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Variety Hits - An Overview of the Format

The latest format sweeping across North America is the Variety Hits format, which some classify as an "anti-format" due to the wide array of musical genres and eras represented. Usually identified by a male first name, be it Jack (the most popular), Dave, Ben, etc., the format targets adults 35-44 with music ranging from the mid 1970s to today. Different stations angle their playlists in different ways, but there are some basic things that are true to Variety Hits stations.

As mentioned, the use of a male first name as an identifier is key. "JACK-FM" and "Playing What We Want" are registered service marks of Big Sticks Broadcasting Corporation (of New York). Some stations use other names and positioning statements to avoid paying the associated licensing fees with using Big Sticks' service marks. In the case of Canadian company Rogers Broadcasting, it has three stations on the air with the Jack name. Big Sticks threatened to sue Rogers in 2003, but the two sides reached an out-of-court settlement.

Some stations have gone with a different name than Jack, in some cases to avoid paying the licensing fees, and in other cases simply because management wanted to go with a different name or feel for their particular station.

The format goes against the typical traditions of radio of tight playlists and music that fits one genre. Described as a "Hot AC/Classic Hits hybrid" and also as an "Adult CHR (Contemporary Hit Radio)/Classic Hits hybrid", the stations actually promote the fact that they have such a wide and diverse playlist. I like the Variety Hits name better, since it is more encompassing of what is going on with the entire genre, particularly in cases where the format is altered slightly, like Ben-FM in Philadelphia.

The closest comparison to an established format is AAA (Adult Album Alternative), and I can even remember AAA "Lightning 100" (WRLT) in Nashville using liners like "You never know what'll you'll hear next" in the mid-to-late 90s. But in this case, the Variety Hits format takes that idea and uses it with music from several genres. I used to think that programming music for a AAA station was one of the toughest jobs for a Music Director and/or Program Director, but Variety Hits I believe trumps that due to the need to manually review every segue so that there isn't a clump of songs from the same genre or era all in a row.

Typically the format makes use of "classic alternative" tracks from the 80s that don't have a home anyplace in particular on the radio. It bridges that on both sides, with classic hits from the late 70s, including some dance and funk tracks, and newer adult pop tracks from the 90s and this decade. The one thing that links them all together: every song is a hit. Hence the choice of "Variety Hits" for this site (and the name I like for the genre).

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