In the radio industry's answer to the popular song-shuffling iPod, Baltimore oldies station WQSR-FM became 102.7 JACK-FM yesterday. And with the format change came the end of Steve Rouse's 17-year run as host of the Rouse & Co. morning show.
After his 5 a.m.-10 a.m. show yesterday, staff members were called into a meeting where they learned of the format change, which the station promises to be an expanded playlist of shuffling songs. "I had no idea," said Rouse, 54, who didn't have an opportunity during his program to say goodbye to his listeners.
"Someone once told me that listening to our show was like going to a party, but you didn't have to dress up or put on make-up," Rouse said. "I'm still in shock."
The entire air staff was dismissed, including longtime Rouse & Co. sports broadcaster Tom Davis.
"It was one of the greatest morning shows in the history of Baltimore radio. You can only dream of having a run like that," Davis said yesterday. "We just were victims of an aging audience."
One stunned fan of the show, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., recalled his 100-plus appearances on his friend's show. The two men often found themselves competing in basketball, croquet or bowling charity events.
"And I won every one," Ehrlich said yesterday. "We had a lot of fun over the years. Steve is an institution - and he should be institutionalized as well.
"He'll be back soon somewhere."
After the final Rouse & Co. show aired yesterday, listeners throughout the day had to adjust to a faceless new station.
"Admit it - you're intrigued," said an anonymous announcer on 102.7 JACK-FM yesterday afternoon between a song by the band Heart and Paul McCartney's "Silly Love Songs." There were no disc jockeys. No songs were identified. No caller requests. There were longer blocks of ad-free music.
"People want more music," said Infinity Broadcasting spokesman Bob Philips. (Infinity owns the station.) He says the new station will play 30 percent more music. "Listeners really want to hear true variety, and this format, which is exploding across the country, has a huge listener base."
The Jack-FM format (named for East Coast radio DJ "Cadillac Jack" Garrett) is considered by some to be terrestrial radio's counter to satellite radio, which offers wide-ranging formats to match subscribers' specific interests. With an emphasis on "eclectic" and "no rules," the first-name-only format has spread to Minneapolis, Seattle, Kansas City, Mo., Dallas, Los Angeles and now Baltimore. More U.S. radio stations are expected to follow.
As in other cities, Baltimore's 102.7 JACK-FM will randomly feature music from the Rolling Stones, Prince, No Doubt and the Police and other radio-friendly bands. Aimed at crossing generations, the format is essentially the top pop hits of the last three or four decades.
Rather than the usual 400-song playlist, the industry standard, according to Philips, station managers at Jack-FM stations can select among 1,200 songs. That might sound like peanuts to an iPod user, but it's a virtual Library of Congress for typical radio playlists.
The first U.S. Jack-FM station went on the air in Denver last year. Typically, the target audience is 35- to 44-year-olds who might want to listen to anything from Don McLean's "American Pie" to Harry Chapin's "Cats in the Cradle" to the Spinners' "Rubberband Man."
The format was launched in Canada in 2002, but it wasn't called Jack. Bob-FM began in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and inspired copycat formats named Ben, Simon, Hank and - now in Baltimore - Jack.