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Classics radio still has a home on Western Pennsylvania dials

| Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Some oldies fans get their fix from XM radio stations or internet streaming music like Pandora.

But since WJAS (1320 AM) was sold and switched from “nostalgia” programming to talk earlier this month, fans have been searching for a new radio station to hear their favorite music.

“It was a shock for them to shift to talk shows from music that a lot of people liked,” said Anne Zuza, 70, of Ross.

As another ex-WJAS listener emailed: “Is there any other station that plays the classic hits of the '50s, '60s and '70s?”

That depends on your interpretation of “classic hits” — and how good your radio is. Nostalgia airs on Butler's WISR (680 AM), Latrobe's WCNS (1480 AM) and Uniontown's WMBS (590 AM).

WISR's daytime signal covers Butler County and the northern end of Allegheny County. WMBS by day reaches from Irwin to Morgantown, W.Va. WCNS' primary day signal reaches Greensburg.

“We've had some people call us and tell us they're very happy we're still doing standards music,” said WMBS general manager Brian Mroziak.

Local morning and afternoon drive shows include artists such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Michael Buble and Josh Groban, Mroziak said.

Both WMBS and WCNS also draw on the syndicated Adult Standards from Westwood One. The programming includes “the most popular songs from the '50s, '60s and '70s, aimed at the upper end of the Baby Boomer generation,” according to Westwood One.

“Classics” for many are “Pittsburgh oldies,” a range of styles aired on weekends on WLSW (103.9 FM) and weekdays on WKFB (770 AM, 97.5 FM) and WEDO (810 AM). None of the three plays Sinatra or other stars of a style called standards, nostalgia or middle of the road.

“AM (middle of the road) has pretty much gone away,” said Sean Ross, vice president for music and programming at Edison Research and former radio editor at Billboard Magazine. “WJAS was one of the last stations doing anything in that neighborhood with decent ratings.”

Ross says efforts to turn stations like WJAS into “the new oldies that play the '50s and more depth from the '60s never really took in most places.”

An exception is Greater Media's WMTR (AM 1250) in Morristown, N.J., a Top 100 market west of New York City. “It actually beat its FM this spring,” Ross said.

“What happened to WJAS was accelerated by the sale of the station, but, essentially, it was headed down the same road as ‘beautiful music' 30 or so years ago,” says Clarke Ingram, a veteran programmer now consulting Braddock's WZUM (AM 1550), which began offering “old-school rhythm and blues” in July.

“The station found a place in a very under-served market,” said WZUM owner Ed DeHart.

A new wild card in the local radio market was tossed on Aug. 13 when Radio Disney said it was selling WDDZ (AM 1250). A Pittsburgh native who owns 10 stations in five states is watching that development.

“We're all watching how news-talk is a format that is starting to really slow down in popularity,” said Chris Lash of Florida-based Whiplash Radio. “I believe that the oldies format has a home on AM radio, and 1250 in Pittsburgh would be the place to do it.”

Lash has a format to offer called “True Oldies.” He says he is helping New York disc jockey Scott Shannon relaunch that format after Cumulus Media dropped Shannon in February. It essentially is rock and roll from 1955 to the early '80s, which wouldn't include the standards.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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