Early in 1982 radio station WABC in New York City switched from rock music to a mostly-talk format. This was hardly an earthshaking event, but it certainly was a significant one, for it marked the end of what future sociological historians may well look back on as the Rock Era. There is little doubt that rock music will survive for many years to come, but when the leading rock music station in America put the music aside for talk, it had very good reason for doing so.
As audience interest dropped in the Top 40 music they were playing, so did their ratings and their annual billings--in the neighborhood of $9 million four years earlier, these had plunged to half that amount. WABC was the prime example of what was happening all over the nation. According to the show business bible Variety on December 16, 1981, Top 40 AM radio stations were becoming an endangered species.
Rock music had crashed its way into the American music scene in 1954 via AM radio, which soon became ruled by tight-format programming. Most top-rated stations began devoting a majority of their airtime to hits--the Top 40, then eventually only the Top 30 or 20. WABC was their undisputed leader.
The switch from rock to talk twenty-eight years later by the nation's top music station is only one illustration of the entire climate of change. From 1954 to the early 1970s, rock music influenced almost every aspect of American life. During the wind down in the 1970s and early 1980s, what rock had wrought in the accelerating 1950s and tumultuous 1960s still affected cultural aspects that were virtually ruled by the music and its youthful following in those decades. But, in almost every aspect of American social life--from fashions and fads to films and television--there was a gradual decline in the rock/youth impact.
Rock music's significant contribution in its initial stages was that it gave American youth a unified voice for the first time in the nation's history. And, as the news influenced youth--from the election of President John F. Kennedy to the pull-out from Vietnam--one of the most powerful