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Fearful that they are losing audience to satellite radio and iPods, some radio stations have decided that they have to try something new. The “new” they’re deciding on is a new format called “Jack”.
Jack stations are music stations. They don’t play narrow genres like classic rock, oldies, or rap. They play “hit songs” from many genres from the 1960s through the present (they say they play “all” genres, which is true, if we pretend that rap isn’t a genre). They also cut back on DJs, ads, contests, and other random crap. The proponents of this format zealously proclaim that new research shows that the audience likes music! And variety! And they are just responding to that.
When I saw the TV ad for a local Jack station, with the tagline “we play what we want”, I thought I’d give it a listen. Unfortunately, they apparently like playing crap. No music revolution here. The Clash, Billy Joel, and Madonna all on one station? Break out the No-Doze, we’re dancin’ till dawn!
This trend fascinates me. The name of the format seems to come from the video game You Don’t Know Jack, which was vaguely edgy back in 1995 (Media professionals have their fingers firmly on the pulse of people in decade-long comas). The “Jack” concept does not have to use that name, however. Philadelphia now has a Ben station, presumably based upon famous Philadelphian Benjamin Franklin. And Champaign-Urbana has The Chief (which Mediageek tells us refers to the racist “Indian” mascot of a local college).
I’ve always been baffled by radio change-overs. I remember several times as a kid when a local station would abruptly change name and format, with zero warning to the listeners. You always had to wonder who decided it would be a good idea to abandon the entire fanbase and audience in hopes of building up the new station to something even more popular. You can actually read the tearful complaints of fans of San Diego’s Star FM, which recently turned into a Jack.
(I have to step in and say that Star was a fucking abomination, the epitome of what I call “iceberg lettuce pop.” Terrible music so soft and bland that your boss wouldn’t mind you playing it quietly in your cubicle at work. The people I knew who liked Star seemed utterly without passion, curiousity or creative impulses. I dislike Jack, but Star made me want to dunk my head in lava)
Also, I am fascinated by the fact that stations are throwing in with this idea with no idea if it will work. They say “the audience wants more music and variety!” But as that last link shows, there is no single audience. Some people want music and variety. Some people want radio personality banter to become part of their daily routine. Some people want right-wing ranting, some people want news, some people want sports talk. Hell, some poor souls even want smooth jazz.
What I’m saying is that anyone who says that their station went to the Jack format because “that’s what the audience wants” is a jackass or a PR spokesperson.
But the absolute most shocking thing to me is that if you own a radio station and want to switch to the Jack format, you must “buy the license for the format from Bohn & Associates Media in Vancouver.”
Yes, for the “innovative” concept of “more genres, less DJs”, you’ve got to pay money to the “creators” of said innovative concept. Well, I guess you also get the Jack name and the Jack catchphrase “we play what we want”, which puts me in mind of a seven-year old taking his baseball home so no one else can play.
Just another reminder that corporate radio still sucks.
I’d recommend any of the stations and shows listed on the right-side of this blog under “Sonic Resistance”, if you want some radio that’s not the same old boring shite. You might even learn something.