Thursday, June 29, 2006

"...Sure, historians may one day conclude that nobody but Jack wanted to hear "The Heat Is On" (ever), and that anyone with common sense and sentient ears should have doubted any programming formula that suggested otherwise, but what difference will it make? By then we'll all be dead."
Greg Milner

Writing in Slate, Greg Milner puts forward the argument that "a radio format is a lot like our president."

About Jack he says...

"On the surface, this tactic is a yellowed page from the Gen X anti-marketing handbook, the "you're too smart for our corporate tricks, so we won't even try" approach. The format's name, Jack, springs from the same semi-ironic anti-corporate impulse that led United to spin off a budget airline called Ted. But Jack takes this to a whole new level by not even pretending to pretend. Who cares what "you" want? Jack's slogan is "Playing what we want." Ten years after the 1996 Telecommunications Act destroyed the quaint notion, enshrined by Congress when it created the FCC in 1934, that the airwaves are a public trust, we've arrived at the perfect slogan for the age of media deregulation—"Playing what we want" is a corollary of "Owning what we want." Jack provides a phone number for listeners to call and leave messages to be played on the air—but don't bother making requests, he sometimes says, because he ain't playing them. The first time I heard that, I wondered why anyone would think that a station manned by a 24-hour Jack-bot would play requests. The only possible reason for Jack to state the obvious is that he wants to rub our noses in it. Read Jack Is the Decider here

Milner's attempts to disparage fall short. Putting aside his tenuous connect-the-political dots, let's talk Jack. While the New York Jack may not, one year after launch, be a success, one could make the reasonable business case that the station is not an abject failure either. It all depends on how one defines success. Running close to a million cume with a significantly lower expense base the station might be producing an attractive operating income. I have no idea, they don't provide me with the month end flash. The real question here should the approach being used by WCBS-FM producing at the full economic potential of the asset? The format is working in some cases - KCBS-FM, by every account, seems to be a major success. My feelings about the format are on the record, however, CBS Radio deserves better than Milner gives. My sense is Milner also misheard the intent of Jack's pronoun usage, alternatively his omission may itself be intended as further slight. While it is not always a popular notion, commercial radio stations are commercial enterprises operating in a free market. Every operator has the same goal, attract an audience that advertisers will pay to reach and do so at the lowest possible cost to produce the highest possible yield. Ain't nothing wrong with that. Along the way the good operators do good in their communities and there are a great many good operators. Operators want to win. The radio programming you hear just like the TV programming you watch is, in the majority of cases, the best programming money can buy. This holds true across all media. Every motion picture gets green lighted because someone believes in, or buys into, the picture's box office hit potential. In the same way that every NFL team starts the season hoping to be in the playoffs, if not the Super Bowl, those in the media arts are swinging for the fences - it's in the job description. In the final analysis the audience is the decider. Allow me to rip a title (other than Frey's Heat is On) from Beverly Hills Cop and suggest that Greg get a New Attitude. Use the scan button Greg, there's a lot of good, and some really good, radio out there. The very cool thing is you, as ever, are the decider.