President of Jack Barton Entertainment
Jack has been a mainstay in AAA radio for decades. From his time AMDing WXPN in Philadelphia followed by a stint as MD at WYEP/Pittsburgh to his tenure leading the AAA department at FMQB, he’s seen it all. These days, Jack runs his own company, JBE, which offers a host of music industry services with refined expertise and is currently setting up the AAA Summitfest, an industry conference to occur this
August in Boulder.
You’ve worked in AAA radio in a lot of different roles—as programmer, as on-air talent, as FMQB team leader, as JBE founder, as Summitfest organizer, and even as artist manager. Tell us a little about what that variety of experiences has taught you. What keeps bringing you back to the format?
Well, I never left the format once I found it. But what first drew me to the format was that, when it appeared in the early-90s, there was suddenly a format that reminded me of free-form progressive rock in the late-60s. There was a sense of musical adventure with multiple genres being played against each other, creating a sense of a musical community that was advanced by knowledgeable and personable hosts who came across like friends turning you onto new music, sharing your passion for your old favorites and they also communicated a sense of concern for the community-at-large. They sounded like real people who wanted to be a part of your life as opposed to sounding like performers looking for applause.
What I’ve learned over the decades is that, despite what a lot of the mainstream press and digital media may claim, radio – when done in the way I consider “right” (see previous answer) – is still the best place for new artists and new music to be introduced. As opposed to streaming platforms that match the new music you’re hearing to the algorithm of the music you picked yourself, it is generally programmed by people with a very wide musical palette who will challenge the listener to stay with them. Also, the relationship a DJ builds with his or her audience makes them a trusted source of new music, making the listener more open to things unfamiliar just because their “friend” on the radio is saying, “You’ve got to hear this!”
In a world inundated with digital platforms, why is radio different?
As I mentioned above, radio – particularly AAA – is curated by people for people. The relationship between the station and its audience is very important and that can be seen not just in the music they play and how they choose it, but also in the types of promotions they do and their relationships with the non-profits in the local community as well as – again, in the case of AAA – the fierce commitment to supporting local artists. Radio, when done “right,” becomes a place where the community can come together in a shared experience, devoid of all the social and political pressure found in modern life. Which, again, makes it a more trusted source of new music, making the listener more open to sounds not aligned with their algorithm.
What is your favorite thing
about AAA radio?
The sense of community and musical adventure it creates, no matter the particular “flavor” of the individual station.
You’ve worked closely with lots of different AAA programmers in the past couple decades. Is there anything that makes AAA programmers different from other industry folks?
Yes. They’re not unaware of nor do they eschew the tools available to them like research, streaming numbers and things like that, but for the most part they use them as what they are: tools. They will take the data available to them and combine that with their ears, gut and anecdotal knowledge of their audience to decide what records to play. They tend to lean more toward programming for people than programming by data.