Is this what it has come down to? We are stealing programming ideas from Canada? Did I miss something but when did the lovely wasteland north of us become programming central? I mean this is the country that gave us Anne Murray, Rush and Bryan Adams (we will exempt Neil Young). There is a new programming phenomenon called Jack and it is sweeping the nation with its "We play what we want" mantra. OOH, I love the rebels but this format is as much James Dean as well, Bryan Adams.
Let's take a look at this closely, first the play what we want mantra, really? If the pride of the format is to create intentional musical genre train wrecks, like Bryan Adams into Vicki Sue Robinson into the Black Crowes into Sade, then they aren't playing what they want, they are actually playing the alternate genre - - playing what they want would be playing something coherent for the listener despite mismatched genres.
They have started likening this format to the equivalent of a random iPod shuffle. I really love that - - let's give the 800 pound gorilla lousy programmers created direct access to our airwaves. But here you see lies the irony and the short term of Jack. The iPod shuffling method on the actual apple product has a bit of a brain just like the TiVo - - how else could you explain that while on random shuffle on a plane recently? My iPod (which is stacked to the gills with 10,000 songs chosen by me of all genres) could comprehend this random bit of songs: 1985 by Bowling for Soup into I'm Going Down by Springsteen, into Dress you Up by Madonna, both songs from 1985, both artists mentioned prominently in the Bowling for Soup song. Or how about Elvis I'm left you're right she's gone into Tom Petty's cover of Baby let's play house, which eerily was the flipside of the original sun records single of the Elvis song previous which then segued into Blondie's version of Ring of fire which was originally done by Johnny Cash on Sun Records. Very bizarre, but also would make an awesome radio set.
Now, back to Jack. I thought the format might have been done by the time I finished that paragraph. I was wrong - - another one just popped up in LA and hybrids surfaced in Chicago and on KRock in NYC and there is now Doug in Detroit as well and Greater Media too must have had issues with the cost of the Jack moniker, so they have given us Ben. Why not TOM? How about Greater Media paying homage to its late president, Tom Milewski? Actually, that's not a good idea because Tom would deserve much more than an 18-month format. On sheer name in my mind, Jack wins because you have the Jack of longevity, Mr. Jack LaLanne, but most likely these Jacks will be more like the Jack Bauers of TV's 24. Because of the one-day format, except that Jack Bauer is stopping fictional terrorists while radio's Jack is holding off our corporate terrorists, need I say it, it's too good to resist, the Jackasses on Wall Street.
I applaud the creativity finally on radio's side to develop a format to hopefully keep listeners away from iPods and satellite, but this is a generic brand bandage on a gaping wound. How about we start by localizing stations, how about some local identity? And insert your city here's Jack ain't going to cut it. As a marketer, I will buy these formats, they will deliver audience for a short time, so why not reach those people before they get tired of it.
Since the groups are looking to cut revenue, I guess they can fire the PDs and music directors of these stations, since in essence they aren't necessary with the shuffle format. Oh but wait a second, they are really programming because somebody has to find two songs that don't connect. I think the hell with that, fire the PDs, hang the DJ and do all-request radio--now that would be really Jack-like. But if that was to happen and it generated ratings (which it might) nobody would be there to get the credit. The PD would have to be there to take the credit for a ratings spike on a self-proclaimed non-programmed station, just like the PD is there to avoid blame for the record label payola, the audience testing excuses and the lemming-like mentality which has led to lower ratings and declining share of the medium. Jack won't save them, nor will Hank or Bob or Ben or Otis - - all he'll do is buy a little time for our neighbors to the north to create a new format for these quick fix-seeking PDs to, dare I say it, HIJACK!.....
[Editor's note]: Watch the mailbox for our April Issue of Radio & Television Business Report Magazine, the AdBiz feature on new formats, "But Will They Buy It?. Russo is one of the interviewees.]