Hit the Road "Jack," Or At Least Take Up Residence on HD2, as Solid Gold Sounds Get Polished Up To Return Thursday
For 33 years, WCBS-FM was New York's oldies station. Despite various tweaks in its format, a few changes to the airstaff and a gradually graying audience, the station was a reliable engine of profits for CBS Radio, with estimated billings of $35 million a year.
But back on June 3, 2005, that wasn't enough. And even though the station enjoyed healthy ratings, the brass decided those over-40 listeners just weren't going to bring in enough advertisers over the longer haul. So, out went the oldies and in came "Jack," the format that's meant to be more of a radio jukebox, playing everything from Gloria Gaynor to Led Zeppelin.
It was a miserable failure.
What had succeded in other markets died a horrible Arbitron death in New York, with a format that attempted to be a "Jack" of all trades, but master of none. Listeners didn't know what to expect at any given moment, and most didn't bother to find out.
So, with enlightened radio executive Dan Mason returning to helm CBS Radio, he decided not to stand pat with the festering "Jack" and bought himself and his bosses mountains of goodwill and, maybe, more money, with word that CBS-FM will go back to oldies on Thursday at 1:01 p.m. (the station is at 101.1 on the FM dial).
The rumors and speculation of the format flip had been running rampant in the radio trades, and the New York Radio Message Board, where posters have been fulminating about Jack for the last two years (full disclosure: I participate in discussisons there now and then). Then the New York Daily News bannered the news on its front page Saturday, a combination of a slow days and a semi-seismic event on the New York airwaves.
How did it happen that oldies is suddenly back in vogue? Well, first thing, it's not really oldies anymore. Now, it's called "Classic Hits." But that's more than just a semantic thing. The new station will skew more heavily toward 70s and 80s music, with flecks of the 60s a la Motown, the Beatles and the Beach Boys.
As for the likes of Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and anyone else from the 50s, there's always satellite radio and your CD collection. Bottom line: the station doesn't want to play music that's older than the listeners it wants.
And for the three of you who will truly miss Jack-FM, fear not. The format will still be available online at the station's HD2 channel and here.