Radio station bosses teach listeners to hate radio DJs
The Jack FM non-stop format is the latest in a plot to make radio listeners despise the radio DJ; but the essential hook for music radio is the presenter. So why do they do it?
The Jack FM format is simple: There are no radio DJs (or presenters). The songs play out like somebody's just plugged their iPod in and left it switched to random. The difference being that an iPod doesn't have dreary long commercial breaks or play out 'sweepers' saying 'iPod!' between every song.
This no presenter / DJ format seems to be gaining in popularity, with the latest audience research (assuming the ancient methodology in use to do the research actually works) showing huge gains in the listening figures for Jack FM radio stations around the UK.
I can't lie and say I'm happy about this. I still believe that the essential 'hook' for music-radio is the presenter / DJ. It's definitely the case when it comes to youth and new music, as the pirates, Radio 1 and 1Xtra easily demonstrate.
Sadly, general 'pop' and 'oldies' don't seem to need 'presentation' any more. Music-radio audiences are now just happy to hear a stream of songs playing one after the other without any hook or continuity or glue sticking them all together.
The journey to 'educate' the listening public to hate the DJ has been a fairly long and deliberate one. Strangely, it has been one undertaken by the bosses of the very commercial radio sector itself.
It started when the radio bosses sat down with the accountants and realised that a large percentage of their costs were for the 'talent' they employed as radio DJs or presenters. The journey has almost ended, now that the bosses have ensured that the presenter is pointless and irritating. To ensure he remains pointless and irritating, the radio DJ is now shunted to just making 'corporate' announcements four times an hour rather than interacting with the listeners and the songs themselves as he used to.
The master plan is for all music-radio stations to get an agreement with Ofcom to drop 'live' presented radio and to go the Jack FM way. It's only their original contractual obligations for their broadcasting licences that currently force the bosses to keep DJs there at all. Once Ofcom is convinced the DJ is pointless, then, whoosh, he'll be gone.
All of this is a very sad long way from the days when the presenter / radio DJ was as important as the songs he played on music-radio. It didn't matter whether the songs were new, current or old, the radio DJ was integral in hyping them up and getting the listener hooked.
We first experienced this kind of bond between radio DJ and song back in the days of the offshore radio stations of the 1960s, Radio Luxembourg, Radio 1 and the early commercial radio. In those days the idea of having one without the other was unthinkable.
Fans for the artists being played were often equalled by the fans for the radio DJ playing them. Indeed, that's still very much the case when it comes to today's dance and underground music.
Once upon a time the radio DJ and the music he played attracted millions of listeners.
However, this came at a huge price as far as the radio bosses were concerned. Radio DJs were able to 'hold them to ransom', to demand higher wages, and, horror of horrors, the listeners would notice if a particular radio DJ 'disappeared' and would ask embarrassing questions, even 'boycotting' the station or giving it bad publicity.
So, about 25 years ago, radio station bosses slowly and bit by bit removed the involvement of the radio DJ from the total sound of the radio station. Immediately, radio audiences plummeted and have never recovered. The listeners hated the radio DJ's new role of holding back any personality and just making annoying announcements alongside the annoying commercials. The listener found the old warmth gone and the radio station cold and lonely without the radio DJ being integrated and integral to the whole 'hype' of the radio station's output. Most annoying was the DJ speaking now usually telegraphed 5 or 6 minutes of commercials immediately he stopped talking. This was a deliberate ploy to make listeners hate the DJ.
Sure enough, subliminally the listeners truly grew to hate the radio DJs. He was no longer allowed to enhance the radio station sound, but was now one of the main aspects of the output that listeners didn't want. So, these days, when he is removed completely, as he is with the Jack FM format, the listener numbers go up.
Along the way, the radio station bosses were able to pay less, employ 'monkeys', and remove all the costs associated with having important 'personalities' on the air. Despite the reduced audiences overall, the profits still went up.
After all, 'profit' is what commercial music-radio is all about. It's not about providing the best listener experience. It's about providing it for the cheapest so that the shareholders are happy. That's why most radio stations are rebroadcasting the output of one centralised studio these days.
And this is also how, in pursuit of greed, the art form of the commercial radio DJ was systematically humiliated, destroyed and removed from UK radio broadcasting.
Christopher England has been involved in the British radio industry since the 1970s. He has an obsession with 'media' that stems from radio anoraksia, loves gadgets and gizmos and is excited by new music trends.
Visit Christopher England's website
Excellent read. But I actually think its only Chapter One in the story.
I agree so much. It’s not about radio anymore, it’s ONLY about profits. And we know that profits MUST increase year on year (even if they then go as loans to an offshore parent company…)
the radio ipod product would be perfect except for one fatal flaw… people ALREADY have their own ipods with their own best mix of music!
The future of local stations and its formats will only become more polarised in future with some going back to basics with presenters, fun, relevant interactions and lots more talk and others telling you that THEY have the best mix of music, better than your own ipods with little or no interation or at most a DJ which chirps out the latest inane song info or corperate promo and tells you nothing of your local community or local news.
And then there’s always the option of just turning OFF the radio…. because home technology is as good now as any music radio station is and the best bit…. YOU get to pick every single song!
This is sad to see Jack FM going like that and forcing listeners to hate DJ’s. Why would you want to listen to a station with non-stop music and no DJ when as you lot said people can just gets songs and plug in there own MP3?
People listen to radio not just for music, but for entertainment and want to have a connection to the DJ as well. However, people do listen also to radio for music as well and that why the DJ and music complete the whole package of commercial radio. If you just want talk then listen to talk radio’s, if you want just music and no one talking you have your MP3 and if you want to listen to both, you listen to commercial/BBC radio (or just cba to put in your own MP3).
If you take the DJ from the package then it just ruins the package and listeners will drop. Look at Chris moyals show for instance since he leaving breakfast show, listening figures dropped.
This issue has not happened over night, but I guess we got a little blinded by this ‘Recession’..... People still love hearing people seek, its human nature.
We really have create the space for the ‘live’ presenter and squeeze out this stupid fiscal based idea…. losing radio presenter/dj’s will have a bigger knock on effect to the media as a whole.
I don’t agree with this post’s focus on Jack FM. The Jack format is not non-stop music, for a start: the point of the format is that it has replaced cheap DJs with expensive, well produced imaging and witty quips: much of which is just as local as DJs.
I do agree that stations shouldn’t promote themselves as ‘a better mix of music’, since that is no longer a differentiator. And I do agree that a shared experience and great talent is the future for radio. I think Jack has that shared experience.
Sorry James you are now talking absolute rubbish.
I happen to really enjoy Jack – aside from occasionally being niggled by how strong some of the “quips” are – as in singling out areas or people and having a dig at them.
But seriously? What on earth are you talking about? Its all imaging, you cannot compare voice tracked jokes with a live presenter with local knowledge and a connection with the listener.
You just can’t.
As I said, I enjoy the station and I’d enjoy AND be led by it a thousand times more if there was a real presenter on air.
Isn’t that the power of radio? “Your mate” in your ear giving you advice and tips and updates on what’s going on?
If you think the Jack format suffices as the future of radio, you dissapoint me.
It’s not the Jack format that’s winning, it’s the fact that these style stations entice listeners who would prefer to hear no DJ at all, compared to one saying words but spouting spoon fed rubbish. To put that more colloquially, one that does not engage, and certainly does not entertain the listener as is the present fad.
The question begs as Lester asks, why do people not simply tune into their ipods? Maybe they don’t have that option during working listening hours, and work from home or have a choice of 1,000+ songs like I/ some have.
People are tuning into their pods Graeme and Stitcher and TuneIn.
I seriously don’t buy any of the “more people are listening” – how can that be possible when at least 50% of what goes out on FM these days is embarrassing to even listen to.
But seriously? What on earth are you talking about? Its all imaging, you cannot compare voice tracked jokes with a live presenter with local knowledge and a connection with the listener. You just can’t.
The audience figures would beg to differ. But let’s be clear: I would choose non-stop music over a rubbish, cheap and self-indulgent DJ any day. I don’t believe I am unusual.
The main issue here is that non-stop music is not a great radio experience; but a rubbishy DJ isn’t either.
But if you disclaim RAJAR – the largest European research survey – as something you ‘seriously don’t buy’, then it’s hard to argue with you: because, like it or not, these figures are the only thing that matters – setting the advertising rates and paying your wages.