The Classic Countdown is a syndicated weekly, four-hour, hit-packed, oldies countdown program which was written, produced and hosted by Radio Hall-of-Fame broadcaster Dick Bartley. It is flagshipped at WCBS-FM in New York City and is syndicated across the country by United Stations Radio Networks and internationally via Radio Express.
Twenty featured songs from a particular season — often, from the 1970s — are featured and played countdown-style, from No. 20 to No. 1. The Billboard0 Hot 100 chart is the standard for this ranking. In addition, on the first weekend of every month, the show has a "yearbook special" highlighting the top hits of a given year.
Though Bartley had hosted national radio shows since 1982, it was not until June 8, 1991, that he launched a countdown show. It was originally named American Gold. The concept of American Gold is loosely based upon the formats of other ABC shows, American Top 40 and American Country Countdown, although Casey Kasem (who created those shows) was never involved in the creation of Gold (Kasem had left ABC by the time Bartley had joined in 1991).
There were a few minor differences in American Gold and the current Classic Countdown. Most notably, the countdowns were shorter, with 10 to 15 songs, as opposed to the standard 20 on the current incarnation. The featured songs usually followed a category; a featured band was usually the focus, but occasionally Bartley makes an exception for a special holiday. For bands or categories with fewer hits, Bartley would split the show in two: the first half would have a theme, and the second would feature the top hits of a particular three-month span (e.g. fall of 1974 or winter of 1969-70); the current incarnation does not use themes except in a few special circumstances. Another, more noticeable difference was the era of music used: for most of the show's run American Gold focused on the oldies era of the 1960s (and later, the early 1970s), whereas the Classic Countdown (mirroring the drifting trend in the radio industry) focuses primarily on the hits of the 1970s and early 1980s.
Prior to 2007, Bartley conducted a contest known as "The Quiz Man" where listeners could win prizes. Said contest was discontinued. Bartley announced his departure from ABC effective March 31, 2009; his last American Gold show, a 1975 Yearbook, was released to stations March 28. The show was relaunched under its current name when Bartley joined the United Stations Radio Networks on April 1 of that year. The American Gold Web page, now discontinued, apparently considered the two shows to be the same. However, ABC likely still holds rights to the "American Gold" name, which originates with ABC's former subsidiary Watermark Inc. (similarly, Bob Kingsley had to change the name of his countdown show from American Country Countdown to Bob Kingsley's Country Top 40 when Kingsley left ABC for what is now Dial Global in 2006, and Casey Kasem, upon leaving ABC, changed the name of his show from American Top 40 to Casey's Top 40 from 1988 to 1998 before buying back the AT40 name, while Bill St. James, upon leaving Cumulus Media Networks, ABC Radio Network's and Citadel Media's successor, changed his show's name from Flashback to Time Warp with Bill St. James).
Currently, the show focuses on the 20 biggest hits of the current month from a particular year in the past; the year range is currently 1970-1985; songs from outside this range fill out the playlist. In addition to this national show, a local Sunday Night Countdown airs on WCBS-FM. The WCBS version of the show features two top-20 (or so) lists, one of which will usually (though not always) match the syndicated top-20 (or so) list and spotlight a year from the 1970s, and the other which will be from the corresponding 10-years-after year from the 1980s (although 1978 and 1979 are matched with 1968 and 1969, respectively). For example, if the first two hours are from January 1976, then the second two hours would be from January 1986.