For years, stations made “variety of music” their major selling point. A few even went as far as to call themselves Variety 101 (or whatever).

I never thought this was a powerful positioning. True, if you ask listeners about variety, they’ll invariably tell you they want it! This is like asking them if they like mom’s apple pie.

Just as consumers vote with their dollars, radio listeners vote with their quarter-hours. And until recently, I never found a positive correlation between variety and station preference. The
“variety” station and most-preferred station were rarely the same.

That’s because we live in a polarized society. What wins are the highly-focused edges, NOT the middle. In radio this translates to Country, Hip Hop and News/Talk (among others)…formats with little variety. OK. So that’s what I thought about variety…until recently.

The emergence of the “Jack” (or “Bob,” “Joe,” etc.) format has put a powerful spin on the concept of variety. The format emerged Canada, with monster books in Vancouver, Winnipeg and Calgary. Now, Jack is the “hot format” in the U.S.

The concept of Jack is that it’s anti-format radio. The stations use positioners like Playing What We Want and We Play Anything.

Of course, they really don’t play “anything.” You won’t hear country on there. You won’t hear soft A/C. You won’t hear hip hop. Jack is a gold-based contemporary music station with emphasis on the ’80s and ’90s. It does play music you won’t hear on typical Classic stations — for example, recent tunes and lot of pop from the ’80s that other formats won’t touch.

When Jack first launched, many thought it wouldn’t succeed. How could a station that played music that tested horribly (for example, retro ’80s Euro-pop by performers like Pet Shop Boys and ABC) hold on to listeners?

But that cut-by-cut mentality misses the point of Jack. In this case, the total package really is bigger the sum of its parts (i.e., songs). What Jack does is builds a powerful rationale and cool attitude around variety.

In other words, the listener is thinking: “‘Come On Eileen’ really is a piece of sh**, but hell, they’re just playing what they want!…

And that’s cool.”

In other worlds, Jack’s positioning is much more than “variety of music.” What Jack stands for is an irreverent attitude …one that gives variety the edge it needs to “cut through” today.