Why I Don’t Like the “Jack” Radio Format

Just this week a radio station changed from an “oldies” format to this so-called new format known as “Jack.”

Seems the radio stations are a bit scared by iPods. Scared enough, it seems, to affect some small changes to their formats: They now brag about having larger song collections and talk highly about moments when the songs “don’t quite mesh together,” whatever that means. And, of course, this talk about how they do “play whatever they want.”

Which is a bunch of bullshit. It is so for the following reasons:

  1. It’s an oldies format. Just because it includes songs that didn’t make it in the top five in Casey Casem’s pop charts doesn’t make it anything other than an oldie’s format.
  2. These stations condescend. Yes, I know it’s supposed to be attitude, but it’s so obviously canned that it comes off as condescension. If I wanted to be talked down to, I’d listen to extreme right-wing talk radio try to explain why I should commit Seppuku for not being right-wing enough to agree with them.
  3. It’s ingrained bias against the present. Sure, it has a wider selection of songs than your average present-day radio station, but as an oldies format it still denigrates the present. Worse yet, this format makes an attempt to deny that fact.

The sad thing is, every other station seems to feel the need to take on the “Jack attitude.” Even stations known for following their own muse have glommed onto this form of condescension.

It’s time this bullshit stopped. And here’s my thoughts on how it must stop:

Everyone knows (or should know) that there are three aspects about everyone’s musical tastes:

  1. What we know we like
  2. What we know we don’t like, and
  3. What we might like

The third one is crucial. If all we had were what we liked and what we didn’t like, there would be no need for radios; all we would need is MP3’s, CDs and Cassettes. However, there’s always the possibility for the true music fan that they’ll find a new song or genre they like, either by discovery or investigation.

And that’s where iPods come short. It’s good in playing the stuff you like (including that stuff you sort of remember you liked but had forgotten until a radio station played it during that drive to work) and without equal in not having the stuff you don’t like (since you can remove anything disliked from it); but there is no way for an iPod to know what you MIGHT like, or to even begin to search for songs you might like. The computer the iPod is hooked up to might, your favorite record store should be able to, and a good radio station will do so on a consistent basis; but the iPod CAN’T!

If these “Jack” stations want to be cool, they should try playing different artists and different songs. If you want to play Metallica, you should also be prepared to hunt down and play Fatal Order, or some other local band that plays metal. You want to play pop, find and play Saint Etienne or Over The Rhine. And while we’re at it, why not play deeper cuts from the CDs you got? Nothing bugs me more than hearing the same song or two every time I turn on the radio.

Indeed, these would make sense for ANY radio station that plays music. After all, why should only those people lucky enough to be near a college station have a local radio station that introduces them to new and local bands on a regular basis?

Yes, I know – we have the Internet with all its “riches.” The good of the radio is this: I don’t need to have a computer on to hear a new song on the radio. I can listen to the radio going to work, at work, and lying around at the end of the day. Plus I have a good chance of liking the new stuff that comes from the station because I like the station and many of the songs on it. And if I DON’T like the new song, that’s another piece of information I know.

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