What’s behind the appeal of Jack? In large part, it’s the perceived spontaneity and unpredictability of the format. Listeners are sending radio a message. They want to be surprised by radio…to hear something they didn’t expect to hear. Or as the “research guy” in the movie Private Parts told WNBC’s P.D. (in explaining the appeal of Howard Stern)…

“They want to hear what he’s going to say next.”

Spontaneity is more important now than ever, because listeners have more choices for music than ever. iPods, create-your-own CDs and satellite radio channels with highly specialized and focused music formats…and no commercials.

If the battle lines come solely down to music, then radio is at a disadvantage.

But radio can do things that all the new audio media can’t do. It can surprise you with a new song or artist you didn’t download, because you didn’t even know about it. It can surprise you with an old song you didn’t download, because you forgot about it. It can surprise you with line that takes you aback or makes you laugh. It can surprise you with a wacky stunt or with a community service.

It can surprise you. Radio’s unpredictability is part of its magic!

But by the new millennium, radio had become too safe and too predictable, filled with cliche’d positioning lines, off-the-shelf personalities, trite commercials, etc. Into this stale environment, Jack came in like an breath of fresh air…irreverent and ready to challenge the “commandments” of radio programming.

Let’s make this clear. I am not suggesting that Jack is the new ideal in programming! I am not suggesting that your station “play everything” (or even close to it)! And I’m not suggesting that you abandon the principles behind most successful stations — clearly defined, focused positioning and delivering whatever listeners most want to hear, most of the time.

What I’m saying is: take a lesson from Jack…Surprise them sometimes!