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This article is from All Access by Urban/Urban AC editor Jerry Boulding. I posted to whole thing because without an account you can't view it.

by Jerry Boulding
I had so much fun and got such a reaction from last week's editorial about "Black Jack," that I decided to stay there for another week. You may remember Jack as a new, niched music format that originated in Canada, first entered America in Dallas, then Denver, and is now quickly spreading across the country. It's a fresh, younger, hipper, rock or hot AC format that is still evolving and experimenting. And there is going to be an urban version of this format.

In a city dominated by rhythmic-leaning Top-40s, smooth jazz and even mainstream Top-40 stations, Back Jack could enter and shake up the market. And since we all know a station is labeled by the music it plays, it's time for a change. For lots of traditional urban listeners, Black Jack could become the format of the future and the music that our ultimate target listener really wants to hear.

Besides, done right, Black Jack is the new urban adult format. And it could attract some new "jacks and jills." The new jacks are looking for something, just like their rock, AC and tired of top-40 counterparts. And the first new format to give it to them is going to score big. But we've got to get more than just the music right. We've got to get everything right that goes between the records. This time it's got to be fully supported with research, contest and marketing budgets. And it's got to play some new music. Remember the "music freaks" have lots of other choices, lots of other ways to get their groove on. But they've still got to come back to us to find out what's new to groove to these days.

It's a new groove game out there, but we're keeping score the same way, by the numbers -- the Arbitron numbers. We continue to define success by the old standards and expect the traditional rewards.

Sometimes the best way to prepare for the future is to review the past. For as long as most of us can remember, history favored upward mobility. Success was measured by promotions, invariably achieved by moves to new cities, and positions with new companies. We came to expect salary increases that outstripped inflation and we often accumulated windowed offices, titles, and perks in exchange for ambition and performance.

Tied to these thoughts of career success are some frustrations that remain with us in spring of 2005. Labels have never been more frustrated with radio, and radio continues to believe that labels, much like parents with teenagers, just don't understand their plight.

And if they didn't understand yesterday's formats, they're really going to have problems with the new Black Jack formats. But it's a format whose time has come. Increasing corporate involvement in event marketing and lifestyle concerns have moved us toward a more strategic position in the marketing mix of a growing number of stations over the last few years. Where is all this leading us and why? And what forces are driving this change? Generation Jones is beginning to exert its full force on marketing. Today's young adults aged 16 to 27 have proved so resistant to traditional marketing and programming methods that companies have been forced to devise new marketing and programming tools to reach them. Urban radio must follow this thinking as well. Black Jack can be designed to do just that.

Added to that, satellite radio, Internet, iPods and Wi-Fi are all doing active and creative marketing and continue to seek unique content. This appeals to the Generation Joneses. They join other media who have the technology to push a traditional, multi-path-driven FM station right out the car window. Think about it for a minute.

When Wi-Fi Max rolls out and Internet radio comes to the fore (offering access to a near unlimited amount of stations worldwide), the choices for listeners will be endless. Add to Internet radio the already-threatening satellite choices, and you've got to realize that the competition is coming on strong. The only things that can keep us in the game are "true players" and fresh, compelling content. Black Jack can offer that.

First, we want to get the music right. Music radio -- including urban music radio -- is in the midst of an historic change. Even mainstream urban radio is playing less new music. Consolidation, research and risk-management have caused us to focus on playing more gold and re-current titles. These titles are easier to research, but today they are also easier to download and share. Record labels have become victims of their own procrastination. They have fewer resources to devote to artist and product development.

Another issue Black Jack is going to encounter is the problem of understanding just how alternative programmers can lean without crossing the edge. While this is definitely a gray area, it's really all about the feel of the song and often what the song is about lyrically. Our female listeners are far more tolerant of harder urban rap songs that are about a relationship or emotional issue than they are of titles about boasting, violence or bodies hitting the floor. Black Jack is going to bring back the guys who specialize in hearing the hits. Those programmers with ears and guts will definitely have the edge.

The Spin On Jack

Now it's time to tackle the questions of research and spins. How many spins are enough to establish a new song with listeners? There is no one correct answer. Many factors affect the speed and passion with which an audience becomes familiar and comfortable with a new jam. The overall strength of the song and how it is moved through current categories are critical in this process.

Initially, a song has to be evaluated on its overall appeal, love lyric integrity and memorableness. A marginal song will not win fans, no matter how much it's played. At best, it may be tolerated, but not long, especially by the "music freaks." Secondly, songs need to be properly managed for the format and the way its audience listens. The number of spins and the length of time a song stays in current and re-current are important programming decisions. The strategy for managing current songs will determine a station's success in ratings.

Age plays a huge part in how quickly songs can be absorbed. Younger listeners tend to be more aware and active about music. They latch onto songs very quickly and move on in relatively short cycles or time spans. For most younger urban listeners, songs start to "stale" when they are more than six months old Gold. Oldies, or in Chicago terms, "dusties," are songs that are just two to three years old. In focus groups and perceptuals, young listeners perceive artists from the late nineties as classic artists.

Black Jack Call Out

When we do the call-out research on Black Jack, we must keep in mind the thresholds for familiarity. Remember it takes a minimum of 100 spins to establish the first level of familiarity. Some songs may take more, others less. Generally, this means that 100 daytime spins is the minimum number needed to establish a song so that it can be put into call-out research, but only with a younger audience. Testing songs with less exposure will lead to poor results. Also, if the songs being tested started out in a "night only" category as many do, the number of daytime spins will almost certainly need to be at least 100. You can calculate your total spins in Selector by utilizing the analysis function.

After it gets the music right, Black Jack can continue to score by then delivering personality and audience interaction in a real-time environment that can't be matched by any other form of online or satellite delivery. Even with syndicated drive-time shows, its ability to engage a mass localized audience passively will be unmatched (and perhaps even unchallenged) by new technology.

Make no mistake about it, Black Jack is going to have to get more than just the music right. It's going to need fresh talent with outrageous ideas. They have to consistently make the audience think, laugh or chuckle. We don't have much time to find a place where we can develop a lab and try out new ideas. And when we look at the diminishing number of listeners tuning in after 7:00 PM, we've got nothing to lose. Those breezes blowing across the Arbitron highway could be a breath of fresh air.

Black Jack could be a classic chewing gum, a card game, or a winning format hand if you play it right. It may not get all the Jacks right away but it will get some Jills -- and they're the group that really drives this format anyway. Word.

Interestingly I believe this new format could annihilate the garbage that is out there in the industry like polarization of Urban stations (Mainstream Urban and Urban AC). It would be interesting if "Hot 107.7" here in Birmingham turns out to become of the first in the country to pioneer that format. Like I have mention in previous Hot 107.7 will likely skew its playlist to include hip-hop as well, so it could work.
Posts: 54 | From: Birmingham (AL) | Registered: Dec 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
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Ahhh...wouldn't that be nice? Nice indeed. Because the state of Urban AC right now is about as exciting as watching paint dry.
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Please do not post any more full articles from subscription based sources. All Access requires a subscription because they do not what their articles passed around freely on the Internet. They hold the copyright to the story and they control the venues that can carry their articles. Posting their full articles anywhere outside of their control without their granted permission could put sites like mine in a bad spot legally. If the story is not freely available on a site you can link to then just give your own synopsis of the details. And if offering quotes from an article you can link to that anyone can view just offer a few quotes, not the full story.

No matter how good the story we have to respect others.

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Icon 1 posted      Profile for D.C.Bailey   Author's Homepage   Email D.C.Bailey         Edit/Delete Post 
I must admit that I did wonder about that but felt
it wasn't my place to address the subject. As not
everyone is aware of reprinting as it relates to
publishing and the internet it's probably not a
bad idea to remind us now and again. It's obvious
that jaleo23 meant no harm in passing along this
information. Not only has he learned something
but I'm sure many others have benefited from the
information provided by Darnell.
DC Bailey
Century Broadcasting

Posts: 78 | From: Oakland, CA | Registered: Mar 2003  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator

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