By Clea Simon, Globe Correspondent | April 21, 2005
In the old days -- two months ago -- listeners knew what to expect. You could turn on 'Mix' WBMX-FM (98.5) for fun new pop by Rob Thomas or Green Day and get the occasional nostalgic Bon Jovi tune mixed in. WBOS-FM (92.9) played it mellow but fresh, with the latest adult rock from Los Lonely Boys or the Wallflowers. And 'Star' WQSX-FM (93.7) was dance music old and new: Donna Summer meets Salt-N-Pepa.
Then, suddenly, they all started sounding a little similar and a little strange. Rock tunes ran into hip-hop, a current top hit segued into a '70s throwback. DJs were muted, if there at all, and everyone was advertising the playlist was wide open.
Are the playlists -- the formatting -- really gone? Not exactly. Boston radio may be putting more tunes into rotation, but they'll probably be tunes you already know. Because Boston, to varying degrees, is going 'Jack' -- a hot new radio format designed to win back listeners and snare a bigger piece of an ever-diminishing pie.
What is 'Jack'?
Put simply, it's a format that abandons the conventional wisdom that listeners respond to song repetition and station self-promotion. Instead, it substitutes a broad playlist of familiar hits that cross musical genres and programs them with virtually no talk.