Daily Illini Comments
This is the e-mail that I sent to Martha Spalding of the Daily Illini in response to her questions concerning the Variety Hits format. Comments from this appeared in the August 24, 2005 edition of the paper.
Thanks for writing. I'll do my best to answer your questions -- feel
free to ask more if you want to know more based on my responses.
Also, if you could mail me your article when it's printed, I'd very
much appreciate it.
> What is your name/profession? How long have you been doing
> what you're doing?
My name is Lou Pickney. I work as a producer for the Bubba The Love
Sponge radio show in Tampa, FL. I've been with the BTLS show for 2
1/2 years; prior to that, I worked as a TV news producer for 5 1/2
years. I graduated from the University of Evansville (in southwest
Indiana) in 1999, and while there I spent four years working at WUEV
(the student radio station) and worked at WEHT (the ABC affiliate in
town). So I've been involved with TV/radio, in one capacity or
another, for about ten years now, though certainly I've experienced a
wide variety of jobs within the broadcasting field, particularly for
my age (27, I turn 28 on 8/24).
As for the website, I created VarietyHits.com in late April because I have an interest in the format. I saw it growing as a viable format
here in the United States, and since no one had a site devoted to it,
I figured I'd start one. Within a month the site earned national
exposure in an Associated Press article. I was amazed at the response
and interest it has received. I created a site on the Hot Talk genre
of radio (RadioHotTalk.com), which is what lead to me landing the job with Bubba.
> Why do you think variety stations, like Jack FM, have caught
> on across the US and Canada?
> What age group is Jack FM geared toward?
(I'll answer these two questions at once)
Radio is a business, and like any business, it's looking for the next
big thing. Variety Hits is a format designed to appeal to a wide
audience. P25-54 (Persons, or Adults, 25-54) is the target
demographic, which also happens to be the most lucrative advertising
demographic in radio. Of course, when you want to reach that wide of
a group, you're talking about a challenging thing. A 25 year old man
and a 54 year old woman aren't likely to have similar musical
Why it works is simple: the broad range of musical genres, based on
songs that were Top 40 hits from 1974-present, appeal to a wide mass
of people. For an example, I can give you a very personal
case-in-point. In Nashville, JACK-FM debuted in April. My brother
Matt and my Mom both live there, and neither of them I thought would
ever have a single radio station that would be in their top 3
favorites. Matt likes hard rock; my Mom likes oldies and AC (Adult
Contemporary). But JACK-FM, amazingly enough, was something that my
brother enjoyed, thanks to the huge playlists, the "oh wow" factor of
surprising songs, and the overall wide selection of different yet
familiar songs. My Mom enjoyed it because it played music that she
enjoyed, but also it had enough variety in there that she wasn't
hearing the same songs over and over. Matt listed the station as his
second-favorite (behind modern rock 102.9 The Buzz), as did my Mom
(behind AC Mix 92.9). I never, EVER thought that would happen.
On a more general basis, because so many genres are covered, more
people are going to be inclined to put Variety Hits into their car
radio as a pre-set. Looking at the results so far, the TSL (Time
Spent Listening) tends to not be as high as in other formats, but the
Cume (Cumulative number of listeners) tends to be high, since it
appeals to such a broad base. It certainly plays to the strengths of
the Arbitron ratings system, where people enter stations that they
listen to (and may not accurately represent the total amount of time
that they listen).
> Do you think variety hits stations will continue to remain
> successful years from now?
I think it will be in cases where it is executed properly. Not all of
them will, because it's not an easy format to program. I used to
think that AAA (Adult Album Alternative) was the toughest, but Variety
Hits has surpassed that as the most difficult. Trying to find what
unrelated songs will work together best in a given set, without too
much 80s or new music or rock or pop in any one stretch of time...
that is difficult.
> What do you think is most appealing about Jack FM?
The whole "you never know what you'll hear next factor" I think is the
most appealing thing about JACK-FM. It's also very, very carefully
researched, much moreso than I think most observers realize. Howard
Cogan (the voiceover talent for the terrestrial JACK-FM stations) is
also great in his role; since JACK-FM in the United States (with the
exception of Jeff and Jer in San Diego and Howard Stern in Buffalo) is
jock-free, the voiceover talent is an essential part of helping the
audience connect with the station, and Cogan is outstanding in his
> Have you noticed mostly negative, or positive responses to the
> new automated format?
It depends who you ask. Listeners seem to love it. To call it an
automated format is a bit of a misnomer, as there are Variety Hits
stations (i.e. those owned by Bonneville) that have DJs (like The Peak
in Phoenix). People who work as air talents in radio by and large
mostly dislike it, as they see it as meaning fewer jobs for them. But
in reality, with voice-tracking and companies already having jockless
dayparts in large markets (i.e. Cox Broadcasting), it's not as if
Variety Hits is something that is shaking things from the norm. The
sad reality is that for DJs, the jobs that were there ten years ago
aren't there anymore. You can thank the 1996 Telecommunications Act
for that, which allowed for so much consolidation in media ownership
in this country, but that's another topic for another time.
> Thank you so much for all of your help! Any questions that you
> can answer would really help me out.
I hope that what I wrote helped. One thing worth noting: of all the
Variety Hits stations that have gone on the air, both in Canada and in
the United States, only two have died off: Bob FM in Honolulu and Bob
FM in Sacramento. In Honolulu, the station was poorly programmed, but
what killed it was when it was sold to Salem Communications, which
only programs a select few formats, one of which is not Variety Hits.
Salem deep-sixed the format in August 2004. In Sacramento, First
Broadcasting sold off one of its signals, and it decided to move the
80s "Flash" music format to the 92.1 rimshot signal that Bob FM had
been on for only a few months, knocking off that incarnation of Bob FM
on 8/1/2005 (just a few weeks ago). Infinity Broadcasting, which is
responsible for putting JACK-FM on in many major markets in the United
States, actually created a VP of Programming position for the format,
which tells me that it is in this for the long haul.
Good luck with your story; one person I recommend that you talk with
is Bob Perry, who created JACK-FM. His e-mail address is (removed from
here to respect Bob's privacy).
LouPickney.com (and obviously VarietyHits.com)
© Copyright 2005-2009 Lou Pickney. All Rights Reserved.