Sunday, October 14, 2007

Tom UnTerrific

Monticello Media announced the arrival of a new radio format to the Charlottesville area -- Tom.

Sometimes people are so deep into a particular subject that they lose touch with how the general public looks at it. And the development of the single-syllable-male-name-radio-format is a perfect example of that.

According to their press release on
"Tom is a new radio station at 107.5 FM that is unlike anything available in the Charlottesville market because Tom plays Anything. Anytime.

Traditionally music radio stations have limited themselves to playing one particular genre of music such as country, classic rock, oldies, etc. playing the same songs over, and over, and over… Tom is anything but traditional. Tom may play a U2 song followed by the Bee Gees then Matchbox 20, Lou Rawls, Def Leppard, Madonna, Nickleback then Earth, Wind and Fire."
"Anything, anytime?" How about "Some things -- a lot."

Whether it's called Tom, Bob, Sam, Dave or whatever, the intent is to present a greater variety of music, simulating an iPod on shuffle play. The promise is a wild, crazy, unpredictable listening adventure. The reality falls far short of that, primarily because of the short-sightedness of the programmers.

Imagine someone who ate every single meal at McDonald's. Of course they're excited about the addition of the McRib sandwich to the menu. Pork?!? At McDonald's?!?!! It's wild! It's crazy!

Perhaps to someone who's only been exposed to McDonald's fare. To the average person, a rib sandwich at McDonald's is nice, but not earth-shaking. And many who like barbecue (whether North Carolina style or Kansas City style) consider the McRib to be too bland and characterless to be taken seriously.

And the same is true with Tom/Jack/Sam/Bob/Dave. Radio programmers who never strayed far from their top 40 formats looked at what the kids were doing with their iPods and tried to mimic it. Instead of a list of a few hundred songs, they expanded it to a few thousand. How? By combining the tightly regulated playlists of a few closely related formats. So instead of just top 40, Tom/Jack/Sam/Bob/Dave gives you the approved top 40 songs, the approved adult contemporary songs, the approved 70's and 80's oldies, and so on.

Here's the programming philosophy of the Sam format: [italics mine]
"..the format that delivers hit after hit from different eras and different genres, without getting stale or repetitive. Meticulously researched to pinpoint exactly what Adults 25-54 want to hear and aren't sick and tired of, Sam supplies the highest familiarity with the least amount of burn."
My local station, WOLJ, uses Sam from Westwood One, with the slogan "You never know what we'll play next."

Perhaps not, but I know what they won't play next. No classical music. No jazz. No blues. No folk. No bluegrass. And most importantly, no local music.

I've got it all on my iPod, though, and more.

And what about the artists they do play? Any chance of hearing anything other than the same old tunes over and over? They may play "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves, but what about their other hit, "Sun Street?" I've got that on my iPod, too. Ditto with other songs by other "one hit wonders," such as the Ides of March, Thomas Dolby, The Jam, and more.

Tom/Bob/Dave/Sam sounds fresh -- when compared to current radio fare. But placed against the incredible variety of music currently available to almost everyone, it's like putting a McRib sandwich side-by-side with the fare at Arthur Bryant's. It's just plain sad.

And saddest of all the large number of people whose musical tastes have been so stunted by a steady diet of commercial radio that they will indeed be thrilled by this "wild and crazy format."

- Ralph


  1. Has anyone done a successful parody version of this format? Perhaps I should on my secret radio show?

  2. I think it would be difficult to effectively parody what's essentially a parody of a listening experience, but I'd love to hear the results.

    Where might we find your secret radio show?