Meet George, Kin of Jack and Bob. He's the New (but Familiar) Kid on the Block.

By Marc Fisher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 4, 2007

George is a 44-year-old white guy who lives in the suburbs and likes Foreigner, Journey, Billy Idol and David Bowie. When George was in high school, he loathed disco and the soft soul sounds of the '70s.

Our mythical George and people like him have themselves a new radio station. "George 104" took the place of classical WGMS last month and bills itself as the sounds of "the '70s, '80s and whatever we want." If the music now playing on 104.1 FM sounds similar to what's on three other stations in town, that's because, well, it is.

George, like stations elsewhere that go by names such as Jack, Bob, Ben and even Doug, is the radio industry's attempt to rise to the challenge posed by iPods, downloading and the fact that young people don't rely on their radios to hear their favorite songs anymore.

These stations -- using a format known in the radio industry as adult hits -- offer a greatly expanded playlist as an enticement to listeners who've already downloaded the songs they know they like. "You can listen all day and we'll never repeat a song. No corporate playlists, no rules, it's nice," say the canned announcements on George. (The station, for now, has no deejays, just wall-to-wall music.)

But George is very much a corporate product, created by the same people who built similar stations in Phoenix, St. Louis and San Francisco for the same owner, Bonneville International Corp.(The Washington Post has an agreement to provide programming to Bonneville's station WTWP.)

"This has been a proven format for us," says Joel Grey, architect of the "George" sound and vice president and program director of the Peak, Bonneville's first adult-hits station, in Phoenix. "Some of these songs can be heard on a variety of other stations in Washington, but our box is bigger: This is a 1,500-song library" instead of the 300 or so songs played on George's primary competitors.

George is trying to win listeners in the 35-54 age bracket, which is also the target demographic of two other stations that play similar music, classic rock 94.7 the Arrow (owned by CBS) and classic hits Big 100.3 (Clear Channel). Mix 107.3 (ABC), which traffics in '80s and '90s hits as well as current songs, aims at a similar but slightly younger audience.

So why add another station with a similar format in the same market, when there are so many other genres of music that can't be heard on the radio? George is aimed at the demographic that advertisers most covet, and Bonneville believes the larger playlist offers enough of a distinction to beat the competition.

"If you took Big, Arrow, Mix and WASH and threw them in a blender, that would be George," Grey says. "We'll go from James Taylor from the early '70s to Daniel Powter from 2005. The other stations will play ZZ Top like us, but they won't also play Madonna or Prince like we will."

Each station also seeks a different blend of men and women in its audience: Arrow appeals to a more heavily male listener base, BIG aims at an equal split between the sexes, and George is promising advertisers an audience that will have somewhat more women.

Two years ago, Mix made a move similar to what George is doing, greatly expanding its playlist to include about 1,000 songs from the 1970s through the '90s and calling its new approach "the best of . . . everything." But Mix went only halfway toward adopting the concept known as "Jack," which started in Canada in 2003 and eschewed deejays to give listeners the sense that the station was a music machine, delivering discoveries from the vaults of pop history.

Mix instead retained its personalities, such as morning man Jack Diamond. And over time, Mix has moved back toward where it started, with a greater emphasis on current hits.

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