The Diversity (or lack thereof) of Classic Rock Radio Playlists: Chicago

A few months ago, I got an email from Jeffrey Coleman, a Professor of English and Coordinator of African and African Diaspora Studies at St Mary’s College of Maryland. He brought up something that I hadn’t considered before in my history writing about classic rock and I decided to take on this little project. He noticed that at his local classic rock station, the songs played had a lack of diversity in the musicians who played it – particularly so with Black and female musicians being underrepresented.

I’ve definitely noticed similar things in my time listening to classic rock stations. Only a couple female musicians on the playlists. Almost all the musicians white, with a couple of obvious exceptions like Freddie Mercury or Jimi Hendrix, which are the two most obvious musicians of colour. Most music being from the 70s and 80s, with a couple 60s songs, and usually from the late 60s. No music from the 50s, but 90s music creeps in. I guess that’s what happens because time keeps ticking forward. And of course everything is on a greatest hits album. Not many deep cuts, if any.

Like a lot of millennials, my media consumption is dominated by streaming services and YouTube, so traditional broadcast media like TV and terrestrial radio is not on my radar, but it’s something that is worth talking about. What I like about the advent of Spotify and YouTube is that I get to choose what I listen to and I don’t have to worry about ads and I don’t have to hear any annoying egotistical DJs who like the sound of their voice too much (sorry!) and there’s no casual misogyny like stereotypical one of the boys “rock girl” or “babe of the week/month”. It’s really funny because my dream job was classic rock DJ and I wanted to be disruptive in that I’m a girly girl who loves hard rock – you wouldn’t guess it from how I dress (I look more like I listen to folk or sunshine pop). That’s what my dad was in the late 70s in California for a time (his show mostly played 60s hits).

I’ve made diversity infographics in the past with my Woodstock post, and I found those a lot of fun to make as a data/numbers nerd and I like to play around with designs and they’re a fun way of putting numbers in perspective. If you’re a data nerd like me, you might like /r/dataisbeautiful. But I don’t have the design abilities to make this data as beautiful as that, but I’ll try my best! This was a lot of fun and reminded me of working on my thesis back in university, which involved looking at a lot of data, but at least this is more fun since I’m talking about classic rock.

What am I looking at?

Since I am originally from the Chicago area. I decided to look at the classic rock stations in my hometown. Chicago is the third largest city in the US, so I can imagine that the classic rock stations there are some of the most listened to. There aren’t a lot of (classic) rock stations here in Ireland and since most of my readers are in America, I decided that I’ll go for a large city and stations that I’ve actually listened to. How I gathered these statistics was going through one day’s playlist. For The Loop, I picked my birthday 1 August, and for The Drive, I picked 19 August 2020. Radio station playlists can vary a bit from day to day, but there’s really not much variation besides order.

Here’s a note though about WLUP – The Loop, one of the best known classic rock stations in America, it went off the air a couple of years ago, but it still streams online and what I’ve seen on their online playlists is very much what I remember listening to whenever I’d be in the car listening to The Loop. The other station, WDRV – The Drive, is still around and it brings back memories. Here are two infographics on the histories of the two stations:

Title reads: The Diversity of Classic Rock Radio Playlists - Below that is a clip art photo of a radio and The Loop's logo. Text: On The Diversity of Classic Rock, we want to examine the diversity of what's played on classic rock radio. Since Angie is from Chicago, she decided to look at her hometown classic rock stations: WLUP and WDRV. First let's start with some facts about The Loop. Below that are some facts - The Loop was established in 1977 and went off the air on March 10 2018 and the first song played on the station was a Cat Stevens song "Morning Has Broken".An infographic on the history of WDRV The Drive, a classic rock station in Chicago. It was established in 2001 and started off in the 50s as a jazz/easy listening station, but became a classic rock station in 2001.

I decided to take one day’s playlist from each station and I took down information in a spreadsheet, that you can access here. The obvious stuff like track name, artist, and year, but also demographic info like whether or not the musician is a person of colour* or band has any non-white/mixed band members; if the musician is a woman or if the band has any female members, if the musician is LGBT or if there are LGBT band members, and what country the band are from**.

*For our purposes, a person of colour is a person who is non-white or mixed: Asian, Black, Native American, Middle Eastern, or Hispanic. Romani (what some know as “gypsy”, which is considered a pejorative) are also counted as PoC and I decided to include Armenians as PoC, but it really depends on which Armenian you ask, some identify as Middle Eastern, while others identify as white. When determining if there’s a person of colour in the band, I looked at the lineup. There are some cases where there are studio musicians and I take a note of any that I found on the credits/personnel lists available on Wikipedia.

**The country one can be tricky in the cases where there are band members from more than one country or one of the band members immigrated: like Jimi Hendrix, Foreigner, or Fleetwood Mac. These kinds of bands will be listed UK/USA and will have their own category. The Van Halen brothers were born in the Netherlands, but they immigrated to the US at a young age so for our purposes, Van Halen are American. America, formed in the UK by a group of American military brats are classified UK/USA for our purposes.

What do I want to find out by documenting all this information? The answers to these questions, which I’ll answer in this blog post:

  • Which bands are played the most often?
  • What is the oldest song on the playlist?
  • What is the newest song on the playlist?
  • Which decade is most represented?
  • How many musicians of colour played on songs played on these stations?
  • What percentage songs are by PoC or bands with PoC members?
  • What role do PoC band members play the most? Are they the star of the show or behind the scenes?
  • What is the percentage of songs by women?
  • What countries are the bands from?
  • Are most of these English speaking countries?
  • Is this playlist more American or more British?

Here’s an infographic I made answering why diversity in playlists is important and outlining the issue.

I am calling out this issue not because I hate the industry, but because I want it to be better. Consider this constructive criticism. You constructively criticise something because you want it to be better. I used to do radio when I was in university and I loved hosting my own show. My original goal in life was to be a classic rock DJ, but life had other plans for me. The main issues with classic rock radio are:

  1. Lack of ethnic diversity in playlists
  2. Few female artists played
  3. Poor representation of women and sexist, objectifying men’s club culture in classic rock radio. Lack of female DJs
  4. Stations play the same songs all the time and don’t play many deep cuts or rarities – a lack of variety in this way too.
  5. Forgotten eras: no music from the 50s or early 60s played.

People of all ethnic backgrounds were in classic rock from the beginning and the limited representation of classic rock radio stations doesn’t paint an honest picture of what classic rock really is. Fans deserve to hear the whole scope of classic rock so they can know its history better.

These questions are what I plan to answer in this blog post. I’ll accompany these statistics with some words, facts, and figures and I’ll include captions of the statistics in the infographics for accessibility.

WLUP: The Loop

Like any classic rock station, they music is heavily 70s and 80s and more hard rock. Almost no 60s music and quite a few 90s songs.

Here’s a breakdown of the years the songs are from in a bar chart form:

Here’s some facts and figures about the oldest song, newest song, average year, most common years, and most played musicians:

  • Oldest song: “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” – The Rolling Stones
  • Newest song: “Turn The Page” – Metallica
  • Average release year: 1980/1981
  • 12 songs from the 60s, 131 songs from the 70s, 130 songs from the 80s, and 39 songs from the 90s
  • Most popular years: 1978 (27 songs), 1976 (24 songs), 1980 and 1981 (21 songs)
  • Most played musicians: Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and Van Halen

Quick overview of numbers:

After going through all the songs played in one day on the radio station, I came up with these numbers:

38 Songs with Asian Musicians – ~12.2%

17 Songs with Black Musicians – ~5.4%

10 Songs with Hispanic Musicians – ~3.2%

11 Songs with Romani Musicians – ~3.5% (and they’re all Led Zeppelin songs)

6 Songs with Native American Musicians – ~1.9% (only Motley Crue songs, Vince Neil is mixed Hispanic/Native American)

76 total songs with PoC musicians out of 312 songs total – ~24.3%

8 songs with female musicians – ~2.5%

28 songs with LGBT band members ~9%

Below is a pie chart to help you visualise the breakdown of musicians played by ethnic group.

226 songs were played in total on 19 August 2020.

Musicians of Colour:

  1. James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins – guitar) – Japanese-American
  2. Freddie Mercury (Queen – vocals) – Indian
  3. L. Shankar (Phil Collins – session violinist) – Indian
  4. Sib Hashian (Boston – drummer) – Armenian-American
  5. Kirk Hammett (Metallica – guitar) – Filipino-American
  6. Kim Thayil (Soundgarden – guitar) – Indian-American
  7. Eddie Van Halen (Van Halen – guitar) – Dutch-Indonesian
  8. Alex Van Halen (Van Halen drums) – Dutch-Indonesian
  9. Joe Strummer (lead vocals guitar) – Armenian
  10. Jeff Jones (Red Rider – bass) – Black
  11. Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy – vocals/bass) – Black-Irish
  12. Jimi Hendrix (vocals/guitar) – Black
  13. Slash (GNR – guitar) – Black-British
  14. Willie Weeks (Joe Walsh – session bass) – Black
  15. Lenny Kravitz (vocals, guitar) – Black-Jewish
  16. Jaimoe (Allman Brothers – drums) – Black
  17. Tico Torres (Bon Jovi – drums) – Hispanic
  18. Vince Neil (Motley Crue – vocals) – Hispanic/Native American
  19. Eddie Ojeda (Twisted Sister – guitarist) – Hispanic
  20. Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin – vocals) – Romani


  1. D’Arcy Wretzky (Smashing Pumpkins – bass)
  2. Christine McVie (Fleetwood Mac – keyboards)
  3. Stevie Nicks (Fleetwood Mac – vocals)
  4. Ann Wilson (Heart – vocals)
  5. Nancy Wilson (Heart – guitar)
  6. Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads – bass)

No WoC or bisexual or lesbian musicians.

LGBT musicians:

  1. Freddie Mercury (Queen – vocals/piano)
  2. David Bowie
  3. Rob Halford (Judas Priest – vocals)
  4. John Lennon (The Beatles – vocals/guitar)
  5. Pete Townshend (The Who – guitar)
  6. Kurt Cobain (Nirvana – vocals/guitar)
  7. Chuck Panozzo (Styx – bass)

Here’s an infographic on demographics of musicians played on The Loop, basically restates the information above.


As can be expected, about 98% of the songs on the playlist are by musicians from the Anglosphere. The only Dutch and German groups represented are Golden Earring and Scorpions, respectively. About 54% of the songs were by Americans and 32% were by British musicians. I’d expect American music to be dominant because Chicago is in America. Points for not just playing Rush for Canadian representation because we have some Honeymoon Suite, Loverboy, Neil Young, and Triumph.

  • 10 Australian
  • 11 Canadian
  • 5 German
  • 10 Irish
  • 2 Dutch
  • 5 British-American
  • 101 British
  • 168 American

Here’s a pie chart to visualise it better:

As I expected, there’s very little representation of non-white/mixed musicians, LGBT, and female musicians and most of the representation is a handful of musicians. As you can read on my many blog posts about these topics, there are so many more musicians who belong to these various groups besides the ones played on the radio.

After looking through the numbers, this station was the one with the worse numbers as far as representation. Not surprising since when I was listening to The Loop, it had this real boys club/sausage fest vibe. I don’t think they were trying to appeal to women, and it’s sad because women are some of the most passionate fans of classic rock. Female fans are so creative.

WDRV: The Drive

Now, we will take a look at WDRV. They have a more family friendly vibe and this is the station that my boomer relatives prefer listening to. They have a more soft rock sound to their playlist and a lot more 60s than The Loop. I love hard rock, but this station in my opinion has the better balance of classic rock subgenres. A little something for everyone. There’s a reason that this station is still on the air. Like we did for WLUP, we will be going through the playlist and seeing how diverse is it really.

Compared to The Loop, The Drive’s playlist is older with more 60s music and a high emphasis on the 70s. There’s still some 80s music, but most of it is from the early part of the decade. A few 90s songs, but not as many as The Loop.

Here’s a breakdown of the years of the songs played in a bar chart. I appreciate the even numbers since there’s a 30 year span between the oldest song and the newest song, but 1964 was such a good year for music and I want to hear more from that year, and why not some songs from before that? Sure the very early 60s were essentially the 50s, but classic rock builds on the music that came before it.

Like we did for The Loop, here’s an infographic on The Drive with some facts and figures: oldest/newest song, breakdowns of how many songs from each decade, most played bands, etc.

  • Oldest song: “All Day and All of the Night” – The Kinks
  • Newest songs: “Crazy” – Aerosmith, “You Wreck Me” and “You Know How It Feels” – Tom Petty
  • Average release year: 1977/1978
  • 27 songs from the 60s, 113 songs from the 70s, 73 songs from the 80s, and 13 songs from the 90s
  • Most popular years: 1983 (20 songs), 1973 (18 songs), and 1981 (14 songs)
  • Most played artists: Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, The Beatles, Tom Petty

Like The Loop, lots of Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith, but with more 70s leanings.

Quick overview of numbers:

Here’s a basic rundown of the numbers:

11 Songs with Asian Musicians – ~4.9%

19 Songs with Black Musicians – ~8.4%

3 Songs with Hispanic Musicians – ~1.3%

15 Songs with Romani Musicians – ~6.6%

3 Songs with Native American Musicians – ~1.3%

48 total songs with PoC musicians – 21.2%

17 songs with female musicians – ~7.5%

31 songs with LGBT band members ~13.7%

226 songs were played in total on 19 August 2020.

Here’s a pie chart showing the ethnicities of musicians played on The Drive:

Musicians of Colour:

  1. Freddie Mercury (Queen – vocals/piano) – Indian
  2. Eddie Van Halen (Van Halen – guitar) – Dutch-Indonesian
  3. Alex Van Halen (Van Halen – drums) – Dutch-Indonesian
  4. Sib Hashian (Boston – drums) – Armenian
  5. Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy – bass/vocals) – Black/Irish
  6. Jimi Hendrix (guitar/vocals) – Black
  7. Billy Preston (played on The Beatles’ Get Back – piano) – Black
  8. Michael Jackson (vocals) – Black
  9. David Williams (played on “Say Say Say” – guitar) – Black
  10. Nathan Watts (played on “Say Say Say” – bass) – Black
  11. Ricky Lawson (played on “Say Say Say” – drums) – Black
  12. Ernie Watts (played on “Say Say Say” – horns) – Black
  13. Steve Ferrone (Tom Petty – drums) – Black
  14. Jaimoe (The Allman Brothers Band – drums) – Black
  15. Slash (Guns n Roses – guitar) – Black/British
  16. David Brown (Santana – bass) – Black
  17. Andy Fraser (Free – bass) – Guyanese/British
  18. Tico Torres (Bon Jovi – drums) – Hispanic
  19. Carlos Santana (guitar) – Hispanic
  20. Jose “Chepito” Areas (Santana – percussion) – Hispanic
  21. Michael Carabello (Santana – percussion) – Hispanic
  22. Paul Martinez (Robert Plant – bass) – Hispanic
  23. Robbie Robertson (The Band – guitar) – Native American
  24. Mark Farner (Grand Funk Railroad – guitar/vocals) – Native American
  25. Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin – vocals) – Romani
  26. Denny Laine (Wings – guitar) – Romani
  27. Ronnie Wood (The Rolling Stones – guitar) – Romani

More people of colour overall. An ever so slightly smaller percentage as far as songs performed on. Once again, no women.


  1. Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane – vocals)
  2. Linda McCartney (Paul McCartney & Wings – keyboard)
  3. Stevie Nicks (Fleetwood Mac – vocals)
  4. Christine McVie (Fleetwood Mac – vocals/keyboard)
  5. Ann Wilson (Heart – vocals)
  6. Nancy Wilson (Heart – guitar)
  7. Pat Benatar
  8. Tina Weymouth  (Talking Heads – bass)
  9. Joan Jett
  10. Martha Davis (The Motels – vocals/guitar)

More women than The Loop, but far from equal. None were openly LGBT or WoC.


  1. Andy Fraser (Free – bass)
  2. Ray Davies (The Kinks – vocals/guitar)
  3. Dave Davies (The Kinks – guitar)
  4. John Lennon (The Beatles – vocals/guitar)
  5. Billy Preston (played on The Beatles’ “Get Back” – piano)
  6. Pete Townshend (The Who – guitar)
  7. Elton John
  8. David Bowie
  9. Freddie Mercury (Queen – vocals/piano)
  10. Chuck Panozzo (Styx – bass)

More LGBT representation than The Loop, but there’s a way to go. Pretty even split among gay and bi men.

Here’s an infographic that reiterates the above information:

Diversity of Classic Rock Radio Playlists WDRV Corrected


  • 7 Australian
  • 5 Canadian
  • 3 German
  • 3 Irish
  • 2 Dutch
  • 87 British
  • 12 British-American
  • 107 American

If pie charts are more your thing, see the one below:

As expected, almost all the songs were from bands from the English speaking world and the highest number being American. Points for playing “Radar Love” by Golden Earring and not just “Twilight Zone”. Once again, the only German group played were Scorpions. Ireland were once again represented by Thin Lizzy and U2 as expected (at least Thin Lizzy outnumbered U2 though, thank goodness), but at least they played “Cowboy Song”. Where’s Van Morrison and Rory Gallagher? Australia were represented not just by AC/DC, but some Men at Work, so points for that I suppose, but where’s The Easybeats, Cold Chisel, or Midnight Oil? Canada were not just represented by Rush (that’s the easy go to), but also Bryan Adams, The Band, and Bachman Turner Overdrive. Where’s April Wine, The Guess Who, and Joni Mitchell though? America is less dominant than I expected, which was interesting.

Anyway, that was my analysis of the diversity of musicians played on two classic rock stations in Chicago. Let me know if you want me to look at other cities and make this analysis a series where I look at classic rock stations around the world.

Shoutout to my friend Patrick for supporting the blog!

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