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Sunday, June 12, 2005  

Tuning In

Something interesting has been happening to Twin Cities radio lately. Specifically, it's been getting interesting.

Let me go back a few years. We had an alternative station for a while. And then it got shut down, and all the DJs ended up out on the street, including a certain local personality who also happens to be Paul Westerberg's sister. One morning it was the best station in town, and when I got in my car to go home that night I was suddenly listening to Foghat. And I thought, Oh, those wacky alternative DJs. Is there nothing they won't play for a joke? And then after the song was over, there weren't any wacky alternative DJs and no one was joking.

And then after a while we got another "alternative" station, which was nowhere near as good as the old alternative station, but at least there was a lot less Foghat than the classic rock station. I think Paul Westerberg's sister was on that incarnation as well, along with a guy I went to high school with. They did the morning show together, and it was great. And then I turned on my car radio and heard disco, and this time I knew nobody was kidding.

The really sad part was that the only station I could stand to listen to at that point was the AOR station, which, in its favor, was where the DJ from my high school had ended up. Working against it was the fact that it was and remains a Clear Channel station. Sad. The 80s station was a decent option for short periods, but it was never long before you heard the Jets again and you remembered that the best thing about the 80s is that they're over.

But then the alternative station came back, way high up the dial and fragmented along three frequencies depending on where in the metro area you happen to be. And that has continued to be the primary "alternative" station in town ever since, right up to the current era in which it takes its cues on the hot new bands from The O.C. If you wanted to get more alternative than that, you'd have to go with silence.

Until recently, when my former employer, Minnesota Public Radio, bought out a station way down at the bottom of the dial and turned it into an "alternative to the alternative" station. Among the many good signs for this station is that they hired a bunch of people from the old-old alternative station, including Paul Westerberg's sister (although the guy I went to high school with is still at the Clear Channel station; he's got kids now and bills to pay). And then they get to play whatever, from some dinky little band you've never heard of to Radiohead to Dizzy Gillespie. Paul Westerberg's sister likes to say, "Here's the latest from Lindsay Lohan" and then play the new Mike Doughty or whatever. I generally skip the morning show (as one coworker put it, "too many jug bands"), but it's required listening for my commute home. Best of all? It's a public radio station, so no commercials.

The thing is that after the novelty of never hearing the same song twice in one month, let alone twice in one day, it begins to get a little exhausting, and you want to tune back to something familiar. So I occasionally turned back to the "alternative" station, which is working hard to drop its air quotes. That was the first time I've ever hear Hüsker Dü on commercial radio, and quite possibly the last. That alone was almost enough to make it an 'alternative' station.

But of course, that station still has commercials, so one morning I flipped over to see what was going on at the 80s station. It didn't take more than a few bars of a single from U2's second-to-last album to tell me that it wasn't the 80s station any more. Format change? Kind of. It had a format, and now it doesn't. Or it does, which is self-described as "we play what we want." Now it's a 60s-70s-80s-90s-00s station. Trash plays a game where she tries to think of one other station in town that would play both the song that just ended and the song that's just started. Which can get pretty tricky, because I think in order to find another Twin Cities station that plays both "Hotel California" and "Jungle Boogie," you'd have to go back in time. As for the Clear Channel AOR station, I have no idea what's going on over there, because there's too much interesting stuff going on elsewhere on the dial.

I don't have the Arbitron ratings in front of me, but I can't help thinking if at least some of this is the work of the new alternative station. If maybe they stole enough market share that the other stations figured they'd better do -- horrors -- something different. Could it be that sticking to the same, safe practices in radio isn't as safe as it used to be? Someone tell Clear Channel.

Today's best search phrase: "Is there anything more adorable than." I would have to say

posted by M. Giant 5:46 PM 32 comments


I like Jack and Live 105 okay. What's the frequency of that public radio station you were talking about? I'll give it a try but, to be honest, I usually don't want to work that hard.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at June 12, 2005 at 6:05 PM  

That, my friend, is why we have iPods.

By Blogger R. U. Serious, at June 12, 2005 at 6:20 PM  

Does the new alternative station broadcast on the internet? I live in Chickasha, Oklahoma, and even the NPR here is sub-par.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at June 12, 2005 at 6:26 PM  


You'll need WinAmp or similar for the high quality stream.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at June 12, 2005 at 6:41 PM  

Regarding your Foghat experience, I felt your pain! In the late 90s, we had the best alternative station in Orlando: SHE-100.3. I vividly remember leaving for a solo drive to the beach on Memorial Day with the top down on the jeepster and the SHE on the radio. They were playing things like "Under the Boardwalk" and stuff like that. There were no DJs that day, but they followed every song with an ultra-cheesy harmonized "Cool-One-Hundred!" I had the exact same thought that you described, M. Giant: "Those crazy DJs. What a great stunt! That is so like SHE." When I heard Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World/Jeremiah Bullfrog/etc" during the drive home, I was no longer amused. Great radio is not something to taken for granted!

By Blogger Christy ~ Central Air, at June 12, 2005 at 7:07 PM  

Apparently Jack is taking over the world one city at a time? We have a Jack here in KCMO where they play whatever they want. GOod in theory, but you sure get some wierd stuff!

By Blogger Elizabeth, at June 12, 2005 at 7:17 PM  

One of the DJs is Westerberg's sister? Awesome!

By Anonymous Anonymous, at June 12, 2005 at 8:58 PM  

Wow...Jack sure gets around. We have him here in LA, and I found him higher up the dial when I drove down to San Diego last month as well.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at June 12, 2005 at 9:33 PM  

Yeah, the "play what we want" has kind of exploded in Chicago over the last couple of months, as well. Now we have Jack and Nine and Q101 went on what they call shuffle so they play pretty random stuff, too.

I'm not complainin', mind you.

By Blogger eliza, at June 12, 2005 at 10:06 PM  

Sorry about Jack FM...it first appeared OTA here in Vancouver (although they copied it exactly from an online broadcaster...and had to pay for it after the fact through the nose)

It gets boring fast, and drops off in ratings pretty quick (although Vancouver maintained by getting the top morning show guys in the city - and picking up good orphaned DJ's from the wasteland of mega corporate Canadian Radio lay offs).

As much as I like all the music Jack (at least in Canada) plays...one day it is 80s, one day it is 70s arena rock, then oldies super hits, then alt rock, then disco...pick a format and go with it.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at June 12, 2005 at 10:52 PM  

I was in Austin, TX, a couple weeks ago and they now have a Bob FM, one of those new radio stations that sounds like somebody found a bunch of stuff I might like but don't have on my iPod, then put my iPod on random for all the world to hear. We listened to it most of the time we were in the car for the four days we were out there and only heard one song repeated.

I just about died laughing when they played "Rock Lobster" and followed it with "It's Not Unusual".

By Blogger Sue, at June 13, 2005 at 5:50 AM  

ZV and I were talking about the Jack stations on our trip to VT (we found another in Ohio). We were thinking it may be caused by the iPod/iPod shuffle craze: it's a lot like all your favorite pop songs played with the shuffle function.

Oh, and I heard that the DJ you went to highschool with would love to be on the new MPR station but has a contract with the AOR station :-(


By Blogger Teslagrl, at June 13, 2005 at 6:25 AM  

We have Ben FM near Philly. But it's the same as Jack, their commercials say "playing anything we want". On April Fool's day one of the independent channels did a spoof on them saying that "we play anything we want, weather it's good or not". So true, so very very true.

By Anonymous ckatz, at June 13, 2005 at 6:28 AM  

Clear Channel just did this to our local "oldies" station. Yesterday, I heard MC Hammer, followed by Jane's Addiction. It was really scary.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at June 13, 2005 at 7:52 AM  

I love The Current. I discovered a lot of new music there, although at times I too wish to hear the same song twice in the same month. Didn't they beat all of the estimates on the first fundraiser that they ran? Maybe that's why the other stations started following.

Off topic, but I worship your new recaps of SFU. I don't watch 24, so I couldn't really follow your recaps of that show, but I watch SFU and you are spot on. I'm not sure that I believe you when you say you haven't been a fan.

Can I also say that I love your search phrase of the day? Don't you wonder what someone was thinking to type Is there anything more adorable than and then actually click through the results?

By Anonymous K.C., at June 13, 2005 at 9:29 AM  

Oh dear, JACK-FM does appear to be taking over. The best alternative (no "air quotes")here in Seattle was gone overnight, JACK popped up in its place. It's evil. They play like 2 cool songs in a row to try to win you back over, that's when they slam you with El Debarge or something similar. Bitches.

By Anonymous Derek, at June 13, 2005 at 11:04 AM  

Our 33 year old oldies station just got flipped to Jack last week here in NY. From day one I have played the exact same game as Trash. It's like a format that might be cool if every song they played wasn't in frequent rotation on at least one other station in this market.

By Blogger Kat, at June 13, 2005 at 4:18 PM  

JACK is the best thing that's happened to Nashville radio in a while...no g-d morning show, for one thing.

By Blogger parcequilfaut, at June 14, 2005 at 11:45 AM  

Wow, this posting and the subsequent comments have taught me that Jack FM is indeed spreading like the plague.

Here in New York, 101.1 FM was FOREVER an oldies station. Even when my parents (who graduated from high school in the mid-'60s) were younger they were hearing the same DJs, such as "Cousin Brucey," etc. Well, two Friday's ago, at 5 PM, they abruptly changed formats to the "We play what we wanna play" Jack-FM. The place that had employed some of the same old-school DJs for as much as 30+ years gave them ONE HOUR's notice, according to the newspaper. I mean, I realize you can't give them much notice or else they'll go on the air and drop some F-bombs or something, but it just seemed severe. We have other frequencies that seem to change formats all the time, but now the old standbys are changing, too. It's a brave new world... in which you get to hear Queen followed by Nine Inch Nails.

-J Money

By Anonymous Anonymous, at June 14, 2005 at 2:30 PM  

Hey - ran across this link about the emergence of Jack stations across the nation...


By Anonymous Anonymous, at June 14, 2005 at 4:02 PM  

Nooo ... JACK recently cropped up in place of my favorite San Diego radio station. I go to school elsewhere and I have always looked forward to getting into frequency range to listen to that station on the drive home. Then, over spring break, it ...wasn't there. I really dislike the bi-polar nature of the JACKesque stations. I need a radio station for each type of music, so that *I* can pick. I don't want to listen to random songs other people pick for me.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at June 14, 2005 at 7:30 PM  

Now LA doesn't have just JackFM, we also have the 'Jill' counterpart. Jill plays the 'soft rock' hits of the past four decades. Because apparently girls really like Michael Bolton.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at June 15, 2005 at 11:40 AM  

But did you JOIN Public Radio because of the new station? I sure did.

Actually, what happened was, Westerberg's sis played, like, the Ramones and then Duke Ellington and then Le Tigre. And I fell in love, just a little bit. So when she reminded me it was the pledge drive, I realized I was listening - on purpose - during the pledge drive.

Granted, now the sticker on my car makes no sense, as I am 1400 miles away. But I stream the Current, yes I do.

As TG says, JACK-FM is everywhere. And if you haven't noticed, there are no local DJ's on JACK, and sometimes no DJ's at all. It appears to be run by the computer that almost blew up the world in "WarGames."

By Blogger Febrifuge, at June 15, 2005 at 9:02 PM  

Since there are no DJs and Jack is suddenly available everywhere, are they all working off the same playlist? Have we actually reached a point in radio where, throughout the US, we will all be listening to the same music at the same time?

No, that doesn't scare me at all. Are you sure that Clear Channel isn't behind this?

By Anonymous AJ, at June 16, 2005 at 6:54 AM  

Since there are no DJs and Jack is suddenly available everywhere, are they all working off the same playlist? Have we actually reached a point in radio where, throughout the US, we will all be listening to the same music at the same time?

No, that doesn't scare me at all. Are you sure that Clear Channel isn't behind this?

By Anonymous AJ, at June 16, 2005 at 6:54 AM  

There is a bar fly in the local watering hole in my little town that would play Foghat "Third Time Lucky" ten times in a row every time he was in there. For some reason that song was on the jukebox three times, and he could give you the number of all three off the top of his head at any time. Nice.

By Blogger Katy-Maty, at June 17, 2005 at 5:29 AM  

I stream the Current, too - thanks Zen Viking, for reminding me to support MPR while I'm at it!

- JeniMull

By Anonymous Anonymous, at June 17, 2005 at 10:57 AM  

I tried out The Current through internet streaming, and I am impressed. I've never heard so many different types of music. My only complaint would have to be that, I too would like to hear a song I already know at least once a day. Still, I wish LA had something like it.

By Anonymous Sara, at June 20, 2005 at 6:40 AM  

I have a strange question, but is this: http://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/registry.html/104-9817256-9157521?%5Fencoding=UTF8&id=13X4IVNBIGNE3 M Tiny's Amazon wish list? Because that's the cutest thing I have ever seen. And I now want a corn popper, too.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at June 20, 2005 at 9:53 AM  

Hey Anonymous 6:02 PM, thanks for the link to that Newsday story!

I guess I never really thought about it, but if most radio stations really do only have 300 to 400 songs on the playlist, then all of us with iPods, who now know what having 1200 or 4000 songs is *like*, do want something different from radio.

What exactly that is, I think the Current understands far better than Jack.

And hey, I just got my "Founding Member" CD in the mail. Sa-weeet!

By Blogger Febrifuge, at June 21, 2005 at 1:47 PM  

Not to push or anything, but when do we get to see new pictures of M. Tiny? He's 8 months old now, right? We need updates!

By Anonymous Erin, at June 22, 2005 at 8:30 PM  

They call it Ben - FM in Philadelphia. Same concept.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at August 3, 2005 at 7:14 PM  

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