In the latest issue of Esquire, musician John Mayer talks about Jack-FM:

Imagine a place on the dial that interviews you and your friends, asks what songs you like, and then plays them one after another. Almost no DJs, few commercials and lots of songs you forgot you loved. It’s radio turned inside out.

I guess Mayer and his pals’ “favorite songs” are limited to the top 10 songs of the last 20 years.
“Radio turned inside out?” [muffled laugh]
Now go sit down and listen to some more Frampton, John.


In The Media Comments Off
Jun 062005

This weekend, Chicago’s oldies station switched formats. WJMK-FM is now running a format called “Jack,” with the slogan “Playing what we want.”
The sound you just heard was a target demographic yawning.
I read an interview with the program director of one of the Chicago stations which is already running one of the “whatever we want” formats. He said he “got the idea” for the format from sitting in a bar and listening to the variety coming out of the jukebox. Never mind the fact that the concepts of “Jack” and “Nine” have been circling in radio program directors’ circles for years. WJMK’s owners (Infinity) got the idea from an internet-radio station out of Vancouver that licenses the “Jack” format to other stations. This is their way of chasing down that 35-44 demographic.
While listening to the new “Jack” for a couple hours yesterday, I heard: “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” by Tears For Fears; “Boogie Shoes” by KC and the Sunshine Band; “Life in a Northern Town” by the Dream Academy; “Game of Love” by Santana and Michelle Branch; “Jesus is Just Alright” by the Doobie Brothers; “The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World; and “I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty.
It became clear what this format is all about: play songs from the last four decades that were overplayed when they were on the charts, then sprinkle in some current pop hits from bands like Green Day to seem cool. That way, the listener gets a lot of reeeeeaallllly familiar songs coupled with a few new ones. And if want to seem really hip, use the word “shuffle” or “random” or “iPod.”
Lisa described the format best: “Songs I Never Need to Hear Again Before I Die.”
“Jack” and “Nine” use a similar technique to what Time-Life uses to hook consumers into buying their “Tremendous Hits of the 80s” collections. The idea is to play little snippets of songs to get you to think, “Hey, that was a cool song!” and then hope that hearing that four seconds of “Cuts Like a Knife” by Bryan Adams will make you plop down $80 for a CD set you’ll listen to twice.
The difference, of course, is that these radio stations play the entire songs, and four minutes of Bryan Adams is a lifetime longer than four seconds. And while there might be some initial interest in hearing “Cuts Like a Knife” today, we’re still in that phase where the shrink wrap is just off the box. Six months from now it’s going to be a different story.
In the meantime, WJMK’s old format, DJs and all, is still available in streaming audio on the internet. The weird thing is that they’re still using jingles that refer to 104.3, the stations position on the FM dial. Also, I don’t believe the audience for the oldies format is inclined to sit in front of their computers and listen to the radio– I wasn’t a regular listener, but when I heard the station it was usually in a store or a restaurant. I suppose those establishments will jump to satellite radio now.
The best thing in all this is that once this fades, we can expect another fad to sweep the dial– maybe it’s time for disco to make a comeback.

The Mix (101.9 FM, in case you are in Chicago and unaware of where the station’s at) is running a promotion where you can win a trip to London to see Coldplay perform live.
The only snag is that the commercial for the contest starts with the opening bars of La Marseillaise, which is the French national anthem.
Edumacational media at its finest, folks.

May 202005

Check out today’s column by Robert Feder in the Sun-Times.
Yeah, beat him by two days.

May 172005

One of my favorite museums in Chicago closed last year in order to build their new home. The Museum of Broadcast Communications moved out of the Chicago Cultural Center (across from The Bean) and are preparing to move into their new space near Marina City.
Having grown up as a sort of real-life version of Martin Tupper, the MBC is the perfect place to see all sorts of childhood memories “in person.” The sets and costumes from WGN’s Bozo’s Circus are there, as are the puppets from BJ & Dirty Dragon, Cartoon Town, and Gigglesnort Hotel. A bunch of Frazier Thomas’ stuff is there, too, including his puppets and the set from Family Classics.
In addition to the TV stuff, there’s a huge collection of radio memorabilia from the “golden days.”
My friend Holly is a curator at the MBC and forwarded me the press release that’s on the next page. It’s good to see that media companies still take an interest in their past.

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May 152005

I keep seeing that commercial for an SUV where the dad walks into the room and sees his family sitting around staring at the TV. He takes the remote, turns the TV off, and tells his family to come with him. The commercial ends with everyone staring in wonderment, with mouths agape, at the night sky.
Yeah. Right. Gimme a second.
Mmphh. Hmmmpphh.. *ahem*
Okay, I’m better now. Let me tell you what scenes were cut from that commercial:
(1) The part where the kids scream at Dad for turning off the TV;
(2) The part where the wife rolls her eyes at Dad because the kids were finally quiet, in the same room, and not beating the cr*p out of each other;
(3) The part where Dad has to stop at the Shell station and find a credit card that’s not maxed out so he can buy an $85 tank of gas;
(4) The four-hour drive to a location where you can actually see stars;
(5) The part where the teenaged daughter is on her cellphone, text messaging her peeps;
(6) The part where the young son is complaining that the batteries in his Nintendo DS are burned out;
and finally:
(7) The part where Mom and Dad fall asleep because that’s what happens the instant everything is quiet.
I love it when ad people get creative, especially the ones with no grasp of the reality of family life.

In a news story first published in the Washington Post, it was reported that several TV shows’ “gadget gurus” have taken payments from the companies whose products they gush about.
Corey Greenberg, tech editor for NBC’s Today show, told The Wall Steet Journal that he has taken $15,000 each from Apple, Sony, Hewlett-Packard, Seiko Epson, Creative Technology, and others to promote their products on news shows.
NBC claims no knowledge of Greenberg’s receipt of payments, and Greenberg stated that he “never accepted payment to say nice things about a product in any venue.” The network claims to have made changes to their policy following this event.
The assumption has always been there, that the people who hawk gadgets on news shows are getting some sort of compensation, but this is the first time I’ve seen actual evidence and a dollar amount attached to it.
I think I’m ready for my new career.

Yesterday, the Chicago Tribune ran a piece on its Op-Ed page called “The ubiquity of the iPod.” Yes, it was another fluff piece about how all the white headphones we see daily are proof that the iPod is a cultural phenomenon which is changing the world, and will eventually change the way we do everything, including iPod-equipped lawnmowers so we can listen to Kelly Clarkson while keeping our suburban lawns neat.
(Okay, I made up the part about the lawnmower, but to the enterprising person who actually produces this product: my PayPal address will be provided on request.)
I won’t go line-by-line through the article, mainly because it won’t do any of us any good. Let’s just say that the author is one of those legions of people who can’t see the iPod for what it is: a Walkman with more storage space.
One point that deserves a response is that, while listening to a “podcast” from the Vatican, the writer realized that while “Rome and the Vatican were 3,000 miles away.. this small, white, diminutive device had transported me to the Sistine Chapel.”
Uhhh, ever hear of a “small, diminutive device” called a radio? And let’s be clear about something: a podcast is, by its very definition, not live. While this writer was listening to his recording of the Vatican, he missed a bunch of other stuff that was going on in the world at that moment. He may as well have been listening to coverage of President Roosevelt’s funeral from 50 years ago.
And no iPod piece would be complete without the obligitory saccharine flow: “The iPod does not know any barriers–it is universally known and accepted. The iPod represents the next great step in technology for consumers, after the Internet and the cellular phone.”
Bravo. I too see how a $300 music player has had such a tremendous impact on our society and is certainly a must-have item that’s within the reach of each and every American citizen. Uh-huh.
Don’t get me wrong: I own two iPods, and I use them daily. But I somehow manage to keep perspective about their impact on my life and the lives of people around me.
What gets me is that the Chicago Tribune devoted half a page to this piece of cotton candy. Maybe they figure the public is tired of Terri Schiavo, the Pope(s), Tom DeLay, etc. and we need to hear about something that’s good in the world. So why not print a piece about a gadget that everyone seems to want?
Plus, it’s about time someone went up and spoke out against that formidable anti-iPod lobby.
Since this is the kind of vapid self-promotion Tribune editors seem to want to publish, I’m already working on my piece for them. And maybe after I get my jollies from Googling my name out there, I’ll get free HBO

One of Chicago’s “Alternative Rock” stations, Q101, has tweaked its format; their slogan is now “Everything Alternative, Now on Shuffle.”
This is interesting on a number of fronts. First and most importantly, it’s about time someone in the radio industry acknowledged that since 1994 or so, “alternative music” was actually not alternative at all. Bands like Nirvana brought the sound from the far left end of the dial straight to the center, and radio stations popped up all over the country playing loud bands with fuzzy guitars and calling it “alternative.”
In doing so, bands like XTC, New Order, OMD, the Clash, and The Smiths many of whom had roots in the New Wave/Punk movements, weren’t really considered “alternative” or for that matter, considered at all. The only Chicago station playing them was WXRT. By adding these artists to their playlist, the long-overdue acknowledgment is finally given.
Widening the playlist, or to be more precise, saying you’re widening the playlist, seems to be the thing to do in Chicago radio these days. Since Nine FM came on the air last year with their “We Play Anything” slogan, other stations have begun to copy the concept. 101.9-The Mix now has the slogan “Today’s New Music… and Whatever We Want.”
The other interesting thing is this “Shuffle” business. Further proving how narrow the thinking goes in radio marketing, I received a questionnaire from WXRT a few weeks ago where they asked listeners what they thought of a few new slogans. One of the proposed slogans was “Chicago’s Finest Rock.. on Shuffle.” Eeegh– reading that made me cringe. I realize everyone wants to jump on the iPod bandwagon, but come on– give it a rest already: the term “Shuffle” today will sound as hip as the word “Macarena” in a couple of months.
(Side note: I find it fascinating that WXRT was considering the “Shuffle” slogan, especially since those with Apple computers can’t even hear the station streaming on the internet because WXRT’s AOL streaming software only works on Windows systems.)
Q101 jumped the start on everyone though, and I have to give them credit for that: even the graphics on their web site mimic Apple’s iPod Shuffle advertising campaign.
As for what all of this means: I have no idea. I am waiting to see if anything actually changes. On Q101 yesterday I heard “Birds Fly” by The Icicle Works, which I haven’t heard since it was on MTV, and that’s a pretty good start. Let’s see if they can keep it up.

Jan 102005

Here’s the playlist from WXRT’s all-request day on Friday.
Dig it.

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