Last week I wrote about what radio could learn from the Jack (a.k.a. “Variety Hits”) format. Now let’s reverse the process…

So far, Jack in the U.S. has been different than in Canada. The Canadian stations are fully-developed, well-rounded stations, with (among other elements) morning shows and personalities. Even if they launched jockless, they didn’t stay that way long.

In contrast, being jockless is part of the strategy for most American Jacks, at least so far. The “personality” of these stations is their stationality — a cool attitude conveyed by outstanding voice talents delivering creative, irreverent “attitude” sweepers.

The Jack stationality appeals to many listeners turned off by the repetition and narrow focus of most radio circa 2005….listeners who like the idea of a station that “plays everything,” “plays what it wants” (or whatever). Cool.

But I have two concerns about this approach…

First, the sweepers themselves may become a repetitious element for listeners. Right now, I’m listening to Doug FM out of Detroit. And the “Doug guy” carries 100% of the station’s identification. I hear him every break, between every song, before and after spot sets. That’s too much of the Doug guy for me! He’s got a cool personality, but he’s “in my face”…like an overbearing party guest that won’t let me walk away.

That’s me. Honestly, I don’t know if he’s getting old for Doug’s listeners. But here’s what I do know from lots of research…

Companionship is a major motivation for listening to radio. For example, in our 2003 national study, radio’s ability to “keep you company when you’re alone or lonely” was rated as important by more than half of 12-64 listeners. One-third rated it “very important.”
Personalities contribute to this companionship. Listeners want a real human being in the mix. This does not necessarily mean they want a lot of talk! Personalities aren’t “the cake” for most listeners…they’re the icing on the cake, and a little goes a long way to making “the cake” taste better.

This is what Jack can learn from radio. Sure, listeners dislike jocks who talk too much when they have little to say. Jockless Jack’s are a reaction to that. But jockless stations have rarely experienced sustained success.

The Canadian Jack’s have it all…cool attitude enhanced by real personalities. The American Jacks may yet get there too…if they want to be more than short-term novelties, they’ll need to!