First Listen: Jack FM2

What if Jack FM were no longer “playing what we want” but “playing what you want?” If it were no longer built around pop/rock from the late ‘70s and ‘80s? If it were targeted to women under 30, instead of a roughly even gender mix for listeners in their mid-40s? If it played One Direction and Miley Cyrus, not Styx and Phil Collins?

It would be Jack FM2, the station launched by our friends at the U.K.’s OXIS Media on August 20. Jack FM2 is running a similar mix to Glide FM, the younger-skewing Mainstream AC it replaced, but with the feel of the market’s co-owned Jack FM. It’s also using Listener Driven Radio to let listeners vote on roughly 350 songs on the station’s website.

Jack FM2 is the sort of brand extension that would make sense in the U.S., particularly as time and a shifting radio landscape has made certain coalition formats more difficult. Do the ‘80s no longer fit on WPLJ New York’s Hot AC format? They’d sound great on a separately branded “WPLJ ‘80s,” for instance. PPM has made the ascription issues that made brand extensions scary a decade ago into a non-issue, but the concept is clearly less daunting in the home of BBC Radio 1, Radio 2, etc., as well as a number of digital radio brand extensions from the likes of Absolute Radio and Smooth FM.

It’s also a big change, in all the ways detailed above, from what made the Adult Hits format what it was—starting with Bob FM Winnipeg in 2002 and Vancouver’s Jack six months later. The “Playing What We Want” slogan was, in some ways, a red herring. The real motor of the format was playing the pop/rock hits of what was, at the time, an underserved era, but the slogan got the attention. At the time, rival stations in a number of markets tried to counterprogram with “playing what you want” to collective yawns. But now it’s an inside job.

The Adult Hits stations of the format’s mid-‘00s boom were hardly all of a piece, and the ratings proved it. But most were similar in era and playlist size (somewhere around 750-1,000 records). Since then, however, the surviving Adult Hits stations have become a lot more diffuse. Some, like Austin’s Bob, remain very successful with the traditional format approach. Some have responded to PPM era by cutting the library. Some are more Classic Rock-focused. Others, like Vancouver and Calgary’s Jacks have already dropped “playing what we want,” phased out the ‘70s, added recent music, and moved into the ‘80s/’90s/now position that Hot AC used to occupy before it went more current.

So Jack FM2 isn’t that far removed from where some Adult Hits stations wound up. And the imaging, presented here with a female voice, is clearly in keeping with the spirit of the original Jack: “We take complaints very seriously; all the way to the shredder”; “We’re playing what you want, and we really hope your taste in music is better than your taste in men”; “You get to choose the songs, don’t make us regret it”; and, of course, “Playing what you want — what you really, really want.” (The latter is delivered deadpan and not in the cadence of the Spice Girls.)

Glide FM was an equally intriguing attempt at doing a younger targeted soft AC. This station is built on a lot of the same music, but there’s more of a rhythmic pop component and a few more ‘80s titles. Here’s Jack FM2 just before 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday:

Bruno Mars, “When I Was Your Man”
Coldplay, “Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall”
Miley Cyrus, “We Can’t Stop”
Adele, “Rolling In The Deep”
Lumineers, “Ho Hey”
Aloe Blacc, “I Need A Dollar”
Selena Gomez, “Come And Get It”
Santana & Rob Thomas, “Smooth”
Lady Gaga, “The Edge Of Glory”
Emili Sandé, “Clown”
One Direction, “Best Song Ever”
Counting Crows & Vanessa Carlton, “Big Yellow Taxi”
Olly Murs, “Troublemaker”
Lana Del Rey, “Summertime Sadness”
Robbie Williams, “Candy”
Semisonic, “Closing Time”
Bastille, “Pompeii”

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