Here Comes the JACK Jihad

A No-Nonsense Marketing Smart Tip September 2, 2004

Start your timers. Twelve months from now there will be a JACK station (or one of its format kin) in every sizable market in the country. What is JACK, you ask? Call Garry Wall at 615-371-1633 or give a listen to Dallas’s JACK and hear for yourself. This article isn’t about the DNA of JACK. It’s about how the DNA of our mindset can be all wrong.

The Rules Can be Wrong

Garry describes JACK as “a format of train wrecks.” Indeed, a consistent inconsistency is one of its hallmarks. But this flies in the face of format convention – especially in the AC world. “The songs don’t fit together,” we conclude, as if “songs fitting together” was the only way listeners evaluate what they want to listen to. Hey, there’s another format full of songs that don’t fit together, sonic train-wrecks galore. It’s called CHR.

So have we been wrong about consistency all this time? Of course not. Not all wrong, no. But not all right either. The fact is, there are other ways to design our stations than the simple, shallow playlisted, consistent sounding mental model we’ve been guided by to date. Unless we’re open to new and threatening ideas, we will miss out on opportunities and stand by as JACK and his buds have their way with us.

It’s Not Just a Format

We would be mistaken to imagine that JACK is simply a format. Like AAA, it’s really a worldview. JACK is about “abundance” (the more good stuff we play, the happier the audience will be) while most formats are about “scarcity” (the less good stuff we play, the happier the audience will be). Again, neither mindset is wrong – but neither is universally right. The corner on truth, it turns out, is a lonely place indeed. Is JACK destined to be a fad? Will it only work in Canada? Yes. Just like Howard Stern will only work in New York..er.. only on the East Coast..er.. only in the big markets..er.. anywhere and everywhere. The naysayers were wrong then, and they’re wrong now.

Further, JACK is a BRAND built from the inside out, not a music mix with a positioning statement grafted on. JACK offers a tangible benefit, vivid uniqueness, and a crafty character that illustrates the way textbook branding needs to be done.

One Format or Many?

Because JACK is really a mindset, there’s nothing to stop us from applying that new mindset to other formats and inventing new combinations on old format themes.

Where, for example, is the Urban version of JACK? The Rock version? What’s to keep an AC from featuring a JACK-style weekend? Or a JACK-style lunch show? It’s time to let this JACK out of the box and with it some conventional wisdom.

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