Classic hits is a radio format which generally includes rock and pop music from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. The term is sometimes erroneously used as a synonym for the adult hits format, but is more accurately characterized as a contemporary hybrid of the oldies and classic rock formats.
The moniker "classic hits" is believed to have its birth at WZLX Boston when consultant Gary Guthrie and First Media's Dan Mason (now president of CBS Radio) converted the station from "adult contemporary", and launched 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 station's slug line than of a tightly-focused music library shared by the stations who use the moniker. The first branching-off in the late '80s 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. Most of the 21st-century versions, however, 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, and 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, and Motown music as well. Most "classic hits" stations are heavy on music from the 1970s, with a moderate amount of music from the 1960s, and a decent amount of hits from the 1980s
Until the past few years, most classic hits stations have either leaned classic rock 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 Beatles hits. In most cases, more pop-leaning classic hits stations evolved quietly and gradually from being traditional oldies outlets.