Classic rock is NOT a style of music in itself, but is actually a radio format that spun off from the album-oriented rock (AOR) format in the early 1980s; a genre manufactured to compile artists and tracks that meet a marketing demographic.
In the USA States, the classic rock format features commercially-successful hard rock, blues rock and arena rock dating from the late 1960s thru late 1980s; specifically those of the 1970s. Although the format appeals mainly to young to middle aged adults, many acts attract new generations of fans. Some classic rock stations have expanded to allow the play of a limited number of current/new releases that are of the style of those older acts, or from established classic rock artists who are still performing.
In 1977 the style was born when AOR radio stations started attempting to appeal to an older audience by including familiar songs of the past with current hits. In 1980, AOR radio station M105 in Cleveland, Ohio was the first who began billing itself as "Cleveland's Classic Rock" by playing a mix of rock music from the mid-1960s to that of the present. In 1982, radio consultant Lee Abrams developed the "Timeless Rock" format which combined contemporary AOR with hits from the 1960s and 1970s. By 1986 the style was maturing so much that the format resulted in these older acts accounting for 60-80% of the music played. Although it began as a niche format spun off from AOR, by 2001 classic rock had surpassed album rock in market share in the USA.
KRBE (AM), Houston was another early classic rock radio station. In 1983 program director Paul Christy designed a very strict format that played only early album rock, from the 1960s and early 1970s; no current hits were allowed. KRBE was the first station to use the term "classic rock" on the air. Classic rock soon became the widely used name for the format, and became the commonly used term for early album rock music by the public, even though the actual format related to the style was less strict.
In 1995, the format's proliferation came on the heels of Jacobs Media's (Fred Jacobs) success at station WCXR, Washington, D.C., and Edinborough Rand's (Gary Guthrie) success, at WZLX, Boston. Between these two individuals, acting separately, they converted more than 40 radio stations to their individual brand of Classic Rock over the next several years; the format then spread throughout the USA and Canada.
In summary: Unlike AOR radio stations that play all tracks from albums of the era, classic rock plays only charting singles and popular album tracks. The modern classic rock format is mainly tailored to the adult male demographic, primarily ages 25-34, but also has a significant base in the 18-24 and 35-44 year old demographics as well. In more recent times (2015+) several stations have reverted back to a less strict format by allowing music from the 1960s thru 2000 in an effort to attract a younger (but mature) audience, since the genre market has become nearly saturated.
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