50 Years of AC: Vanilla Is Licking the Competition
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As music progresses - Bruno Mars' "Just the Way You Are" taking its place at AC alongside Billy Joel's - a constant has been the format's presentation between the songs. It doesn't play rap or hard rock, and doesn't employ shock jocks. "Focus groups say that Magic 106.7 is a station you can tune to with your eyes closed," Greater Media's Kelley says, praising WMJX's instantly recognizable air talent, including midday host Nancy Quill and night jock David Allan Boucher, each of whom has been a station staple since Magic's 1982 sign-on.
"When people talk about Boucher, they never mention the music he plays. They talk about his delivery," Kelley says. In addition to his rich, deep voice, Boucher "has a way of sounding laid-back without trying to. He speaks off-mic to his producers and engineer ... both of whom are figments of his imagination. He rattles papers or clicks computer keys when he's trying to 'find' a special dedication to read. He squeaks his chair when he turns to look out the window when reading the weather. He is very good theater of the mind."
Mirroring the format's approach, WMJX is synonymous with family-friendly content. "The 'Magic Lyric Guarantee' is in effect 24 hours a day," an entry on Magic's website says. "We promise to play songs with lyrics that won't embarrass you in front of your kids or your customers." Kelley says: "We came up with the idea for the 'Magic Lyric Guarantee' in 1996 when Toni Braxton released 'You're Makin' Me High.' We never played that song, but we were playing three other Braxton songs. We decided to clarify our mission, and the audience loved it and expected everything on the station to live up to that standard."
A glance at this week's AC chart reveals the format's embrace of such titles as P!nk's "F**kin' Perfect" and Cee Lo Green's "F**k You (Forget You)," but "we obviously never play the unedited versions," Kelley says. The transformation from "Boll Weevil Song" to boldly titled songs simply shows that AC continues to adapt, ensuring its staying power.
The secret to its success? "We focus on the same demo year after year," says Kelley, who has programmed WMJX since December 1989. (Assistant PD Mark Laurence joined in 1991 and 15-year morning host Mike Addams has been on-air in Boston since 1974.) "It's like a fifth-grade teacher who always has students that are 10." And while Billboard's weekly ranking of the format hasn't been called Middle-Road for 46 years, the descriptor still fits. Says Kelley of his station, although he could be echoing the format's overall appeal, "We're familiar and comfortable."
And, like vanilla, perennially victorious.