An interesting story about the Jack radio format

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a story today about the Jack radio format. Essentially, it’s about expanding the playlist from 300 songs (which seems to me a generous estimate in the case of some St. Louis stations) to 1,000 or more.

I think it’s about time.

Think about anyone you know who has a good record collection. I’m pretty sure I own more than 300 albums, mostly on CD, and I don’t consider my collection to be particularly large, although my wife may disagree with me. To me, 1,000 is the magic number for a collection to be considered “large,” and think about the number of songs that might be on it. Sure, there’ll be some in that collection, inevitably, that only have one good song on it. But there are some great albums that have 10 or more listenable tracks on them.

Another way to look at the Jack format: It imitates the MP3 player experience. You can build narrowly defined playlists by genre and era, but most people don’t. They have hundreds or thousands of songs they like and just let their player or phone play them at random.

Instead of playing just one song by Nirvana, we’ll play 30

Choice quote from the article: “Instead of playing just one song by Nirvana, now we’ll play 30.”

Well, the reason I got sick of Nirvana in the ’90s was because radio stations played “Come As You Are” and “All Apologies” over and over again. They were good songs the first time I heard them, but when I heard them on my way to work or school, and on my way home, and probably on my lunch break or that night, if not both, they got old. Nirvana’s career wasn’t all that long, but between their studio albums and their rarities and their contributions to compilation albums, they probably did record 30 songs worth playing again.

What is “alternative?”

Of course, the big problem with radio today is in the first line of the article: “The choking sound you heard last week was Slipknot fans gagging on their Red Bull. The Point (KPNT-FM, 105.7) – home to the loudest, angriest bands in alternative music – played the precious ’80s band Depeche Mode.”

I was in St. Louis in February 1993. Back then, 105.7 was the station we tuned in to when the other stations were playing commercials. Word had gotten out that it was going to change formats. I don’t remember precisely what day it launched, other than the month, but I know I was tuning in on my drive home. It played what we called at the time “Mainstream Alternative”–a somewhat contradictory term that vaguely meant you could expect to hear about half of the bands that were on that year’s Lollapalooza tour in rotation.

I’m pretty sure Depeche Mode was never in Lollapalooza, but there was a time when Mode was a staple on that station. And while they’re not loud like Slipknot, they’re just as disinfranchised. Don’t believe me? Take a listen to “Blasphemous Rumours” sometime.

The benefit of longer playlists

I’m glad to see this trend, frankly. Throughout high school and college I changed my preferred radio format almost yearly, and now that I think about it, usually when I switched it was because I was tired of the playlist, rather than being tired of the format.

Let’s hope this trend sticks around. Who knows, we may end up discovering some new music, and some of it may only be new to us.

One thought on “An interesting story about the Jack radio format

  • January 7, 2006 at 9:00 pm
    Permalink

    Well, Kinda…

    We’ve had a "Jack" here for about eight months now. At first the format’s rather good. It took about three weeks before it drove me nuts.

    There’s no local content. No one to call and ask "hey, who played that song?" No one to give the time of day, or the news of the day, or the weather, or … anything.

    Sure, there are other stations that do that stuff. But I don’t have radio pre-set on anything other than my car…

    Put it this way – back when Katrina came through, all of the local radio stations got together to do some fundraising. Jack put two people out there with a microphone. No one believed they were working for Jack, since they hadn’t been on the air or anything.

    Dunno about you, but I’m willing to support local programming, local ownership, and local jobs whenever possible. YMMV…

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