WCBS-FM has been a ratings juggernaut month after month in the Arbitron PPM survey. There’s no disputing that. The station, since leaving the bad taste from the ill-fated jockless “Jack” format in 2007, has held consistently at number two. Even twice, CBS-FM has reached the top position in the city.
However, what is up for debate is how CBS-FM compares to the original CBS-FM, heard from 1972 to 2005.
Richard Lorenzo (center) was former music director at the Oldies station. FishbowlNY caught up with him recently at the CBS reunion luncheon.
“There’s no style to it anymore,” Lorenzo admits.
CBS-FM had two ingredients that worked for its avid listeners—the music and the jocks. Throughout the years, the DJs showing off their personalities went hand and hand with the format.
“The ones [jocks] then weren’t necessarily more intelligent, but they were more enjoyable because they were into the craft more deeply,” Lorenzo says.
Some of New York’s most legendary Top 40 jocks had stints at CBS-FM, among them former WABC-AM colleagues Harry Harrison, Dan Ingram, and Ron Lundy.
Today, only midday jock Bob Shannon remains a link to the station’s glorious Oldies past. (Dan Taylor was with CBS-FM in the “pre-Jack” era, but primarily as morning show fill-in.)
Lorenzo, while pointing out certain differences between the station then and now, doesn’t consider himself a CBS-FM purist.
“Back in the day of CBS-FM, my day, which is a long time ago, we made sure it was listenable and enjoyable,” Lorenzo says. “And more important than that, we made sure it was topical and sensitive to the times.”
As an example, Lorenzo said this past Sunday the station would have commemorated Frank Sinatra and Connie Francis’ birthdays with a special feature. He says they would “really delve deeply into the subject matter” with the hourly Rock and Rock Hall of Fame.
“Now they only skim the cream,” Lorenzo admits. “And maybe that’s what you need to do when you have 50 radio stations.”
One change at CBS-FM Lorenzo is not critical of—adjusting the playlist as listeners age.
“There’s nothing really wrong with that because … if they still played the 50s, that would be like in my day still playing Benny Goodman.”
He says someone that grew up in the 1970s can’t relate to music before that period.
Back then, CBS-FM was an Oldies station, specializing in 45s from the 50s and 60s. Fast forward to 2010, and 50s (and largely the 60s) are gone, along with the classification—Oldies.
“The term doesn’t exist anymore. Classic Hits [the new name] used to mean something completely different,” Lorenzo says. Classic Hits used to be a reference to Album Rock, things that were hits on the album side…people who didn’t have hit singles.”
Someone who had tons of hit singles is Elvis Presley. But with the latest incarnation of CBS-FM focusing on 1970s and 1980s, the Elvis discography is limited to only about three songs.
“But the purist wants to hear [hits from 50s]. …Someone who was 10 in 1955 is now 65 years old, and they’re not playing to that audience. That’s not an Arbitron audience.”
During his time at CBS-FM, Lorenzo says they were programmed for 38-year-olds. Now, he guesses it’s been lowered to between 31 and 40.
“It’s all the positioning of songs,” Lorenzo says. “That’s what always made CBS so special, whether it was Harry’s show, whether it was Bob Shannon’s Hall of Fame, or the weekend countdowns. What made it special was people listened to CBS-FM as if it were someone telling a story about a time.”
In one final comparison to the “Good Ol’ Days” at CBS-FM, Lorenzo reflects, “Anyone with a paint brush can call themselves an artist. But I think in the first era of CBS-FM the guys [on-air and programmers] were better painters. …They knew how to paint artistically.”