Adult contemporary music
Adult contemporary music (AC) is a North American term used to describe a form of radio-played popular music, ranging from 1960s vocal and 1970s soft rock music to predominantly ballad-heavy music of the present day, with varying degrees of easy listening, pop, soul, rhythm and blues, quiet storm, and rock influence. Adult contemporary is rather a continuation of the easy listening and soft rock style that became popular in the 1960s and 1970s with some adjustments that reflect the evolution of pop/rock music.
Adult contemporary tends to have lush, soothing and highly polished qualities where emphasis on melody and harmonies is accentuated. It is usually melodic enough to get a listener's attention, and is inoffensive and pleasurable enough to work well as background music. Like most of pop music, its songs tend to be written in a basic format employing a verse–chorus structure. The format is heavy on romantic sentimental ballads which mostly use acoustic instruments (though bass guitar is usually used) such as acoustic guitars, pianos, saxophones, and sometimes an orchestral set. The electric guitars are normally faint and high-pitched. However, recent adult contemporary music may usually feature synthesizers (and other electronics, such as drum machines).
An AC radio station may play mainstream music, but it excludes hip hop, dance tracks, hard rock, and some forms of teen pop, as these are less popular among adults, the target demographic. AC radio often targets the 25–44 age group, the demographic that has received the most attention from advertisers since the 1960s. A common practice in recent years of adult contemporary stations is to play less newer music and more hits of the past. This de-emphasis on new songs slows the progression of the AC chart.
Over the years, AC has spawned subgenres including "hot AC", "soft AC" (also known as "lite AC"), "urban AC", "rhythmic AC", and "Christian AC" (a softer type of contemporary Christian music). Some stations play only "hot AC", "soft AC", or only one of the variety of subgenres. Therefore, it is not usually considered a specific genre of music; it is merely an assemblage of selected tracks from musicians of many different genres.
- 1 History
- 2 Adult contemporary formats
- 3 Christmas music
- 4 Syndicated radio shows and networks carrying the adult contemporary format
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
1960s: Early roots; easy listening and soft rock
Adult contemporary traces its roots to the 1960s easy listening format, which adopted a 70—80% instrumental to 20–30% vocal mix. A few offered 90% instrumentals, and a handful were entirely instrumental. The easy listening format, as it was first known, was born of a desire by some radio stations in the late 1950s and early 1960s to continue playing current hit songs but distinguish themselves from being branded as "rock and roll" stations. Billboard first published the Easy Listening chart July 17, 1961, with 20 songs; the first number one was "Boll Weevil Song" by Brook Benton. The chart described itself as "not too far out in either direction".
Initially, the vocalists consisted of artists such as Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Johnny Mathis, Connie Francis, Nat King Cole, Perry Como, and others. The custom recordings were usually instrumental versions of current or recent rock and roll or pop hit songs, a move intended to give the stations more mass appeal without selling out. Some stations would also occasionally play earlier big band-era recordings from the 1940s and early 1950s.
After 1965, differences between the Hot 100 chart and the Easy Listening chart became more pronounced. Better reflecting what middle of the road stations were actually playing, the composition of the chart changed dramatically. As rock music continued to harden, there was much less crossover between the Hot 100 and Easy Listening chart than there had been in the early half of the 1960s. Roger Miller, Barbra Streisand and Bobby Vinton were among the chart's most popular performers.
One big impetus for the development of the AC radio format was that, when rock and roll music first became popular in the mid-1950s, many more conservative radio stations wanted to continue to play current hit songs while shying away from rock. These middle of the road (or "MOR") stations also frequently included older, pre-rock-era adult standards and big band titles to further appeal to adult listeners who had grown up with those songs.
Another big impetus for the evolution of the AC radio format was the popularity of easy listening or "beautiful music" stations, stations with music specifically designed to be purely ambient. Whereas most easy listening music was instrumental, created by relatively unknown artists, and rarely purchased (especially as singles, although Jackie Gleason's beautiful music albums sold well in the 1950s), AC was an attempt to create a similar "lite" format by choosing certain tracks (both hit singles and album cuts) of popular artists.
1970s: Soft rock forms as a radio format
Hard rock had been established as a mainstream genre by 1965. From the end of the 1960s, it became common to divide mainstream rock music into soft and hard rock, with both emerging as major radio formats in the US. Soft rock was often derived from folk rock, using acoustic instruments and putting more emphasis on melody and harmonies. Major artists included Barbra Streisand, Carole King, Cat Stevens, James Taylor and Bread.
The Hot 100 and Easy Listening charts became more similar again toward the end of the 1960s and into the early and mid-1970s, when the texture of much of the music played on Top 40 radio once more began to soften. The adult contemporary format began evolving into the sound that later defined it, with rock-oriented acts as Chicago, the Eagles, and Elton John becoming associated with the format.
Soft rock reached its commercial peak in the mid-to-late 1970s with acts such as Toto, England Dan & John Ford Coley, Air Supply, Seals and Crofts, Dan Fogelberg, America and the reformed Fleetwood Mac, whose Rumours (1977) was the best-selling album of the decade. By 1977, some radio stations, notably New York's WTFM and NBC-owned WYNY, had switched to an all-soft rock format. By the 1980s, tastes had changed and radio formats reflected this change, including musical artists such as Journey. Walter Sabo and his team at NBC brought in major personalities from the AM Band to the FM Band taking the format from a background to a foreground listening experience. The addition of major radio stars such as Dan Daniel, Steve O'Brien, Dick Summers, Don Bleu and Tom Parker made it possible to fully monetize the format and provide the foundation for financial success enjoyed to this day
Radio stations played Top 40 hits regardless of genre; although, most were in the same genre until the mid-1970s when different forms of popular music started to target different demographic groups, such as disco vs. hard rock. This evolved into specialized radio stations that played specific genres of music, and generally followed the evolution of artists in those genres.
By the early 1970s, softer songs by The Carpenters, Anne Murray, John Denver, Barry Manilow, and even Streisand, began to be played more often on "Top 40" radio and others were added to the mix on many AC stations. Also, some of these stations even played softer songs by Elvis Presley, Linda Ronstadt, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Billy Joel, and other rock-based artists.
Much of the music recorded by singer-songwriters such as Diana Ross, James Taylor, Carly Simon, Carole King and Janis Ian got as much, if not more, airplay on this format than on Top 40 stations. Easy Listening radio also began including songs by artists who had begun in other genres, such as rock and roll or R&B. In addition, several early disco songs, did well on the Adult Contemporary format.
1980s: Adult contemporary succeeds as radio format
On April 7, 1979, the Easy Listening chart officially became known as Adult Contemporary, and those two words have remained consistent in the name of the chart ever since. Adult contemporary music became one of the most popular radio formats of the 1980s. The growth of AC was a natural result of the generation that first listened to the more "specialized" music of the mid-late 1970s growing older and not being interested in the heavy metal and rap/hip-hop music that a new generation helped to play a significant role in the Top 40 charts by the end of the decade.
Mainstream AC itself has evolved in a similar fashion over the years; traditional AC artists such as Barbra Streisand, the Carpenters, Dionne Warwick, Barry Manilow, John Denver, and Olivia Newton-John found it harder to have major Top 40 hits as the 1980s wore on, and due to the influence of MTV, artists who were staples of the Contemporary Hit Radio format, such as Richard Marx, Michael Jackson, Bonnie Tyler, George Michael, Phil Collins, and Laura Branigan began crossing over to the AC charts with greater frequency. Collins has been described by AllMusic as "one of the most successful pop and adult contemporary singers of the '80s and beyond". However, with the combination of MTV and AC radio, adult contemporary appeared harder to define as a genre, with established soft-rock artists of the past still charting pop hits and receiving airplay alongside mainstream radio fare from newer artists at the time.
The amount of crossover between the AC chart and the Hot 100 has varied based on how much the passing pop music trends of the times appealed to adult listeners. Not many disco or new wave songs were particularly successful on the AC chart during the late 1970s and early 1980s, and much of the hip-hop and harder rock music featured on CHR formats later in the decade would have been unacceptable on AC radio.
Although dance-oriented, electronic pop and ballad-oriented rock dominated the 1980s, soft rock songs still enjoyed a mild success thanks to Sheena Easton, Amy Grant, Lionel Richie, Christopher Cross, Dan Hill, Leo Sayer, Billy Ocean, Julio Iglesias, Bertie Higgins, and Tommy Page. No song spent more than six weeks at #1 on this chart during the 1980s, with nine songs accomplishing that feat. Two of these were by Lionel Richie, "You Are" in 1983 and "Hello" in 1984, which also reached #1 on the Hot 100.
In 1989, Linda Ronstadt released Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind, described by critics as "the first true Adult Contemporary album of the decade", featuring American soul singer Aaron Neville on several of the twelve tracks. The album was certified Triple Platinum in the United States alone and became a major success throughout the globe. The Grammy Award-winning singles, "Don't Know Much" and "All My Life", were both long-running #1 Adult Contemporary hits. Several additional singles from the disc made the AC Top 10 as well. The album won over many critics in the need to define AC, and appeared to change the tolerance and acceptance of AC music into mainstream day to day radio play.
1990s: Subgenre formations/radio crossovers
The early 1990s marked the softening of urban R&B at the same time alternative rock emerged and traditional pop saw a significant resurgence. This in part led to a widening of the market, not only allowing to cater to more niche markets, but it also became customary for artists to make AC-friendly singles. At the same time, the genre began adopting elements from hard rock as tastes were shifting towards louder music, while AC stations in general began playing more rock acts. "Softer" features such as light instrumental music (carried over from the beautiful music format—many AC stations carried the format until the early 1970s), new age songs and most pre-1964 artists were gradually phased out from AC radio throughout the early-mid 1990s.
Unlike the majority of 1980s mainstream singers, the 1990s mainstream pop/R&B singers such as All-4-One, Boyz II Men, Rob Thomas, Christina Aguilera, Backstreet Boys and Savage Garden generally crossed over to the AC charts. Latin pop artists such as Lynda Thomas, Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony, Selena, Enrique Iglesias and Luis Miguel also enjoyed success in the AC charts.
In addition to Celine Dion, who has had significant success on this chart, other artists with multiple number ones on the AC chart in the 1990s include Mariah Carey, Phil Collins, Michael Bolton, Whitney Houston and Shania Twain. Newer female singer-songwriters such as Sarah McLachlan, Natalie Merchant, Jewel, Melissa Etheridge and Sheryl Crow also broke through on the AC chart during this time.
In 1996, Billboard created a new chart called Adult Top 40, which reflects programming on radio stations that exists somewhere between "adult contemporary" music and "pop" music. Although they are sometimes mistaken for each other, the Adult Contemporary chart and the Adult Top 40 chart are separate charts, and songs reaching one chart might not reach the other. In addition, hot AC is another subgenre of radio programming that is distinct from the Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks chart as it exists today, despite the apparent similarity in name.
In response to the pressure on Hot AC, a new kind of AC format cropped up among American radio recently. The urban adult contemporary format (a term coined by Barry Mayo) usually attracts a large number of African Americans and sometimes Caucasian listeners through playing a great deal of R&B (without any form of rapping), gospel music, classic soul and dance music (including disco).
Another format, rhythmic AC, in addition to playing all the popular hot and soft AC music, past and present, places a heavy emphasis on disco as well as 1980s and 1990s dance hits, such as those by Amber, C&C Music Factory and Black Box, and includes dance remixes of pop songs, such as the Soul Solution mix of Toni Braxton's "Unbreak My Heart".
In its early years of existence, the smooth jazz format was considered to be a form of AC, although it was mainly instrumental, and related a stronger resemblance to the soft AC-styled music. For many years, George Benson, Kenny G and Dave Koz had all had crossover hits that were played on both smooth jazz and soft AC stations.
2000–present: mainstream music goes AC
A notable pattern that developed during the 2000s and 2010s has been for certain pop songs to have lengthy runs on AC charts, even after the songs have fallen off the Hot 100. Adrian Moreira, senior vice president for adult music for RCA Music Group, said, "We've seen a fairly tidal shift in what AC will play". Rather than emphasizing older songs, adult contemporary was playing many of the same songs as top 40 and adult top 40, but only after the hits had become established. An article on MTV's website by Corey Moss describes this trend: "In other words, AC stations are where pop songs go to die a very long death. Or, to optimists, to get a second life."
With the mixture of radio friendly AC tunes with some rock and pop fare also landing on the pop charts, mainstream songs won over many critics in the need to define AC, and appeared to change the tolerance and acceptance of AC music into mainstream day to day radio play. An example of a 2000s AC song is Josh Groban's single "You Raise Me Up". Part of the reason why more and more hot AC stations are forced to change is that less and less new music fits their bill; most new rock is too alternative for mainstream radio and most new pop is now influenced heavily by dance-pop and electronic dance music.
A popular trend in the late 1990s and 2000s was remixing dance music hits into adult contemporary ballads, especially in the US, (for example, the "Candlelight Mix" versions of "Heaven" by DJ Sammy, "Listen To Your Heart" by D.H.T., and "Everytime We Touch" by Cascada). Adult contemporary has long characterized itself as family-friendly; edited versions of "Perfect" by P!nk and "Forget You" by Cee Lo Green showed up in the format in 2011.
While most artists became established in other formats before moving to adult contemporary, Michael Bublé and Josh Groban started out as AC artists. Throughout the decade, artists such as Nick Lachey, James Blunt, John Mayer, Jason Mraz, Kelly Clarkson, Norah Jones, Clay Aiken, Amy Winehouse and Susan Boyle became successful thanks to a ballad-heavy sound with jazz and traditional pop influences, while the following decade saw more modern pop-oriented artists such as Bruno Mars and Adele achieve success on AC.
During most of the 2000s, female country music/countrypolitan musicians such as Faith Hill, Shania Twain, LeAnn Rimes and Carrie Underwood scored hits on soft AC, while the 2010s saw alternative and indie rock acts such as Coldplay, Wilco, Feist, The 1975, Imagine Dragons, Mumford & Sons, Of Monsters and Men, The Lumineers, Arcade Fire and Ed Sheeran quickly becoming AC mainstays.
AC radio's shift into more mainstream pop became the result of the changes on the broadcasting landscape following the 2005-2007 economic downturn and eventual recession, as advertisers preferred more profitable chart-based formats, which meant the demise of many AC-based formulas, primarily those aimed at older audiences. Diminishing physical record sales throughout the 2010s also proved a major blow to the AC genre, and there are concerns that the portable people meter, a device being used to determine radio listenership, may be incompatible with AC songs and may not accurately pick up that a person is listening to an AC station because of the pitches and frequencies used in the style.
Adult contemporary formats
Hot adult contemporary
Hot adult contemporary radio stations play a variety of contemporary mainstream music. The format typically features a wide range of popular music that appeals towards the 18-54 age group, cherry-picking uptempo songs from pop, pop rock, alternative, and indie rock acts, while excluding mellower music, as well as the more youth-oriented urban music such as hip-hop.
The "hot AC" designation began to appear in the 1990s, to describe adult contemporary stations with a more energetic presentation and uptempo sound than their softer counterparts. The launch of the "Mix" branding and format by Houston's KHMX was a notable milestone for the burgeoning format. Seeking to fill a void in the market as determined by focus groups, the station focused on pop-rock music targeting young adult women, as well as emphasizing community involvement. In the six months after its launch, KHMX slowly climbed from 14th place in the market to 3rd, and its format and branding was widely replicated by other stations.
The hot AC format leans towards current music, with recurrents usually reflecting familiar and youthful music that adults had grown up with. Initially focused more on pop rock, the format has evolved to reflect changes in the composition of this audience; by the mid-2000s, the format had evolved to include more uptempo pop music with wide appeal, and typically avoided songs older than the year 2000. This shift helped to expand the demographic reach of hot AC stations, especially among younger listeners such as millennials; Nielsen Audio ranked hot AC as the third most-popular format among millennials, behind pop and country music. Of the format's expanding demographic reach, WOMX-FM program director Dana Taylor stated that hot AC stations "may not be the radio station that everybody agrees on, but it's a radio station that everybody goes, 'I'm okay with that'." Many hot AC outlets are among the top stations in their respective market.
Hot AC stations typically keep a larger body of recent hits in rotation than those with rigid, chart-driven formats like contemporary hit radio (CHR) or urban contemporary. As these stations' playlists have become concentrated towards airing only the current hits at a given time, hot AC stations can help build and sustain the popularity and familiarity of a particular song over a long-term period. This effect has been credited in helping build an audience for early singles from new acts such as Adele, James Arthur, Rachel Platten ("Fight Song", which achieved mainstream popularity after its use during Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential election campaign), and Max Schneider (whose 2016 single "Lights Down Low", over a year after its original release, became a notable sleeper hit on the Billboard Mainstream Top 40 and Hot 100 due in part to strong hot AC promotion and airplay).
Rolling Stone noted that hot AC stations have been a popular outlet for matured pop artists, such as the Backstreet Boys, Jason Mraz, John Mayer, and Pink, as well as alternative and indie rock crossovers (such as Foster the People, Imagine Dragons, Lovelytheband, Portugal. The Man, and Twenty One Pilots). The format has also appealed towards listeners alienated by the downtempo direction of recent pop music, in contrast to the more familiar and uptemo direction of hot AC. The popularity of the hot AC format prompted mainstream adult contemporary stations to evolve in a similar direction, displacing softer songs in favor of the uptempo adult pop associated with hot AC, while still featuring older recurrents than those typically played by hot AC stations.
Modern adult contemporary
Modern adult contemporary can be a variation of hot AC, and includes modern rock titles in its presentation. In 1997, Mike Marino of KMXB in Las Vegas described the format as reaching "an audience that has outgrown the edgier hip-hop or alternative music but hasn't gotten old and sappy enough for the soft ACs." The format's artists included Alanis Morissette, Counting Crows, Gin Blossoms, Bon Jovi, Train, No Doubt, the Script, the Cranberries, Lifehouse, Sarah McLachlan, Sara Bareilles, John Mayer, Joon Wolfsberg, Jewel, and Ingrid Michaelson. Unlike modern rock, which went after 18-34 men, this format appealed to women. A somewhat notable station that used to carry this format was KQCS, 93.5 in Bettendorf, Iowa before it was flipped to sports as ESPN radio in 2014 although they were branded simply as Hot AC.
Soft adult contemporary
The Soft adult contemporary format focuses on lighter and often mellower forms of contemporary music, such as pop ballads and soft rock. Many stations in the soft AC format capitalize on its appeal to women 25-54, and encourage at-work listening as part of their promotional campaigns. Upon its establishment in the 1980s, the soft AC format was positioned as being a more upbeat version of easy listening that would appeal better to a younger audience, mainly by excluding instrumental beautiful music. Easy listening stations had begun shifting to the format out of concern that their existing programming would not appeal to the current generation of listeners.
In a 1990 article, James Warren of the Chicago Tribune characterized soft AC stations as being "as middle-of-the-road and unthreatening as modern media get", with personalities that were encouraged to be as inoffensive and "low-profile" as possible, and a more conservative music library than hot AC-leaning stations. In particular, Chicago's WLIT did not have its airstaff talk over the beginning and endings of songs (in contrast to the hot AC-leaning WFYR), and played Bob Seger's "We've Got Tonite" but not "Old Time Rock and Roll" (which was part of WTMX's playlist). The director of a soft AC station in Connecticut, WEZN-FM, told Warren that he had banned their personalities from reading top-of-hour news headlines, so that listeners wouldn't be tempted to tune to an all-news competitor.
Soft AC stations tend to be more selective in their music libraries than other adult contemporary stations, preferring proven songs over current hits. Upon the onset of the format's popularity, core artists typically included singers such as Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow, Johnny Mathis, and Barbra Streisand. By the 1990s, to improve their appeal among changing demographics, some soft AC stations began to widen their playlist to include selections from contemporary acts such as Bon Jovi, Mariah Carey, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Elton John, and Whitney Houston. On the other hand, by 1996, New York's WLTW had begun to phase out its softer music in favor of a more uptempo direction.
Current soft AC stations have continued to feature recurrents such as Michael Bolton, Celine Dion, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Hall & Oates, and Whitney Houston, but have also featured current musicians such as Adele and Michael Bublé. Some, such as Seattle's KSWD, have attempted to market themselves towards baby boomers.
In 2017, Inside Radio reported that soft AC had the third-largest decrease in U.S. stations offering the format over the past decade (at 128), ranking behind only adult standards and oldies — a shift credited to aging demographics and a major boom in the wider-appealing classic hits format (which saw the largest overall increase over the same period). Consultant Gary Berkowitz argued that the soft AC format had become increasingly irrelevant in comparison to mainstream and hot AC, due to PPM markets preferring uptempo music.
Late-2018 saw a surge in major market soft AC launches, with several stations owned by Entercom and iHeartMedia flipping to soft AC formats under the title The Breeze in November; industry analyst Sean Ross argued that adult-oriented formats such as soft AC had seen growth due to changes in listening habits among younger audiences, and mainstream AC's current dependency on the Top 40 charts to break new songs. He also acknowledged that soft AC stations were now willing to play songs that were "safe and universal" but not necessarily "soft", citing examples such as "Don't You (Forget About Me)", as well as songs now described as "yacht rock".
Urban and rhythmic adult contemporary
Urban AC is a form of AC music geared towards adult African-American audiences, and therefore, the artists that are played on these stations are most often black, such as Des'ree, whose album I Ain't Movin' was massively popular among both African American audience as well as the wider national audience.
The urban AC stations resemble soft AC rather than hot AC; they play predominantly R&B and soul music with little hip-hop. This is reflected in many of the urban AC radio stations' taglines, such as "Today's R&B and classic soul", "The best variety of R&B hits and oldies" and "(City/Region)'s R&B leader". Urban AC's core artists include Luther Vandross, Trey Songz, Patti LaBelle, Toni Braxton, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Frank Ocean, Craig David and Mariah Carey.
A more elaborate form of urban AC is the rhythmic oldies format, which focuses primarily on "old school" R&B and soul hits from the 1960s to the 1990s, including Motown and disco hits. The format includes soul or disco artists such as ABBA, the Village People, the Jackson 5, Donna Summer, Tina Charles, Gloria Gaynor and the Bee Gees. Rhythmic oldies stations still exist today, but target African-Americans as opposed to a mass audience.
A format called quiet storm is often included in urban adult contemporary, and is often played during the evening and late night hours, blending the urban AC and soft AC styles of music. The music that is played is strictly ballads and slow jams, mostly but not limited to Black and Latino artists. Popular artists in the quiet storm format are Teena Marie, Freddie Jackson, Regina Belle, Johnny Gill, Lalah Hathaway, Vanessa L. Williams, Toni Braxton, and En Vogue among others.
Anita Baker, Sade, Regina Belle, and Luther Vandross are other examples of artists who appeal to mainstream AC, urban AC and smooth jazz listeners. Some soft AC and urban AC stations like to play smooth jazz on the weekends. In recent years, the Smooth Jazz format has been renamed to Smooth AC, as an attempt to lure younger listeners.
Adult contemporary R&B
Adult contemporary R&B may be played on both soft AC stations and urban AC. It is a form of neo soul R&B that places emphasis on songcraft and sophistication. As the use of drum machines, samplers, synthesizers, and sequencers dominates R&B-rooted music, adult contemporary R&B tends to take most of its cues from the more refined strains of 1970s soul, such as smooth soul, Philly soul and quiet storm. Classic songwriting touches and organic-leaning instrumentation, often featuring string arrangements and horn charts, were constants.
In the 1980s, lush jazz-R&B fusion (George Benson, Patti Austin, Al Jarreau) and stylish crossover R&B (Anita Baker and Luther Vandross, New Edition and Keith Sweat) were equally successful within the mainstream. In the 1990s and early 2000s (decade), artists as sonically contrasting as R. Kelly, Leona Lewis (mainly ballads) and Jill Scott both fit the bill, provided the audience for the material was mature. By riding and contributing to nearly all of the trends, no one has exemplified the style more than Babyface, whose career thrived over 20 years as a member of the Deele ("Two Occasions"), a solo artist ("Whip Appeal", "When Can I See You"), and a songwriter/producer (Toni Braxton's "Breathe Again", Boyz II Men's "I'll Make Love to You").
Smooth adult contemporary
Smooth Adult Contemporary was evolved from smooth jazz stations, in order to attract more younger listeners (particularly in the important 25-54 age demographic) without completely alienating jazz fans. Smooth AC stations played more of the vocalists popular on smooth jazz stations, such as Luther Vandross, Sade, Robin Thicke, Anita Baker, and Basia, while incorporating more mainstream and urban AC material from artists such as Celine Dion, Mary J. Blige, and Maroon 5 and limiting instrumentals to two or three cuts an hour (and usually restricting airplay of instrumentals to artists such as Kenny G, Dave Koz and Chuck Mangione who had crossover pop success). In markets where they existed, Smooth AC stations were meant to fill a void for soft music created by the mainstream Adult Contemporary format's overall move toward more uptempo adult Top-40 musical fare.
One of the first high-profile stations to adopt the Smooth AC approach was pioneering smooth-jazz station KTWV in Los Angeles ("The Wave"), under new program director Jhani Kaye. KTWV's transition was successful in improving the station's 25-54 ratings. Other stations followed suit, including the late WLFM-LP in Chicago; WXJZ in Gainesville, Florida; KIFM in San Diego; and WNWV in Cleveland, which relaunched under its former "107-3 The Wave" identity as a Smooth AC on January 4, 2012. However, the Smooth AC format for the most part did not succeed: WLFM, WXJZ and KIFM have switched to other formats, WNWV has evolved back into smooth jazz, and KTWV has continued to progressively downplay (while not entirely eliminating) instrumental music in its shift to a "Smooth R&B" Urban AC format. The Smooth AC format is now virtually extinct on commercial radio, with one exception being KJZY in the Santa Rosa, California market, which continues as a hybrid of smooth jazz and adult standards.
Contemporary Christian music
Contemporary Christian music (CCM) has several subgenres, one being "Christian AC". Radio & Records, for instance, lists Christian AC among its format charts. There has been crossover to mainstream and hot AC formats by many of the core artists of the Christian AC genre, notably Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Kathy Troccoli, Steven Curtis Chapman, Plumb, and more recently, MercyMe, for KING & COUNTRY and Lauren Daigle.
Since the 1990s it has become common for many AC stations, particularly soft AC stations, to play primarily or exclusively Christmas music during the Christmas season in November and December. While these tend mostly to be contemporary seasonal recordings by the same few artists featured under the normal format, most stations will also air some vintage holiday tunes from older pop, MOR, and adult standards artists – such as Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, the Carpenters, Percy Faith, Johnny Mathis and Andy Williams – many of whom would never be played on these stations during the rest of the year.
These Christmas music marathons typically start during the week before Thanksgiving Day and end after Christmas Day, or sometimes extending to New Year's Day. Afterwards, the stations usually resume their normal music fare. Several stations begin the holiday format much earlier, at the beginning of November. The roots of this tradition can be traced back to the beautiful music and easy listening stations of the 1960s and 1970s.
Syndicated radio shows and networks carrying the adult contemporary format
- Delilah – One of the USA's most popular radio shows, Delilah airs primarily in the evening.
- John Tesh Radio Show – Hosted by John Tesh, this show also airs evenings and also on weekends.
- American Top 40 with Ryan Seacrest – One version of AT40 airs on USA hot AC stations, which is a little different from its Top-40/CHR counterpart.
- Rick Dees Weekly Top 40/Weekly Top 30 – Began offering Hot AC versions of the popular countdown show in June 1996. These shows feature the top 20 Hot AC songs in the USA along with about 10 past hits from the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s (decade). A softer "AC" version was added in July 2009 to try to fill in the void left by Casey Kasem ending his AC countdown.
- Radio Disney Music Top 30 Countdown, One version is for Hot AC stations, the other version is for Mainstream AC stations. Plays the USA Top 30 songs of the week according to Mediabase and a music rating service called ratethemusic.com. This show, like Rick Dees' show, is distributed by Compass Media Networks.
- Backtrax USA with Kid Kelly – Weekend programs focusing on the '80s and '90s, targeted for hot AC stations.
- ABC and Dial Global both offer AC 24-hour networks programming soft and hot AC.
- Tom Joyner and Steve Harvey have popular morning shows that air on urban AC (and sometimes Hip-Hop) stations. Both shows are often heard on competing stations in the same city, such as St. Louis, Philadelphia and Atlanta. Joyner's show is syndicated by ABC Radio, and Harvey's show by Premiere Radio Networks.
- Retro Rewind with Dave Harris is weekend based radio show highlighting a massive playlist of songs from the '80s and '90s, interviews, spotlights and contests. The show is done LIVE across the USA on Saturday nights, taking audience requests. The show is targeted towards HOT AC and AC radio stations.
- The EZ Rock network is a brand/network of soft AC heard in Canada.
- Heart FM Network A radio network in the UK that grew throughout 2009 as more stations were rebranded as "Heart" (later Gem 106).
- Smooth Radio – A UK-wide radio network that formed from six regional Smooth Radio stations.
- Smoothfm - A network of two Australian commercial radio stations (based in Sydney and Melbourne) that are focused on providing an eclectic easy-listening playlist, usually featuring ballads.
- The Breeze - A group of New Zealand adult contemporary radio stations owned by MediaWorks Radio. There are 20 stations currently broadcasting throughout New Zealand.
Former syndicated programming includes Dick Clark's US Music Survey (1996-2005), Casey's Hot 20/Casey's Countdown/American Top 20/10 (1992-2009, Top 30 USA, And The Weekly Top 30 With Sean Hollywood Hamilton (2002-2016).
- Adult Contemporary, a chart appearing in Billboard since 1961. This chart is typically (but not exclusively) closer to soft AC.
- New-age music
- Yacht rock
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