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Thursday, May 19, 2005 01:22 pm

What's in a name?

About six weeks ago, a new radio station with an intriguing shtick popped up on the Springfield spectrum. ABE-FM, located at 93.9, where WMHX used to peddle soft adult contemporary, made a couple of tantalizing promises: to play 10,000 songs in a row, not only commercial-free but also free from the stylistic shackles that define most station formats. ABE-FM’s tag line: “Abe plays anything.”

But if you think ABE, or his owners, Capitol Radio Group, came up with this concept themselves, well, you don’t know Jack. Created in Canada in 2002, “Jack” is the hottest trend in radio formatting. Jack stations emulate an iPod set to shuffle, taking tunes from a large playlist spanning different eras and genres and playing them in an apparently random order. Instead of having song after song sound the same, Jack stations purposely plan “train wrecks,” or juxtapositions of tunes from wildly different decades and dance beats.

Jack stations have sprung up across North America, in Denver, Dallas, Los Angeles, Seattle, Nashville, Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. Detroit calls its Jack station Doug, and Phildelphia calls its Jack station Ben. Indianapolis has a country-fied Jack station called Hank. Whatever they’re called, they feature playlists of former Top 40 hits presented “jockless,” with few commercials and no deejay chatter.

Leanne Arndt, general manager of Capitol Radio Group, says ABE-FM is not the copyrighted Jack format but rather a version customized for Springfield.

“We brainstormed on this and looked at where the biggest voids were,” she says. ABE-FM’s playlist averages 1,300 tunes.

The Jack format has proven popular, especially with young adults, and Springfield is no different. “We’ve gotten a lot of positive response,” Arndt says.

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