Jack in, jack on, jack...
June 7, 2005 2:24 PM   Subscribe

"Jack FM" is taking over at radio stations across the country (and Canadia, too). They say they're just "playing what they want," but isn't it just another case of corporate appropriation of the ideas of independence and rebellion?
posted by dersins (47 comments total)
It's just researched programming dressed up as an anything goes format. They say it's like your Ipod set to shuffle, but my Ipod wouldn't have that much shitty music on it. From what I've seen, most of these stations are just oldies stations that don't go back as far as the oldies stations they're replacing.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 2:34 PM on June 7, 2005

I think the real danger of stations like Jack FM and Bob FM is that the more "chain radio stations" you have, the less there is for local flavor. It becomes harder for a band to become noticed by their local radio station, who then give it a wider audience if there are less truly local radio stations in your market.
posted by 23skidoo at 2:35 PM on June 7, 2005

The problem with the Jack format isn't that they're evil corporate rock. In my limited experience, I've found that they're actually pretty decent. It's just that other, already reasonably successful stations are switching their formats over in a short-sighted bid for relevance. There's nothing sinister about that, just sort of dumb as they drive away the niche that's keeping their dying medium afloat in the vain hope of catching onto a winner of a fad and rising to the top of the overcrowded 'background music while driving' field.
posted by Simon! at 2:35 PM on June 7, 2005

On NPR today (couldn't find a link to it) I heard it referred to as "Oldies for young people."

And it's mostly taking over oldies stations, from what I can tell.
posted by dersins at 2:38 PM on June 7, 2005

Good for Jack! Playing what he wants! Sticking it to the man! Give'em hell!
posted by 4easypayments at 2:39 PM on June 7, 2005

I had signed up for something or other when it first began, and enjoyed the local Jack affiliate for about a month before losing interest. Several months later, a nice lady called me explaining she was taking some sort of poll, and wanting my opinion of Jack FM.

I told her I stopped listening months ago, because Jack FM plays what IT wants to play and ultimately not what I want to hear. It's all music I enjoyed in my youth, which was an amusing novelty, but I prefer listening to and supporting local artists trying to make a living today, rather than artists whose estates or recording companies are living off royalties from efforts done decades ago.

She didn't take it too well. I had her a little flustered. I don't think my response was anywhere in her script.
posted by ZachsMind at 2:42 PM on June 7, 2005

I can't believe there's anyone reading this didn't give up on commerical FM radio completely some time in the 1990's.

CBS-FM the "Oldies" station in NYC just made the switch (it's an Infinity channel).

Of course, the most depressing part: I remember my mom listening to "oldies" in, say 1980. Those oldies were mostly mid-late 1950's rock. Now it's 2005. The analogous oldies = Elvis Costello and the Attractions. G-d that's depressing!
posted by ParisParamus at 2:48 PM on June 7, 2005

In Colorado Jack is at 105.5 on the FM Dial. Until I read this post, I believed their tag line that "they're locally owned and operated" which may be true to some extent, but I didn't realize they were part of a national Clear Channel-like group. Meh.
posted by jazon at 2:48 PM on June 7, 2005

I have mixed feelings about Jack, which replaced a long-standing oldies station in the Baltimore market. On the one hand, I like the music-- rock and pop, '70s through '90s. Can't really go wrong. Plus, the ratio of music-to-commercials is one of the best I've ever heard. But on the other hand, listening to the radio and just hearing endless music interspersed with canned station IDs, with no traffic, weather, DJ banter, requests... it's a weird, sterile sort of fake radio.
posted by Faint of Butt at 2:49 PM on June 7, 2005

Corporate strategy. A lot like viral marketing. It seems cool at first and then it makes you feel dirty and you scrub and scrub but nothing helps. And then you're so raw and sore you jump at the next new thing that offers and sense of hope and a change (or a coke and a smile).
posted by OmieWise at 2:49 PM on June 7, 2005

We loved Jack when it came to Kansas City until my girlfriend bought a car that came with a year of Sirius satellite radio. Now the limited selection (and ads) of broadcast radio just don't work for us anymore. Now I only wish they'd merge with XM so we can get the Bob Edwards show too...
posted by Gimpson at 2:50 PM on June 7, 2005

We have jack here in Seattle (96.5), I don't have any problems with it, I mean I listen to the radio to hear music I like, sometimes it's on jack, sometimes not, good thing my radio has these little buttons to let me change the station if a song comes on I don't like.
posted by patrickje at 2:54 PM on June 7, 2005

but isn't it just another case of corporate appropriation of the ideas of independence and rebellion?

Corporate strategy. A lot like viral marketing. It seems cool at first and then it makes you feel dirty and you scrub and scrub but nothing helps.

It's a radio station. It tries to get the most listeners. It plays songs. You listen. You either like what they play or you don't. This is what all radio stations do. It's not some nefarious corporate plot.

(btw, in Detroit it's "Doug-FM.")
posted by pardonyou? at 3:00 PM on June 7, 2005

A friend of mine said, "YOU HAVE TO CHECK OUT THIS NEW STATION!" while I was riding in his car. He clicked over to Jack FM and Barry Manilow started blaring out. Ugh.

Why on earth would you listen to a radio station where you like one-third of the music, don't care about another third, and hate the last third? I have not listened to that station in my car or home ever. This is a terrible idea, terribly executed.
posted by urlnotfound at 3:26 PM on June 7, 2005

It's kinda like freeform radio for people who hate surprises.
posted by eatitlive at 3:33 PM on June 7, 2005

Good for Jack! Playing what he wants! Sticking it to the man! Give'em hell!
Until you realize this is not just your city’s station...
[sigh] i miss my pre-infinity broadcasting kroq, rock of the 80’s

Barry Manilow started blaring out. Ugh.
They did make the claim they playing everything but reggae. This is in Dallas, TX so they may as well add country, rarely played. Thought I was in for a long haul of “stair way to heaven” living here, not country...my Ugh!
posted by thomcatspike at 3:39 PM on June 7, 2005

In Vancouver, BC JACKFM took over a local soft rock station that kinda sucked. Jack is now the only station I listen to when i'm in my car if i'm not checking the traffic on the news/traffic station.

The only other time I listen to the radio is at home, and i've foregone a traditional radio for a Squeezebox connected to RadioParadise or my own MP3 connection. RadioParadise seems to have a playlist that fits my listening taste almost perfectly, i'm just annoyed I can't get it in my car.
posted by Snowflake at 3:55 PM on June 7, 2005

[sigh] i miss my pre-infinity broadcasting kroq, rock of the 80’s

You mean when it wasn't just Linkin Park, the White Stripes and Coldplay? Like when Poorman, Dick Blade, et al actually gave a shit?

I remember those days. Too bad they ended when Nirvana came out. =/
posted by AspectRatio at 3:59 PM on June 7, 2005

In San Diego, you can actually pick up two Jack stations, since we also get some LA radio. As near as I can tell, they play anything, so long as it's crap.

I don't know why they bothered, since San Diego has 94.9FM, which actually is the very thing Jack pretends to be. Speaking of which, 94.9's big sonic chill is the best radio I've ever heard. I will leave my wife if Anya will have me.
posted by iron chef morimoto at 4:03 PM on June 7, 2005

Also, Halloran is the most worthless fucknut to ever speak into a microphone, in any capacity, anywhere, ever. That is all.
posted by iron chef morimoto at 4:22 PM on June 7, 2005

Whenever I, find myself listening to FM radio (in someone else's car, for example), I feel like I'm in a Waldgreens drug store in Las Vegas....how fucking soulless.
posted by ParisParamus at 4:23 PM on June 7, 2005

I blogged this several weeks back. Jack, and the other formats like Bob, Ben, or Alice, are all imitating -- from what I can tell -- one of the more successful satellite radio channels, XM 44, which they call "Fred". (Other channels are named Ethel and Lucy.) The billing is an audio history of music, at least from the punk era onwards, with a big swerve past anything overly disco, pop, hair band, and so forth. From listening to it in my friends' cars, the library has to be in the thousands or tens of thousands -- and there's a sophisticated algorithm behind it, which seems to be good at selecting songs from e.g. related bands but different eras; I'm not entirely convinced the playlists don't get massaged by a human, much the way I tweak my iTunes Party Shuffle by deleting or promoting individual tracks before they get played. There are announcers, but they're stylistically anonymous.

It's definitely a long tail approach, and I've heard -- I think there was even an NYT article about it -- that people sign up for XM just to get Fred. Naturally it appeals to a certain demographic (XM customers are likely affluent and early middled aged children of the 80s). Fred definitely plays music that was only heard on dance floors or college radio, in addition to more mainstream alternative and indie fare. I don't think Jack gets anywhere near that kind of depth. On the other hand, Jack is definitely an improvement over the same 200 songs all day. It may be much less capable of surprise, and I'm skeptical of the Jack philosophy of encouraging "train wrecks" which Fred seems by contrast programmed to avoid, but the randomness does have similarity to the Shuffle mode that's suddenly the latest thing.
posted by dhartung at 4:43 PM on June 7, 2005

I started listening to NPR/PBS years ago because I couldn't stand hearing the same damn songs over and over again.

Now I can't stand hearing the same damn news over and over!!! I've gotten to the point where I listen to Mexican channels just to hear something different.

"Corporate Rock Still Sucks." SST circa 1990
posted by snsranch at 4:43 PM on June 7, 2005

the randomness does have similarity to the Shuffle mode that's suddenly the latest thing.

The shuffle fad kills me. Every single CD player I've ever had (2) has had a Shuffle mode, including the 100-CD version I got in 1994.

The big difference between Jack and your MP3 player/CD player shuffle is that every single song on Jack has paid to be there in some way.

Wow. I loved that site that popped up a Flash site, in which every link on the Flash site popped open another new window. Great design.

Btw, I recently had a chance to try XM for a weekend, and I was severely disappointed. Where's the weird stuff?
posted by mrgrimm at 5:01 PM on June 7, 2005

two words, and I'm sorry if they've already been said....

But it's not "Jack", it is, quite simply....

Classic Pop
posted by wah at 5:30 PM on June 7, 2005

Classic Pop

And what, pray tell, is wrong with Classic Pop? It's like eating Mallomars or Boo-Berry cereal. Sure, it's junk, but it's nostalgic retro junk.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:56 PM on June 7, 2005

If it's so much like an iPod on shuffle, why the frak would anyone who owns an iPod (or similar device) -- uh, like most people who really really like music -- ever want to listen to it?

Or any other radio station, for that matter?

Says the guy who is right now enjoying his iPod shuffling (currently Red Jerry's "Into The Dawn"... woops, now my buddy Brian T's band Ball doing "Backslide" - neither of which you'll EVER find on the radio) and is very happy that there's no commercials.

Radio is basically dead to me except for traffic reports and a bit of LA's Indie 103.1 now and then these days. There's just nothing on there that I want to hear that isn't already in my Ipod, and everything else is, well, stuff I don't want to hear really.

Corporate consolidation, whatever. If they're replacing Oldies stations, fine. Oldies stations have built-in audience attrition, not to put too fine a point on it. I think the only Americans who are really still listening to radio for music are either people without much discerning taste (folks who like Clear Channel stations or stuff like Jack - basically, background soundtrack for life) or people with exceptionally discerning taste who listen to niche channels for jazz or classical or some other highly specific genre. Just my opinion of course. :)
posted by zoogleplex at 6:03 PM on June 7, 2005

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with Classic Pop, I'm just saying that's the name of the format.

None of this 'Jack' crap is necessary. Just call it what it is.
posted by wah at 6:33 PM on June 7, 2005

It's necessary if you're trying to fool people into thinking that it's something new, hip, fresh and rebellious.

Which it's not.
posted by zoogleplex at 6:45 PM on June 7, 2005

*works for large corporate radio cluster*

Jack format allows radio stations to move from a 200 song playlist to a 1000 song playlist. Remember:
Time spent listening and cumulative listeners are the two most important, golden, glorious things a radio station can have.

If your station plays the "news and traffic" game, the TSL is very low. People tune in for 15 minutes and switch stations. But the cume is VERY high.
I represent an "active rock" station. We're unique to our market, so our TSL is very high. People stay locked on for hours at a time. However, only a very particular type of people listen to our station. (Low cume).

Jack format excels at swamping both the TSL and the cume. It is a way of showing the clients, "See? Our listeners tune in for a very long time (they'll hear your ads at least three times) and we have the MOST listeners (your ads will reach a broad audience). We don't just specialize in one demographic, people ages 18-54 love our station."
Jack is the end of traditional radio format. Unfortunately, Jack stations cannot create rabid listeners and loyal fans. If two Jack stations enter one market, they'll split the bill. Essentially, you should look forward to at least one ClearChannel Jack in every middle to large market, and possibly one independently owned Jack in every small market.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:35 PM on June 7, 2005

Oh and, BTW:

zoogleplex: Indie 103.1 is owned by Entravision. How very, very indie.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:38 PM on June 7, 2005

Well, if a few years of iPods have done this, maybe the future will completely run music radio into the ground!!!!!!!
posted by ParisParamus at 8:15 PM on June 7, 2005

This just started here in Madison, but instead they call it Charlie. "We Play Everything," they claim. Unfortunately, it comes off more as a graveyard where the crap music you never wanted to hear again goes to die.
posted by schmedeman at 8:17 PM on June 7, 2005

Today's NPR piece on Jack is now available online if you'd like a 4 minute audio summary without all of that fancy readin'.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 8:32 PM on June 7, 2005

On memorial day, I went to a friend's place for a cook-out (my third that weekend, FWIW). It was a communal type of affair at his apartment complex and while the crowd was pretty diverse, the music was not quite so eclectic. As we waited for the brats and burgers to grill, a few different people took turns putting on their CDs. Kanye West, some Marley & various Reggae, and then some modern/alternative/whatever-you-want-to-call-it rock. I'm a pretty big music snob myself, but I like listening to what other people play, provided it's other people playing it, and not a robot DJ on the payroll of some ClearChannel-esque conglomerate. Even then, I can tolerate the idea that some people are just programmed differently than I am, and that hearing the same song 100 times a week is not the same kind of torture it would be for me. But I'll tell you what really gets on my nerves is when the station tries to buddy up with their listeners.

I think the most egregious example of this in Chicago is the classic rock station 97.1 (The "Drive"). There's a series of ads that get played before certain artists' songs, and they go something like this:
In the 1960's, the Beatles changed music, but they also changed something else...(dramatic pause)...The World! It was a crazy-ass time, and the Beatles were our far-out ambassadors to the future world of groovy sounds. They were a part of your life, and a part of ours too. Nobody knew the 60's like the Beatles, and nobody knows The Beatles like The Drive...
Uh huh... Now, I'm not disputing that The Beatles played a pretty damn big role in a lot of people's lives in the 60's, but what pisses me off is that "The Drive" is trying to come off like some long lost stoner pal that you never knew you had. Flashback 1968... Me, Julie and "The Drive" are eating Sunshine Acid in the back of TD's pickup truck and watching the moon rise over Lake Michigan while "Wild Honey Pie" plays in the background. Suddenly, I realized that the whole galaxy was moving through space, and every moment was unique. Man, I'll never forget those days, and I'll never forget "The Drive!"

Anyway, after I finished with the burgers, I had to use the bathroom, so I got someone on the first floor to let me into their apartment. On the way out he asked if I smoked up, which I do, so we did. I took it pretty easy when it was my turn, cause experience has taught me that most other people have a lot higher tolerance than I do, and a lot better shit, too. We went outside and played football for awhile, which was good, cause my mind was racing from the pot, and I would have been a conversational liability. But I was good for throwing spirals. After awhile of this, and a bit more meat, I got a phone call. My girlfriend needed me to come pick her up way across town, and no two ways about it. With the holiday traffic, this was looking to be a long, shitty drive. It had been an hour or two since I smoked and I was pretty well straight at this point, so I got in my car and joined the gridlock on the freeway. I was still feeling a little jumpy, so I searched the FM dial for something to ease my mind. AC/DC, Frampton, Creed. Damn! Finally I switched to the 2nd set of presets and checked out some slightly more left of the dial stations. News... Techno... Jazz! Perfect... But, what's with the guy talking over it? Court Martials? Deportation? Sodomy!? Regardless, I was absolutely transfixed. I listened to the station until the signal died out, and for a moment or two I thought of parking the car until the show was over. But I figured I'd look it up on the net later.

Turns out I had been listening to a documentary called "A Real Marine: No Place to Serve" about the attempted deportation of a Hatian-American Marine returning from Iraq. (You can listen to it on the Net, in a variety of formats cause non-commerical radio is cool like that.) Now I don't care how "Jack"-ed up your playlist is, and how thoroughly it gets "shuffled," because sometimes I just need to hear something that I would never have chosen myself. And for providing me with that, I am in your debt, college radio. No matter how much atonal drone-rock you play.
posted by idontlikewords at 9:09 PM on June 7, 2005

There was an article in The Stranger (Seattle's alt-weekly) in which the station director for Jack said (with no hint of irony) that the format assumes people "are bored with overly researched, overly focused radio"

The format was developed by Paragon Media Strategies (warning: flash hell). It's just as "overly researched" and "overly focused" as any other radio format, of course.
posted by O9scar at 9:22 PM on June 7, 2005

every single song on Jack has paid to be there in some way.

If this is true, then I can testify that the Pretenders (or the owners of their back catalogue) have paid quite a lot of coin, at least here in Calgary, "Canadia." Because every time I tune into our local Jack affiliate, it's either that ubiquitous laconic-stoner voice that also does dozens of ad voice-overs and the odd movie trailer saying "Playing . . . What We Want," or it's some awful slice of '80s synth-pop, or it's the Pretenders.

On the plus side, this means that sometimes when I'm sick of the dozen mix CDs in the car's door pocket and the college station's playing stuff too tuneless or heavy to take the edge off the traffic and Q107's playing Pink Floyd's "Money" yet again - well, then, sometimes there's a Pretenders song to listen to.

On the downside, once "Brass in Pocket" is over, I'm left alone in my little car with the sour taste of knowing that "Playing . . . What We Want" means "Playing . . . What We Meticulously Focus-Grouped To Be The Pop Songs Recorded From 1978 To 1990 With The Highest Probability Of Not Causing Some Thirtysomething Guy In His Civic To Immediately Flip To Another Station In Disgust," and the Pretenders scored very high in those focus-group sessions, and I've been subsumed into the great vacuous hivemind that is the Focus-Group Industrial Complex, if only for a couple of minutes.
posted by gompa at 10:34 PM on June 7, 2005

posted by cytherea at 10:34 PM on June 7, 2005

They just play top 40 stuff from the last two decades. I don't mind listening to it, but the whole fake "we don't care what you want, we're playing what we want" always has annoyed me.
posted by orange swan at 5:33 AM on June 8, 2005

the above sounds like a jake(sic) in a box ad
posted by thomcatspike at 9:28 AM on June 8, 2005

Sometimes it's good to be the DJ and then there are
requests. Poor ones. Bad ones. That's why, when I'm asked to play a certain song, I also tell the requestor that
I'll see if I can fit it in. If it's a really really really bad request and I am tipped heavily or begged....I warn the listening audience waaaaaay in advance.
posted by doctorschlock at 9:28 AM on June 8, 2005

babybalrog: "zoogleplex: Indie 103.1 is owned by Entravision. How very, very indie."

Well, they play some interesting music that I haven't heard much. At least the format is sort of different. Anyway, I never claimed the station was any better than any other, or somehow independently owned.

My favorite radio now is zoogleplex's iPod on Shuffle, which constitutes about 98% of my music listening.
posted by zoogleplex at 10:40 AM on June 8, 2005

I listen to Jack here in Calgary for about 40 minutes a day will driving into/outof work. The sole reason: I can listen for weeks and never hear the same song twice; that I can recall. Contrast with my wife's station where it's not unusual to hear the same song in the morning and the afternoon. And we're only talking about maybe three songs on either station each way once you factor in the traffic and weather which is the only reason I'm listening to the radio rather than the MP3 changer under the seat.

I'd listen to Dead God on a Stick Disco if it was the only station I could avoid hearing the same song twice in one day without the sillyness that is talk radio.
posted by Mitheral at 12:34 PM on June 8, 2005

College radio.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:02 PM on June 8, 2005

"On the downside, once "Brass in Pocket" is over, I'm left alone in my little car with the sour taste of knowing that "Playing . . . What We Want" means "Playing . . . What We Meticulously Focus-Grouped To Be The Pop Songs Recorded From 1978 To 1990 With The Highest Probability Of Not Causing Some Thirtysomething Guy In His Civic To Immediately Flip To Another Station In Disgust," and the Pretenders scored very high in those focus-group sessions, and I've been subsumed into the great vacuous hivemind that is the Focus-Group Industrial Complex, if only for a couple of minutes."

It's like the aural equivalent of Pottery Barn, no?
posted by ParisParamus at 2:15 PM on June 8, 2005

I knew Bob wasn't as cool as he claimed to be when he had the gall to play the version of House of the Rising Sun with the organ solo cut out.
posted by picea at 4:24 PM on June 8, 2005

I've heard one can just download mp3s from Usenet, or record from shoutcast, or scarf stuff off gnutella, all for free.
posted by davy at 5:49 PM on June 9, 2005

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