Why the news media can’t figure out JACK

Here’s another utterly flawed screed about the JACK format from a media columnist at Fast Company who doesn’t know anything about Radio.

Here are his basic points and why they’re all wet:

1. The idea is to replicate an iPod on shuffle and compete with Satellite Radio

Absolutely not. The idea is to give the audience what it has been asking for for years: A lot more music variety and a lot less of the same songs over and over.

A radio station cannot replicate an iPod because an iPod is all about personalization and control. The metaphor is ludicrous.

As for competing with Satellite Radio, the terrestrial version has nearly universal distribution – hundreds of millions of listeners. Satellite has…a few million. Who’s trying to compete with whom?

2. (This piece is in response to the format change at New York’s Oldies legend WCBS-FM) Wouldn’t it have made more sense to swap in the format on a station where the fan base would stay and it could be expanded?

JACK is a left turn from all other formats. Nobody is guaranteed to “stay” anywhere. Format changes are usually – if not always – traumatic. And there’s always churn. This is the nature of the beast. If we wait for the right constellation of musical stars on a station before deciding to switch its format we’ll be missing out on many, many opportunities. And that would be dumb.

3. The new JACK FM has no DJ’s

Hey, no one ever said the format or the station never would have DJ’s. It’s not uncommon to launch a new station without jocks. If you assume you make an ass out of you and me.

4. Fire the program directors with their rigid playlists, stop telling the DJ’s what to play, and depend more on personalities – not the STAR kind that Satellite Radio is attracting, but real people who love music, have eclectic taste and have the ability to find and break new bands and songs.

This, my friends, is where the writer’s head has been all along. In fact, the purpose of his writing a piece on radio at all was to vent about his own personal tastes. He wants DJ’s who love music, have eclectic tastes, and find and break new bands and songs. These are not the wishes of the broad cross-section of American radio listeners. They are the wishes of the musicologist elite. The folks who read Blender and Rolling Stone. The new music fans. The folks who go to shows. This may be you – and it may be me – but I can assure you it is not everybody. It is not even most people. And most people listen to the radio.

The writer mistakes his own agenda for the audience’s agenda. And that’s bad strategy.

There’s an old writer’s saying: Write what you know.

In this case, Fast Company didn’t.

As a long-time subscriber I expect better from this magazine, even its blog. Much better.

Time for Fast Company to hit shuffle again. “Fast” is one thing. “Knee-Jerk” is another.

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