Thursday, July 19, 2007

You Don't Know Jack

LM's paean to local radio, just below, prompts me to tell you the backstory of the Jack phenomenon -- a phenomenon that started where I live, in Vancouver, BC.

When we moved to Vancouver, BC four years ago, Jack was the sound of the city. From the very first day, we newcomers couldn't miss it: every car, every store, every restaurant, everywhere you went -- everybody listened to Jack. The kids loved it. The grandparents loved it. It was so raw and funky. There was absolutely something for everyone. And on any given Jack-listening day, I could count on hearing one or two songs I'd never heard before, which would send me scrambling to iTunes to catch them for my own before they got away.

And, I swear I remember this (though somebody will surely correct me if I'm wrong): the original Vancouver Jack used to have live DJs. The Voice of Jack did station promos and those funny segues; but there were real local people doing the heavy lifting, making the show work. One got the impression these boys and girls really did play pretty much what they wanted, which is what made the whole thing sound so alive.

Then, sometime in 2004, there came the announcement in the paper that Infinity was changing the format and rolling it out to other cities. The live DJs were fired. The playlist grew far more narrow, and less off-the-wall. (The old Jack would have played Billy Joel only rarely, and even then with its tongue firmly in cheek.) Within a few months, the sound of Jack, which has been as ubiquitous and permeating in the Vancouver atmosphere as the rain, was heard far less often as the hip and trendy let go and moved on.

Y'all got what was left once the format had been thoroughly passed through the corporate digestive tract. It's still, y'no, nice -- better than top 40 on most days, but definitely less interesting than what's on my iPod.

Realizing the Jack I knew and loved was lost was the first time I got to feel nostalgic remembering something good here that's been and gone. It was the moment I realized I was officially not a newcomer to Vancouver any more.