Driving into work the other day, I was listening (as usual) to Jones College Radio (90.0-FM WKTZ), when a commentary by Dick McMeekin, longtime producer and commentator, aired. In light of current events with the longtime Jacksonville radio fixture, it seemed especially relevant.
The theme was pending mortality. McMeekin talked of how the best way to appreciate life is to enjoy the simple pleasures: walking barefoot through the park, enjoying the beach at sunset, treating yourself to a double-dip ice cream cone with sprinkles. “These things are the stuff of life,” he said, “the little things that can be taken away.” He added, tellingly, that as we fade out of this world and into whatever comes next, we won’t regret “the things we did but the things we did not do.”
McMeekin, it would seem, might not harbor many of those regrets — having been everything from an entertainer on The Ed Sullivan Show to a chief of staff in the U.S. Senate. However, it comes time for everything to pass from this realm to the next. Including Jones College Radio.
The station’s sale has been finalized to a religious broadcasting concern called Educational Media Foundation, though no one at Jones College Radio is talking about it to the media outlets that have inquired, including the Times-Union, WJCT and Folio Weekly. (The sale comes despite a pitched pledge drive last year, in which Jones College Radio sought $200,000 to continue operations. My repeated requests for comment went unacknowledged.) It’s expected that the station’s locally sourced easy listening will be phased out this month.
EMF vice president of signal development Joe Miller, in a statement to the T-U, promises to bring “contemporary Christian music” to Jacksonville (because God knows there’s been a dearth of such treacle on the airwaves heretofore), and he offered some advice to Jacksonville listeners who see Jones College Radio as part of their lives, many of whom might not remember a time without Jones College Radio’s smooth sounds being available to them as a refuge from the Clear Channel — excuse me, iHeartMedia — garbage that already rules the dial.
Calling easy listening “a format that 20 or 30 years ago was very highly rated,” but no longer relevant to “adults 25 to 54 years old,” Miller advised those who “want to hear the kind of music the station has been playing” to simply “go to the Internet” to get their fix.
Miller misses the point.
Yes, the Jones College Radio experience was, in part, about the easy listening sounds of Mantovani and 101 Strings, of Johnnie Ray and Andy Williams, of muzak versions of hits like “Stayin’ Alive.” But it was also about the locality of the music. The last viable easy listening station in the country was ours. Emanating from Riverton Tower in Arlington, the smooth sounds of Jones College Radio predated consolidation, the end of tolls on I-95, the beginning and end of the Jacksonville Bulls, and everything else that has happened in this city in the last half-century.
Gone are many of the institutions we have recognized as thoroughly, quintessentially Jacksonville over the years — everything from Jimmie’s Buttermilk Chicken to Championship Wrestling from Florida coming to the Coliseum once a week. Those pieces of local color will not be replaced. And neither will Jones College Radio, unless you believe the sanitized, synthesized, resolutely feel-good messaging of today’s Christian radio, piped in from the West Coast, will make up for the loss.
Miller tells Jacksonville residents (especially the older ones who may lack the technical facility to do so) to “go to the Internet” to replace something that is part of their cultural framework, and to pretend like it’s not a real loss because those precious demographic surveys tell him that only old people listen to that stuff.
Here’s a clue: It’s not just old people. Lots of younger people, who still, despite the efforts of corrosive commercial culture, believe that songs should have melodies and depth — they listened to that station as well. They loved the station. It did what nothing else in this market was willing to do.
Jones College sold out. Reports are the college received $3.375 million for its two stations. The money will be pissed away on something, forgotten soon enough. The same can be said for Jones College itself.