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Radio AM to FM: April 8, 2005

Jack Wrap

If the mail I've been receiving is anything close to what the general population thinks of the new Jack-FM -- and I am certainly not claiming that it is -- then Infinity may find itself in big trouble. So far only one reader has written to say they like it; numerous letters have stated the opposite. Examples:

"Will there never be anything on the radio ever again worth listening to?"

"Take the most over played and over researched tunes from five different formats, lose the jocks (and the overhead they cause), add a few promotional drops that will be clever for about a week, run them through an iPod, hook it up to a transmitter and you get 'Jack.'"

"Jack this!"

So what's wrong? Isn't variety what people want in radio? Isn't that exactly what Jack brings back to radio?

Well, yes and no. Jack-FM is an attempt to bring back some listeners who gave up radio for music players such as iPods. And on paper, it sounds great: play 1200 songs from different formats randomly (about 1000 more than most formats; 1190 more than KRTH), just as you would find on an iPod.

But wait ... even the regular iPod holds 5000 songs; the largest holds up to 15,000. And those are songs you choose, not what some suit from Infinity chooses. Jack makes that very clear in their on-air liner that repeats ad nauseam: "We play what we want, and don't tell us what to play." In other words: screw you. Hardly the best way to attract an audience, especially when Jack runs long commercial sets ... something not to be found on an iPod.

So what to do? First and foremost, stop thinking that air personalities are useless clutter. Think about the radio station that sticks out in your mind as being the best. KHJ, KGBS, KRLA, KROQ, KMET, KNX-FM ... whatever your tastes, you probably don't remember the music they played as much as you remember the great personalities they had. Personalities are what gives listeners a bond to the station, what makes radio ... radio.

As my brother Victor told me, "I'd much rather have someone tell me what song he just played than to hear someone say 'Jack' over and over."

Music radio is so much more than music. To keep listeners, stations need to give people a reason to tune in. I can hear the songs I want on my iPod, what I can't get on my iPod is local features, news and information. Entertainment. Content between the songs. The fact that station owners think voice tracking and automated formats is a great way to cut costs -- the audience doesn't care, they say -- is exactly why people are leaving radio in droves for other entertainment sources. An iPod with commercials, repeating liners and a lame station name will not reverse the trend.

If the suits at Infinity can figure that out, they'd have a great station. More likely than not, they won't.

Sounds Familiar

Infinity isn't the only one with iPods on its mind ... ABC switched the format of WDRQ/Detroit to what is described by the station as (sound familiar?) "a packed MP3 player in shuffle mode." The name? An amazingly original "Doug-FM."

"We chose the unusual name 'Doug-FM' for the express purpose of letting listeners know how different we intend to be," station manager Steve Kosbau told Radio and Records.

Different. Hmm ... I'm going back to my satellite radio.

April Fool

The prank of the year had to be morning legend Charlie Tuna, telling his KBIGaudience last Friday that he was retiring from radio. The "retirement" was mentioned on the Channel 5 Morning News, and to add to the stunt, Tuna never owned up to it when his shift ended, sparking hundreds of calls and emails to the station, and even a few to me.

Sure enough, he was back on the air Monday. The planets are still aligned.


Copyright © 2005 Richard Wagoner and The Copley Press.

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