantage of the new airwaves available to them because their advertising revenues were generated primarily from existing AM broadcasting stations and because there were few FM radio receivers owned by the general public. This void created an opportunity for the disenchanted youth counterculture of the 1960s to express itself by playing music that was largely ignored by mainstream outlets. In this sense, progressive rock radio was more of a social response than a product marketed to fill a need.

FM broadcasting Transmission of audio through frequency modulation

FM broadcasting is a method of radio broadcasting using frequency modulation (FM) technology. Invented in 1933 by American engineer Edwin Armstrong, wide-band FM is used worldwide to provide high-fidelity sound over broadcast radio. FM broadcasting is capable of better sound quality than DAB/+ radio, and AM broadcasting under normal listening conditions, so it is used for most music broadcasts. Theoretically wideband AM can offer equally good sound quality, provided the reception conditions are ideal. FM radio stations use the very high frequencies. The term "FM band" describes the frequency band in a given country which is dedicated to FM broadcasting.

Federal Communications Commission Independent agency of the U.S. Government

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an independent agency of the United States government created by statute to regulate interstate communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable. The FCC maintains jurisdiction over the areas of broadband access, fair competition, radio frequency use, media responsibility, public safety, and homeland security.

AM broadcasting radio broadcasting using amplitude modulation

AM broadcasting is a radio broadcasting technology, which employs amplitude modulation (AM) transmissions. It was the first method developed for making audio radio transmissions, and is still used worldwide, primarily for medium wave transmissions, but also on the longwave and shortwave radio bands.

This change coincided with the greater emphasis on albums as opposed to singles in the rock market. Hugely popular albums such as The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant did not contain any singles, so there was clearly a need for a radio format that would explore beyond the Top 40. This in turn led to rock artists placing greater emphasis on long or experimental album tracks, knowing they could still receive radio airplay.

Album collection of recorded music, words, sounds

An album is a collection of audio recordings issued as a collection on compact disc (CD), vinyl, audio tape, or another medium. Albums of recorded music were developed in the early 20th century as individual 78-rpm records collected in a bound book resembling a photograph album; this format evolved after 1948 into single vinyl LP records played at ​33 13 rpm. Vinyl LPs are still issued, though album sales in the 21st-century have mostly focused on CD and MP3 formats. The audio cassette was a format widely used alongside vinyl from the 1970s into the first decade of the 2000s.

Single (music) Type of music release usually containing one or two tracks

In the music industry, a single is a type of release, typically a song recording of fewer tracks than an LP record or an album. This can be released for sale to the public in a variety of different formats. In most cases, a single is a song that is released separately from an album, although it usually also appears on an album. Typically, these are the songs from albums that are released separately for promotional uses such as digital download or commercial radio airplay and are expected to be the most popular. In other cases a recording released as a single may not appear on an album.

The Beatles English rock band

The Beatles were an English rock band formed in Liverpool in 1960. With a line-up comprising John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, they are often regarded as the most influential band of all time. The group were integral to the evolution of pop music into an art form and to the development of the counterculture of the 1960s. Their sound, rooted in skiffle, beat and 1950s rock and roll, incorporated elements of classical music and traditional pop in innovative ways. They also pioneered recording techniques and explored music styles ranging from ballads and Indian music to psychedelia and hard rock. As they continued to draw influences from a variety of cultural sources, their musical and lyrical sophistication grew, and they came to be seen as embodying the era's socio-cultural movements.


The progressive rock radio format should not be confused with the progressive rock music genre. While progressive rock music was certainly played on progressive rock stations, a number of other varieties of rock music were also played. Generally everything from early Beatles and early Dylan on forward was fair game. Progressive rock radio was generally the only outlet for fringe rock genres such as space rock and quiet, acoustic-based folk rock and country rock (often played on weekend mornings). Progressive stations were also known for having "turntable hits", songs by obscure artists that did not sell much and were not hits by any conventional measure, but which listeners kept calling up and requesting; [7] Sweet Thursday's "Gilbert Street" was a good example on the East Coast. [8] [9]

Progressive rock is a broad genre of rock music that developed in the United Kingdom and United States throughout the mid- to late 1960s. Initially termed "progressive pop", the style was an outgrowth of psychedelic bands who abandoned standard pop traditions in favour of instrumentation and compositional techniques more frequently associated with jazz, folk, or classical music. Additional elements contributed to its "progressive" label: lyrics were more poetic, technology was harnessed for new sounds, music approached the condition of "art", and the studio, rather than the stage, became the focus of musical activity, which often involved creating music for listening rather than dancing.

Bob Dylan American singer-songwriter, musician, poet, author, and artist

Bob Dylan is an American singer-songwriter, author, and visual artist who has been a major figure in popular culture for more than fifty years. Much of his most celebrated work dates from the 1960s, when songs such as "Blowin' in the Wind" (1963) and "The Times They Are a-Changin'" (1964) became anthems for the civil rights movement and anti-war movement. His lyrics during this period incorporated a wide range of political, social, philosophical, and literary influences, defied pop-music conventions and appealed to the burgeoning counterculture.

Space rock is a rock music genre characterized by loose and lengthy song structures centered on instrumental textures that typically produce a hypnotic, otherworldly sound. It may feature distorted and reverberation-laden guitars, minimal drumming, languid vocals, synthesizers and lyrical themes of outer space and science fiction.

The progressive rock radio format grew out of the freeform radio format, [10] and, sharing the key characteristic of disc jockeys having the freedom to play what they chose, has sometimes been referred to as "freeform rock radio" or "freeform progressive radio" [11] or simply "FM rock radio". [11] But as they evolved there were key differences between the freeform and progressive rock formats:

Stations and personnel

The archetypal successful and influential progressive rock radio station was WNEW-FM in New York in the late 1960s, 1970s, and into the 1980s. [14] [15] [16] For instance, Keith Emerson credited it for breaking Emerson, Lake & Palmer into the United States market. [13] Other long-running, large-market examples included WMMR in Philadelphia [17] (credited with helping to break Bruce Springsteen), [18] WBCN in Boston, WHFS in Washington, D.C., WXRT in Chicago, WMMS in Cleveland, WEBN in Cincinnati, CJOM, WWWW and WABX in Detroit/Windsor, WZMF in Milwaukee, KQRS-FM in Minneapolis, WOWI in Norfolk, WORJ-FM in Orlando, KSHE in St. Louis, KDKB in Phoenix, KMET in Los Angeles, KSAN in San Francisco, KZAP in Sacramento, KZEW in Dallas, and KTIM in San Rafael. [19] Many of the higher-profile stations among these were owned by Metromedia. [20] College progressive rock radio stations included WVBR in Ithaca, New York, WKNC in Raleigh, North Carolina, [21] WBRU in Providence, Rhode Island, [22] WRPI in Troy, New York, and WWUH in Hartford, Connecticut.

Pioneering progressive rock radio disc jockey and program directors included Scott Muni in New York, [23] [24] Lee Arnold in Orlando, and Tom Donahue in San Francisco. [25]

Later developments

Over time (some much faster than others), the large-city progressive rock stations usually lost DJ freedom and adopted the more structured and confined album-oriented rock (AOR) format in the late 1970s and 1980s, [6] and then later the nostalgic classic rock format in the 1980s and 1990s, while the smaller stations sometimes turned to college rock or alternative rock. [26] Where once "progressive rock radio [was] the key media of ascendant rock culture", as writer Nelson George put it, [27] by 1987, musician and author Robert Palmer would write, "The glory days of 'progressive' rock radio - when the disk jockey actually chose the records he played and creatively juxtaposed songs and styles - are long gone." [28]

While freeform stations are still around in the 2000s, such as New Jersey's WFMU, [29] and for a while 95.7 the Ride in Charlotte, North Carolina, recalled the format's original sound, [30] there may be no real examples of the specific progressive rock radio format in existence today on the FM dial. The closest thing to a progressive rock station may be the Deep Tracks channel on Sirius XM Satellite Radio, which plays some of the music originally heard on progressive rock radio, but without pronounced disc jockey personalities or the full feel of the original format. "Stuck in the Psychedelic Era," a syndicated program heard on some non-commercial stations, recreates the format, but rarely includes any recordings made after 1970. Some of the spirit of progressive rock radio (albeit in a more mellow, "adult" form) can also be found in the adult album alternative format. [31]

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