We Don't Know Jack

When I first told my students about the "Jack" format as it first debuted in LA several years ago, their reactions are worth recalling even today. I say this because since I have been at USC I have come to closely value the rather direct reactions of this generation on things ranging from new mobile media devices to old approaches to radio formats. Nonetheless at the time they were troubled by the "Jack" format motto, "We Play What We Want". One young student told his fellow classmates, "yeah, we play what we want, too -- it's called an iPod". All this time has passed since CBS reinvented the wheel and the "Jack" format one assumes has become a staple for them. The buzz is over. You don't see a lot of radio stations jumping on the "Jack" bandwagon these days. You get the feeling the growth even in the target demo has been maximized. And, you don't see a lot of new youth formats either. Please, CBS -- no more formats like this. No more traditional formats pretending to be cutting edge. Young people are begging us to innovate. You can't blame CBS for trying. But there's lots to be learned going forward. In the world of iPod -- don't try to be one -- in mind or spirit. In this mobile age keep in mind that radio was the original mobile medium and even though it hasn't made it into the digital world the reason listeners turn to radio is for innovative programming. One of the wonders of the world to a lot of radio people is that we have well over 10,000 radio signals and a relatively small number of format permutations. Translation: the same formats on a lot of stations. And so few for the next generation. Can't we all get along? When our industry trades give up trying to categorize station formats next to the Arbitron ratings because it has become impossible, we'll know we're moving in the right direction. Still, we've learned so little about the important youth market. In effect, you could say, we still "don't know jack" about the the programming needs of this massive and necessary potential radio market.