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CMJ Seminars: Day 1, 14 September 2005

College radio is still good for discovering new music, and it's personality driven by idealistic kids who still believe radio can go back to the old days, where DJ's backed sold songs and established a rapport with their listening audience.

PopMatters @ CMJ 2005
CMJ Artist Showcases: Day 3, 16 September 2005

by Lou Friedman

[Day 1: Showcases | Panels] [Day 2: Showcases | Panels]
[Day 3: Showcases | Panels] [Day 4: Showcases]

Just like the first two days/nights of the CMJ Music Marathon Friday the weather was ridiculous -- it wasn't as hot but "steamy" is an appropriate adjective. So for many of the attendees, it was bound to be a long, exhausting day. We media types can handle one day in the sun, but three is starting to push it. Between the heat, and exhaustion from typing well into the night, making a 10am seminar took all strength one could muster -- very few people showed up. But, the topic had to do with the media's role in using on-line information as a source and so, for me, it was well worth the pain.

The above seminar was well stocked with four online editors/managers (including ones from Rolling Stone and AOL Music), and a newspaper writer. These folks have had to sit on stories they knew to be true because they didn't have absolute confirmation, only to see another website/newspaper/TV station report the story. Editors, who used to want so much to be the breakers of big stories, are now more reluctant to do so. These folks get tips on a regular basis, and they start making calls to see if they can validate to the info. But even if the info is confirmed, they often still wait until someone else breaks the story, and then they send it off.

Bill Crandall, the editorial producer of, said that guesswork is not part of how his site operates. "We don't like speculating because we have the wherewithal to find these things out for ourselves," he said.

Crandall, along with everyone else, reads many music related sights. In addition, they all read blogs. One panelist said that you can usually tell who the serious bloggers are, and if they have a nugget of pertinent information; that's where the editorial staff will start to get the ball rolling. But sometimes the subject himself/herself is out to distort the truth.

"Sometimes, the lie or denial IS the story," said Curt Feldman, the news director for the games and entertainment division of, after Crandall commented that there are times where a subject gives out false information.

The key is fact-checking until you're all facted out. All the panelists admitted to making mistakes, but by taking the long, sure road, mistakes are few and far between.

A subject that's hardly ever discussed outside the music community is health, and even less so, health insurance. A panel of three insurance men, the president of the American Federation of Musicians, NYC, local 802, and a doctor went on to describe what musicians can and need to do to keep their health in check.

Trying logic here, what do you think is the biggest health problem of musicians? If you guessed the ears, you would be at the top of the MENSA leader board. Dr. Craig Kasper, director of audiology at the New York Otolaryngology Group, said that tinnitus is the biggest problem, health-wise, for a musician. It also happens to be the most preventable problem: turning the volume down a bit, wearing a good set of earplugs (custom-made) every time you're in the studio or on stage, and just doing the normal, routine things like eating right, exercising, and not smoking can all help. In other words you should act like you're not a rock star.

Other problems specific to musicians are osteoporosis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and various psychological problems, such as depression. And should any of these problems arise, the best thing to do is be in a union of some sort, where there is medical coverage. If you're not that fortunate, there are other possibilities, including a company called Fractured Atlas, which will help you find some coverage in all 50 states. Note: each state sets its own health insurance rules and rates. The least expensive plan in New York, for instance, without being in a union or getting governmental aid is $408 monthly to qualify for an HMO. And the most startling number: a study showed that just 55% of musicians have any type of insurance, and of those, only 4-5% got it with being a musician their sole source of income. No wonder they need a cigarette.

Lastly, we go from something eye-opening to ear-shutting: Jack. That's right -- Jack. For those of you that don't know what Jack (or George or Dan) is, it's a new format for FM radio. There are no DJ's -- just this one dude with an altered voice making snarky comments here and there ("You want to know what the weather is? Look out the window!"). There is no news, no community info, no weather or sports - but there are (of course) commercials.

The ONLY good thing about Jack over other rock stations is its playlist stretches out to 1,200 songs (mostly hits from the 80's, but with a smattering of 70's and 90's tunes too), meaning you won't hear the same song for roughly two weeks. (Most other stations have a playlist of 100-150 songs though satellite radio has about a 700-song playlist. Jack has caught on in a lot of markets, including in Los Angeles, where K-Rock has been losing ratings points while Jack's are jacking upward.

The format was created in Connecticut. The concept was to put an iPod on the shuffle mode, and whatever comes out just plays, regardless of a flow factor. The rights were bought by a Canadian company (Rogers Communications), who first put the Jack concept out in Vancouver. It did surprisingly well, so the format extended across Canada. Neighbors to the south (that's us) were interested, so Infinity Broadcasting bought the U.S. rights and started trying Jack throughout the country. Jack is now in 21 markets, with only Chicago and New York not going for this concept.

What might kill Jack is its entrance in New York. Jack replaced a station icon, oldies station WCBS-FM (101.1). Jack has replaced oldies all over the country, but this wasn't just some oldies station. It had character, and a long-term relationship with its listening audience. Cousin Brucie (Morrow) was one of the biggest names on the station (he wound up on Sirius). The owners of Jack knew that they were killing an icon, and only told station staffers 30 minutes before the change was to take place before, in effect, firing everyone. Fans protested, there were rallies, and even NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg took a few shots at Jack. Of course, listenership ratings are lower than a submarine, which leads to this: if advertisers on Jack don't get the bang for the buck, how long do you think they'll stay with them? If Jack loses New York (a distinct possibility), the format might take a serious hit.

Panelists, including LA DJ Nic Harcourt, believe the biggest problem with Jack is that it's not personality driven. That leads to a lack of community presence. "Do you think the Jack stations on the Gulf Coast were alerting anyone to Hurricane Katrina when it happened?" Harcourt said. "No. They just kept on playing their playlist. That does the people down there a lot of good."

Jack may be here to stay, but it might disconnect a lot of radio listeners. And plus, if you have an iPod (or other MP3 player), you can put it on the shuffle mode and listen to it in your car without a seven-minute commercial block. If you want news or weather, just go to the AM dial and turn on your 24-hour news station. College radio is still good for discovering new music, and it's personality driven by idealistic kids who still believe radio can go back to the old days, where DJ's backed sold songs and established a rapport with their listening audience.

Not that it will ever happen again on major radio, but it's still a pleasant thought.

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