Adult Contemporary

Adult Contemporary Stations (AC) today serve the same purpose as the middle-of-the- road (MOR) stations of yesterday. MOR stations served adults during the advent of the rock music era. While Top 40 stations were developing large teen followings, the MOR stations continued to provide the "nonrock" music adults of the day liked. In addition, these stations provided a full compliment of news, weather, community events, sports and other popular services.

Those teens of yesterday who grew up listening to rock music on their favorite Top 40 station are now the 25 - 54 adults of today. While the still like rock music, they have developed adult tastes. AC has evolved to serve those adult musical tastes. In addition, these stations provide news, traffic reports, weather and other services of concern to adults.

In (Keith, 1987, p.45) Robert E. Henabery of Henaberry Associates says: "Adult Contemporary is like vanilla ice cream, delicious and satisfying, but too much of a good thing when overused by listeners."

While (Keith, 1987, p.45) Ed Shane of Shane Media Services describes the format:
Adult contemporary is the most difficult radio format to define because the phrase has been used to market everything from hits to soft pop. AC is for rockers who have grown up but haven't outgrown a contemporary feel. Some prefer rock; some merely tolerate it. AC keeps them from changing their tastes just because they change demographic group (Keith, 1987, p.45).

Adult Contemporary has existed in one form or another since the 1960s. During that decade, programmers discovered that not all adults disliked rock music. There were some adults who actually liked it and others who would tolerate a little rock music with their adult (MOR) standards.

To appeal to this audience's tastes, radio programmers developed a format called Chicken Rock. The term started as a joke to indicate that these stations flirted with the rock sound but avoided rock's harder edge. Chicken Rockers culled the softer sounding hits from the Top 40 playlists. As a result they appealed to adults who wanted to be "hip" but still claim they did not like rock music.

At the same time MOR stations began adding some of these softer rock hits and tunes with a rock flavor performed by adult artists to their playlists. Chicken rock and MOR stations found it difficult to avoid hits like "Michelle" and "Yesterday" by the Beatles.

During the 1970s with the rise of FM, the format evolved into the Mellow Rock and Soft Rock stations. Chicken rock stations were found primarily on the AM band. These new mellow stations took up residence on the FM band and played softer artists such as Neil Diamond, Smokey Robinson and Olivia Newton John. They even played some of the softer hits from the disco artists of the era and appealed to adults 18 to 34. The stations positioned themselves as alternatives to the AOR and Disco stations of the day. They had strong appeal with women.

This format has Followed the aging of the "baby boom" generation. During the 1980s AC stations began positioning themselves as stations playing the best of the 60s, 70s and 80s. Today, their positioning statement is that they play the best of the 60s 70s, 80s and today's music. Their goal is to attract an audience that does not want to think of itself as old.

There are many types of AC stations. These can be broken into three categories: Soft AC which includes stations such as WMJX, Boston, KOIT, San Francisco, WRRM, Rochester NY and WLTW, New York. Mainstream AC which includes stations such as WNIC, Detroit, K-101, San Francisco, KESZ, Phoenix and B101, Philadelphia. and Hot AC which includes stations such as WBMX, Boston, Q95 Detroit, Mix 107.3 in Washington and Y98 in St. Louis. (see Berkowitz: AC defined).



The music at AC stations depends upon the station's direction. Some Hot AC stations sound very much like Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR) stations. Others are softer and take a more laid back approach and still others approach Alternative stations in their selection of music. There are other that can easily be mistaken for oldies stations. Adult Contemporary is very much the new MOR.

Stations also take very different approaches to how they program music. Some stations concentrate on the music. They play long sweeps of music followed by clusters of commercials. Others take a full service approach with frequent breaks from the music for traffic, weather, news or other program elements. Still others will take a full service approach during drivetimes and a more music approach during midday and evening hours.

AC stations make an attempt to know the musical tastes of their audience. If the music is too new, they run the risk of alienating listeners who have more pressing concerns than keeping up with current musical trends. If the music becomes too stale, they run the risk or boring an audience that still likes to think of itself as "young and hip." When discussing their music, AC stations use terms like "variety" and "mix."


Once again this format is "aor" all-over-the-road. Some AC stations emphasize personality, while others emphasize music. Announcers at Hot AC and Some Mainstream AC stations are allowed to emphasize their personalities. In some markets the morning and sometimes the evening drive AC announcers are local celebrities. Other AC stations limit their announcers to little more than reading liners. It is not uncommon for drivetime announcers to take a personality approach while announcers during the rest of the day follow a stricter format.


AC is an adult format where news still plays an important role. That role has changed since deregulation and the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Many stations limit their news coverage to drive times. Others will air news only during the morning drive and cover the evening drive with traffic and weather reports. AC stations use news as a way to connect to their communities. Often the news person is an integral part of the morning drive team.


    AC's audience is concerned with getting the family ready for the day. Parents are getting ready for work while they are getting their kids ready for school. As a result weather is very important to this audience primarily in the morning. AC stations provide information on school closings during snow days and beach reports during the summer months.

    Traffic is also an important element for AC stations. The commute to and from work is a major part of the audience's day. Stations often subscribe to services such as Shadow Traffic or Metro Traffic. In many cities these services have expanded and now provide news and weather in addition to traffic.

Contests and Promotions

Contests and promotions are very important to AC stations. Contests include things such as cash calls, and "lifestyle giveaways" such as cars, trips, tickets to concerts, plays and shows and shopping sprees. WJBR in Wilmington gave away a house several years ago. These stations use contests to give the audience a "feel good" mood. Because adults are busy with other things, AC stations have fewer actives among their audience than other formats. At the same time they cannot allow contests to be a turnoff for the members of the audience that do not participate. These stations package their contests so that non participants feel good about hearing someone in the audience win.

AC stations also promote themselves heavily. These stations schedule remote broadcasts from various locations and try to develop a visible presence in their market. In addition they use billboards, bumper stickers and direct mailings often in conjunction with contests. AC also makes heavy use of TV and print advertising. It is not unusual for AC stations to localize a national TV campaign. The same ad which runs in one market promoting an AC station will often run in another market promoting another.


Some AC stations will take the approach of clustering commercials at 10 to 12 minute intervals being very careful to carry the audience into the next quarter hour. Others will use a more old fashioned approach and break more frequently but take shorter commercial breaks. These stations are also mindful of their average quarter hour maintenance. AC stations rarely emphasize "commercial-free" hours. They see such program schemes as telling their sponsors that they are unimportant. AC stations are more likely to take an approach that tells their listeners "our sponsors are our partners."


It is not unusual for a market to have multiple AC stations. These stations compete directly with each other. In addition, AC stations compete with other contemporary stations, CHR and Urban Contemporary. They often share adult listeners with news and talk stations.


AC is a format that should last for some time. However, it is rapidly becoming one of the "senior" formats. As more and more of the baby boom generation pass the age of 50, AC stations will need to make adjustments. Some will elect to continue to follow that generation as it ages. Others will elect to modify the format to meet the needs of other generations moving into that age group.


Keith, M. C. (1987). Radio programming: Consultancy and formatics. Focal Press: Boston.

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