We moaned when New York's WCBS-FM – long lauded as the area's "oldies station" – was transformed into Jack FM, a modern 80s and 90s-oriented radio station playing artists of the MTV generation. The switch caused a major outcry in the metropolitan area, where the station's frequency, 101.1, had always been the home of Elvis, The Beatles and The Supremes, to name but a few artists. Long Island does have it's own fab version, B 103, but CBS-FM had leaned more to the rock side of oldies in the same way that 102.9 WDRC from Connecticut does.
But alas – the station became Jack FM and was met with an immediate boycott, Daily News headlines detailing the negative public backlash, and low ratings that never really got better. "Jack" was the creation of radio consultants who are paid to tell radio programmers what we, the public, are apt to listen to, but their judgment is cloudy because the consultants are only trying to please "the clients." The clients are advertising agencies who target particular age groups, such as all bald, Siamese twin males between the ages of 23 and 31, or Asian females who suffer from hang nails aged 29 to 44, that sort of thing. They conduct tests where they play songs or portions of songs in a room for people and have then register their likes and dislikes. This, of course, is bullshit, and it is the reason that radio is now a total mess. Most people, put into a test situation, want to give what they think is the right answer, which in no way reflects what they'll really do in a situation where's there's no big light bulb over their head and three spectacled men surrounding them.
In such a situation, most people will avoid anything alien to them for fear of not being "correct." The first Elvis record, if it had been tested against the prevalent music of its time (Sinatra, Patti Page) would have failed and never made it to the radio. The first Beatles record, surrounded by Bobby Rydell and Cubby Checker records, would have suffered the same fate.
Testing didn't exist, to my knowledge, in the golden age of pop music (1955-1975), and if it had, that age probably wouldn't be so golden as most of the artists that have become decades-spanning icons would have never been heard by the masses in the first place. Does anyone think that left field smashes from the 60s such as "Oh Happy Day" by The Edwin Hawkins Singers or James Brown's defiant "Say It Loud (I'm Black And I'm Proud)" would have made it past the finish line with this "Pavlov's dog" testing program? Highly unlikely.
It's a money go round; the consultants want to protect their income, so do the agencies, and radio is no longer run by radio people but by bean counters and paper shufflers. Carbon copy hip hop and pop records are now what make it to the airwaves, so artists everywhere – with an eye on the dollar – make bland, safe, same-old sounding retreads that fail to excite music buyers or draw the fan base at radio that ignited the radio business during the heydays of Sinatra, Elvis, The Beatles, Motown, and later disco.
So after being trounced in the ratings and filleted by the music and media press, it's time to hit the road, Jack, as WCBS-FM will reportedly return to the "Golden 101" format. Give us what we want, CBS-FM! We want The Marvelettes!