They are words you do not typically hear in a car dealer spot: "God bless."
Yet, on WJLK-FM (the Point) Monmouth-Ocean, N.J., "God bless" is actually in the tag line of at least two of the spots I heard last Thursday afternoon. Serving one of a devastating storm's most devastated areas, the Point is back to its adult top 40 format now, after a few days broadcasting exclusively news and information, but it's not in any way business as usual. Easily two-thirds of its "between the records" content is something you would not expect to hear on the radio in less extraordinary times.
In about 90 minutes of listening on Thursday, I heard:
• A listener testimonial promo that began, "Thank God for my C batteries keeping the station going," and ending with the declaration, "This is our home, this is our station."
• Afternoon host Matt Ryan telling a caller, "I think 'Extreme Makeover' should spend the next six months at the Jersey Shore."
• An ad for a local contractor urging homeowners to entrust their repairs only to reputable, local contractors.
• Ryan giving the station number, but not for requests. "That number has been a lifeline for many . . . reach out for whatever you need."<
• An auto dealer ad that promises to arrange for a tow for listeners, and, "If our power's still up and running, we'll share a cup of coffee."
• Another auto ad that asks listeners, "As long as our families are safe, why not turn a negative into a positive" with a new car? Another ad reminds listeners that "homes, cars [and] stuff can be replaced."
• An auto ad followed by an ad for Plymouth Rock Insurance, promising, "We'll get through this together, New Jersey." A stopset contains several car ads, an insurance ad and a furniture ad, all addressing victims of Sandy. In another ad, supermarket chain ShopRite reminds listeners that the number of bonus points needed to qualify for a free turkey has been reduced.
• Owner Townsquare Media's statewide news at :00, immediately followed by another newscast from sister WOBM. On the afternoon in question, voting had been extended to those who didn't get their opportunity two days earlier. The death toll on the Jersey Shore was up to four--two deaths by drowning, two by hypothermia. And it was headed down to 25 degrees that night.
• The news being followed by David Guetta's "Titanium" (featuring Sia). And, in context, the personal declaration of strength in the song's lyrics becomes more meaningful and less generic. Phillip Phillips' "Home" takes on a new meaning. So, for that matter, does "As Long As You Love Me" by Justin Bieber. ("Home" was already a power on the Point, but it is now the most-played song.)
The next day, morning team Lou & Liz note that the state pork producers are handing out free sandwiches, "especially for those of you who haven't had a hot meal in weeks."
Listening to the Point is both great radio and the kind of radio that you hope to never hear. I have no voyeuristic interest in the devastation-there's plenty of that on TV. It's more that the station is conveying an ineffable "sense of place" at the moment, and doing so in the context of a music format.
The previous 11 days had been extraordinary in some way for everyone in the New York area, but just a few minutes with the Point is a vivid reminder how catastrophic Sandy was for the Jersey Shore.
None of this is to suggest that other Tri-State stations are failing to serve their listeners, or that the Point only sounds local in an emergency. But I have heard other area stations that are taking a more "the show must go on" approach and trying to offer a sense of normalcy. And as someone who listens to a lot of radio from outside the market, "sense of place" is at a premium. Local spots are paved over with national PSAs. Local hits are increasingly rare. Any between-the-records content is usually limited by PPM-era minimalism.
Trade publications routinely cheer radio for its handling of each natural disaster now, along with reminding us that Pandora can't provide emergency news and information-which makes one fear for a continued franchise for traditional music radio in happier times. In fact, having encountered so little "sense of place" in my regular listening, it's hard to imagine exactly what the Point's current hyper-locality would sound like under less trying circumstances. But I'd welcome any attempt.