Jack Johnson, Other Acoustic Pop Singers Find Home on Pandora... When Will AC Radio Catch Up?

Courtesy of Brushfire Records
Jack Johnson

It is well established that even when broadcast radio's listeners go looking for music on other platforms, they often search out the same mainstream formats they hear on FM. "All-'80s" is one exception, but that format differs mostly in its parameters; the songs played are generally available elsewhere.

But in recent months, I've been encountering a particular Pandora mix in various public places. It is music on the cusp of adult contemporary and triple-A, and much of it is from the '00s. It often features the songs that adults learned in some other way than from radio -- Ingrid Michaelson's "The Way I Am", Yael Naim's "New Soul," Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" -- but there will probably be a Train or Colbie Caillat or Sara Bareilles or Jason Mraz radio hit as well. The music is more hit-driven than Sirius XM's Coffee House format, but barely more aggressive texturally.

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And there's almost always Jack Johnson. In fact, when I asked someone recently about the music playing in their office, it emerged that Johnson was the seed artist. Radio didn't ignore Johnson a decade ago. He got some airplay at alternative (at an otherwise hard-rocking time in the format), triple-A and hot AC. But Johnson never really became a "radio artist," and eventually more mainstream artists like Mraz wrested away that ukulele franchise that pop PDs hadn't, until then, known anybody cared about.

The transition to soft-but-contemporary hasn't been easy for many heritage AC stations to finesse. The '90s and early '00s don't yield a lot of material. The music inherited from mainstream and adult top 40 is often edgy, but it researches well-enough to leave PDs grappling with fit issues. New acoustic pop is available on alternative and triple-A in abundance, but today's top 40 ratifies a "Riptide" or "Stolen Dance" only occasionally, meaning it might not get to a mainstream AC station. But when top 40 does send through, say, Passenger's "Let Her Go," it confirms almost a decade of acceptance of acoustic music by today's more pensive teenagers.

The mainstream AC station that has most embraced the new acoustic pop of the last decade is KRWM (Warm 106.9) Seattle. Scroll down their most played titles and you'll find Norah Jones' "Sunrise" and "Come Away With Me" along with Landon Pigg's "Falling In Love At A Coffee Shop." There's also plenty of more typical mainstream AC music, but most of it from the last 15 years. Warm 106.9 had the advantage of former triple-A rival KMTT (the Mountain) to familiarize some of that music, and also got an apparent boost from KMTT's departure as well.

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Perhaps the presence of the new acoustic pop on so many Pandora playlists just confirms that those listeners who want something sort-of eclectic have selected themselves out of broadcast radio usage. As likely, it means that there's a new body of music waiting for broadcast radio to acknowledge it. And as was the case 40 years ago when Elton John, James Taylor, and Bread were all of a piece to certain singer/songwriter fans, it's a sonic coalition that transcends artist image or where an act's current formatic home is. 

Here's the hour of Jack Johnson Radio that Pandora gave me, including four stopsets with a total of 90 seconds of ads. It was hard to recreate perfectly the mix that I'd heard so many places. Adding newer but like-minded songs into the mix (e.g., Vance Joy's "Riptide") seemed to steer in a more current, less familiar triple-A direction. But a number of the songs ("100 Years," "Rhythm of Love") or artists (John Mayer, Michael Bublé) are regular presences when I encounter this format:

Milky Chance, "Stolen Dance"
Young The Giant, "Cough Syrup"
Head & the Heart, "Lost In My Mind"
George Ezra, "Benjamin Twine"
Plain White T's, "Rhythm of Love"
Jack Johnson, "Talk of the Town"
Five For Fighting, "100 Years"
John Mayer, "No Such Thing"
Michael Bublé, "Fever"
Journey, "Don't Stop Believin'"
Smash Mouth, "All Star"
John Mayer, "Gravity"
Of Monsters And Men, "Your Bones"
Dean Martin, "Sway"
Bill Withers, "Ain't No Sunshine"
Vance Joy, "Redeye"
Michael Bublé, "Crazy Love"
Jack Johnson & Rhythms Del Mundo, "Better Together"


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