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Classic hits is a radio format which generally includes rock and pop music from 1964 to 1988 or 1989, with occasional songs as recent as the early 1990s or before 1995. The term is erroneously used as a synonym for the adult hits format (which uses a slightly newer music library stretching from the 1970s through the 1990s), but is more accurately characterized as a contemporary style of the oldies format, although most classic hits stations focus on pop hits from the late 1960s through the 1990s.
The term "classic hits" is believed[by whom?] to have its birth at WZLX Boston when the station converted from "adult contemporary" to a format composed of the hipper tracks from the oldies format and album tracks from popular classic rock albums. The goal was to attract and magnetize two groups of baby boomers: those who didn't want the doo-wop and pop they found on the oldies stations, and those who didn't like the more heavy metal side of AOR stations.
Over time, the "classic hits" format has evolved into more of a stations' tagline than of a tightly focused music library shared by the stations who use the term. The first branching-off in the late 1980s led to stations becoming more "classic rock"-based, and the second reincarnation manifested itself in the premises of the "Jack FM" and the "Arrow" formats. Some of the 21st-century versions are based on a music library mostly consisting of classic rock-style hits from the 1970s, along with R&B and pop hits from the late 1960s through the mid-1980s. In many of the cases, the stations are merely oldies stations that evolved into a more up-tempo sound with more newer songs, and the term is now considered a more appealing name than "oldies" to listeners and advertisers alike.
Variations of the core playlist vary greatly and include playlists composed of only pop-leaning classic rock. Others, while indeed leaning rock, also feature some soul, disco and Motown music as well. (Westwood One's national "classic hits" network describes its format as "pop, soul and rock and roll.") Most "classic hits" stations predominantly air music from the 1970s; the general trend has been to cut back on 1960s music and add more 1980s music as the years have progressed.
Until the past few years, most classic hits stations have either leaned towards pop hits of the 1960s through the 1980s or were actually classic rock stations without a lot of hard rock. Classic hits stations typically do not play pre-1964 music, except for a few especially popular or enduring songs such as early Beach Boys hits, or more generally 1960 to 1963 songs. In most cases, more pop-leaning classic hits stations evolved quietly and gradually from being traditional oldies outlets. The classic hits format as heard in the early 2010s is noticeably similar to rhythmic oldies, a disco-centric format that was popular in its own right during the late 1990s and early 2000s.
As with most formats, and perhaps even more so, the classic hits format can be programmed tightly to include only a few hundred well-tested songs in heavy rotation (common with major, commercial stations) or can take a much broader approach encompassing music beyond the narrowest definitions of the format. An extreme example of the latter is Seneca Nation owned WGWE, which is centered on the traditional classic hits era music but plays music spanning from the big band era to the present.
Notable classic hits stations include WMCE-FM in Erie, Pennsylvania; WROR-FM in Boston, Massachusetts; WCBS-FM in New York City; KRTH (K-EARTH 101) in Los Angeles; WJMK (104.3 K-Hits) in Chicago; WOGL in Philadelphia; KLUV in Dallas, Texas; WKLH in Milwaukee; WOCL (105.9 Sunny FM) in Orlando, Florida, KOMA in Oklahoma City, WMJI (Majic 105.7) in Cleveland, Ohio and KLTH (106.7 The Eagle) in Portland, Oregon. One of the longest-running Classic Hits stations is KWCO-FM Kool 1055, Chickasha, OK, in-format since 2002.
The format has begun to make its appearance on a growing number of Canadian radio stations. One Canadian broadcasting company, Newcap Broadcasting, has adopted this format on a number of its stations. For example—CFXL-FM in Calgary and CKRA-FM in Edmonton—first began airing the new classic hits format. Other Newcap stations across Canada began playing classic hits including CKUL-FM in Halifax (which had flipped to triple A in August 2013 and then Hot AC in February 2016), CHNO-FM in Sudbury, CHTN-FM in Charlottetown and CFRK-FM in Fredericton (which had flipped to top 40 in March 2013 then to country as of June 2015).
Other classic hits stations in Canada include CJOT-FM 99.7 in Ottawa, a French-language one on CFOM-FM 102.9 in Quebec City, CHBM-FM in Toronto, branded as Boom 97.3, Hamilton's web radio station Classic Hits Online and many others. Kitchener's CKKW-FM at 99.5 FM, branded as KFUN, stretches the playlist into the early 1990s.