The increasingly corporate radio industry gave diehard classic rock fans a collective slap in the face last month when Arrow 93.1, home of “the best classic rock,” switched formats and became 93.1 Jack-FM, home of “the mixed CD” or the “iPod on shuffle.”
Samantha Farless, a freshman communications major at the University of La Verne, said she was one of the many disgruntled Arrow fans surprised by the new mixture of music played on Jack-FM.
“Where are my four Led Zeppelin songs in a row?” Farless asked in reference to the new format, which blends classic rock and alternative hits that span four decades, from 1960 to today, into a wide continuum of music.
“Don’t get too attached to a good radio station, because it will probably be yanked off the air, just like a good TV show,” Farless added.
Yet from an industry standpoint, the new station is making waves across the United States. Jack-FMs have popped up all over; stunning listeners with a radical take on radio that offers nothing, no disc jockeys or even the guise of a request process, other than a longer playlist of 1200 songs instead of the typical 300-400 songs.
“I think it’s a nice change of pace,” Falone Serna, promotions assistant at Los Angeles’ modern rock station KROQ, said. “It’s different though; the danger in doing that is people usually tune into stations to hear a specific type of music. If you want to listen to rock, you go to KROQ, if you want to listen to hip hop, you go to Power, if you want to listen to metal, you go to KCAL. When do you tune into Jack?”
Therein lies the whole Jack-FM strategy: to be everything to everyone. Originally founded by Canada-based company Roger Communications and later licensed to Wall Media in the United States, the new stations have gone after the 25-54 demographic with a vengeance.
Michael Laponis, general manager of KULV, said the expansive format and the slogan “playing what we want” were part of Jack’s ploy to attract listeners, and that though he might program the station differently, the fact that it was going out on a limb to modernize radio appealed to him.
“It’s really exciting and interesting to see somebody doing something new,” Laponis said. “It’ll be exciting to see how it works out, but not as a listener. It’s a little broad for my personal tastes.”
Jeremiah Fishell, a junior broadcasting major, also said the station’s format was too far-reaching for practicality.
“Growing up, oldies were all I was allowed to listen to, and Arrow was my favorite station,” Fishell said. “Jack is alright, but it’s too random for my liking.”
Many former Arrow listeners have complained that the station was yanked off the air without warning, but Cassandra Campos, KULV program director and a member of the Jack-FM promotions street team, said its narrow format made it a failing commodity rating wise and therefore a sitting duck.
“There wasn’t and isn’t enough Arrow listeners to keep the station alive,” Campos said. “Classic rock is a dying format. As the music gets older, that demographic begins to drop off the ratings. People get too old to bother with radio. This is a new way to keep up-to-date and stay modern. We want a younger crowd, not a 45 to 55 male listenership.”
Campos also said she was thrilled with the new, fresh format and that she welcomed the change.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Campos said in reference to a typical “bunch of songs in a row,” another Jack-FM catch phrase. “You never know what you’ll hear next.”
“One day when I worked, I heard the Beatles go into Marcy Playground’s ‘Sex and Candy’ go into U2’s ‘New Year’s Day’ and into a Dishwalla song,” Campos added. “I’d rather be surprised than expect to hear the same song every two hours.”
Laponis said Jack-FM could potentially revolutionize radio, as the market has grown increasingly competitive due to popular musical innovations such as MP3 players, iPods and satellite radio.
“It’s good for the future of radio, because somebody’s trying to do something different to compete with new technologies,” Laponis said. “Will it be a huge No. 1 station in Los Angeles? It’s pretty unlikely, but maybe I’m wrong. Some people will like Jack-FM, and if it does better in the ratings it will be considered successful.”
Listeners are also irked by Jack’s “no requests” stance, but Laponis and Campos said most radio stations operate under narrow formats and strict playlists of pre-selected songs, only pretending to give DJs the power to take requests.
Serna confirmed that the public holds very little clout when it comes to the operation of the airwaves.
“The ‘powers that be’ are calling the shots, and working in radio for the past few years has definitely verified that,” Serna said. “Sadly, in most cases, it’s more about the money then what the people want.”
But Campos said Jack-FM was a solid segue into the coming age of radio.
“Contrary to what people may believe, radio is a business,” Campos said. “Jack is a new playing ground for the business. Radio history is being made and who knows where it will take us.”
Former Arrow listeners might be a little less disgruntled to know that the station may not remain DJ-less forever, as both Campos and Serna said on-air personalities would be hired in the future, and Jack-FM Office Manager Jimmy Callaghen said the possibility was in discussion.
In the meantime, a listening base is being established as the new Jack-FM attempts to get its feet on the ground.
Luckily, in a world in which DJs have little power and the public has even less, listeners can still exercise their right to tune in or to tune out.
Kady Bell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.