Good news for non-rock radio fans -- that 'listenable' pop music is back

Remember when AM radio went "rock and roll crazy"? It was more than 20 years ago, and since then, that's about the only sound to be heard on most AM stations, with an occasional "beautiful music" show thrown in, ostensibly for the "old folks."

Well, there's good news not just for the grownups, but for anyone who longs for some listenable mainstream pop music that's more than an innocuous background, but definitely not rock and roll or disco.

An enterprising fellow named Al Ham a former CBS record producer and bass player with Artie Shaw's orchestra, has devised a syndicated radio format to satisfy listeners who long for the voices of Nat "King" Cole, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, and Rosemary Clooney, as well as the classic big band sounds of the Dorseys, the Elgarts, Count Basie, and Harry James, among others.

Entitled "Music of Your Life," Ham's programming is not just for nostalgia buffs: In addition to the Margaret Whitings and Glenn Millers, he includes artists such as Anne Murray, Tony Orlando, Barry Manilow, and even selected numbers by Elvis Presley.

The startling thing about Ham's format is its enormous and rapid growth in popularity since its inception about five years ago. In a nation where radio music programming has kowtowed primarily to the tastes of the preteen and teen crowd for as many years as anyone would care to remember, there seems to be a sudden surge of interest in Ham's brand of music, particularly from the 35 -and-up age group.

What Ham refers to as the "musically disenfranchised 35-plus demographic" is now acquiring a voice on AM radio, thanks to "Music of Your Life." Much more than just a radio program, the format allows its listeners to determine what they hear. Now syndicated to more than 65 radio stations around the US, "Music of Your Life" invites local listeners to send in their requests, which then become part of the regular format.

"So the musical content of the programming is constantly changing," says Ham.

This invitation to join in the programming is part of a club which listeners may join for free, and which entitles them to advertisers' discounts. These may include two dinners for the price of one at a local restaurant, or discounts on a variety of advertiser's products.

In addition, "Music of Your Life" stations sponsor cruises at sizable discounts, featuring big-band music. Stations have even been known to show their gratitude to the loyalty of their listeners by sponsoring free dances, with music by well-known big bands. Station WXKS in Medford, Mass., sponsored one of these dances last year at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston -- with music by the Glenn Miller Orchestra.

The message behind "Music of Your Life" seems to be directed mainly at mature audiences, and goes something like this -- enjoy yourselves, listen to the music you like, do the things you like, get more out of life. And that is exactly what this age group is doing these days, according to market research studies, with which Al Ham is very familiar. When he started "Music of Your Life" there was really no indication that the 35-plus audience was the hot new item in marketing. In fact, in its early stages, Ham supported the project with his own money.

Why did he do it? "It was driven to do it," he replies. "I just had a strong belief in the music and a very, very strong love for it." And evidently there are lots of others who share Ham's belief, if the popularity of his format is any indications. These loyall listeners in turn buy the products advertised on "Music of Your Life."

And, Ham adds, "it's the 35-plus age group that has the most disposable dollars. Not a day goes by when you don't find advertisers saying that they're discovering the value of the 'maturity market,' the 'affluent adult market,' and so on."

But the real point is that these listeners are getting their music again, after years of domination by what Ham desribes as the "worldwide youth syndrome." Not that Ham has anything against the youngsters -- on the contrary, he plans to introduce a "quality rock" format sometime in the future. But meanwhile he intends to spreads his present format across the globe.

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