From Alice to ... Jack?
State of the Arts
Where can you hear Garth Brooks, AC/DC and the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the same sound session? On your own idiosyncratic iPod, for sure. But on the car radio? In June, the Burlington-area station formerly known as Alice started broadcasting an unpredictable -- and some say "oddly addictive" -- selection of hits, most of which hail from the '80s. No annoying deejays slow down the song selection, and only nine ads air per hour. The owners of MP103 know they're up against some serious competition within the industry: Satellite radio, Internet radio and MP3 players are forcing commercial stations to come up with new strategies to survive. So-called "random radio" could be the answer. "The real advantage here is we'll surprise you," says MP103 General Manager Rich Delancey, noting that even the tunes on your iPod eventually become familiar. "We want people to wonder what comes next. We want them to say, 'Oh, man, I can't believe they're playing that. I haven't heard that in forever.'"
MP103 is a milder version of "Jack," a concept which has taken hold in big cities nationwide. This week, Time magazine describes it as "possibly the catchiest, most democratic radio format yet invented." It reports that several weeks ago, "an angry Mayor Michael Bloomberg said a very bad word because 101.1 Jack FM replaced his beloved oldies station" in New York City. Eschewing narrowly defined categories such as "oldies," "classic rock" and "adult contemporary," Jack redefines variety with a portable-music-player approach to programming.
That's not to say the 2000-song playlist hasn't been fine-tuned. In the case of MP103, which claims to be "a little softer" than Jack, station owners conducted two studies within the listening area. "Both came back with the same results: There's a huge demand in this market for an '80s-based hit format," says Bob Rowe, vice president of administration for Northeast Broadcasting, which also owns the The Point, Boston's The River and 30-odd other radio stations across the country. Does that make it a nostalgia station for Gen-Xers? The slogan, "Whatever, Whenever," says it all. But feedback from the first few weeks suggests the station has a broader appeal. Rowe recalls a recent visit by the "FedEx guy," who had just discovered the station's Dorset Street office, which still doesn't have a sign. "He said he'd been in three offices before ours, and they were all listening to it." Next?
Missed him on the cover of the Nation last month? Rep. Bernie Sanders is a political rock star in the current issue of Rolling Stone. He's the inspiration for "Four Amendments and a Funeral," a seven-page "being-there" piece that exposes the inner workings of Congress in Dante-esque detail. The indie lawmaker steers reporter Matt Taibbi through the treacherous corridors of Capitol Hill to the hellish House Rules Committee, which decides the fate of countless bills and amendments. Taibbi describes it as "perhaps the free world's outstanding bureaucratic abomination," housed in "a tiny, airless closet deep in the labyrinth of the Capitol where some of the very meanest people on earth spend their days cleaning democracy like a fish." Taibbi's article should be required reading for every history, government and poli-sci student in the country. Of course, he does employ some expletives: Rep. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., is "your basic Fat Evil Prick." And the subhead warns this article "should not be viewed by small children or anyone with a shred of idealism." One quibble: story placement. Even if Bernie had to pick up a guitar, this one should have been on the cover.
For seven years, Scrumptious has lived up to its name. A source of excellent edibles, it's been the little eatery that could in Burlington's Old North End. Until Monday, that is, when owner Barbara Cook finally ran out of steam and closed the doors for good. "I'm worn out," she says sadly. "My labor of love is too laborious." Cook was a cheerful supporter of the North Street Revitalization Project, but was looking for relief long before the electric poles came down. She was making a "marginal profit," she says, but the 14-hour days got to be too much. A few buyers expressed interest, but nothing materialized. "If there's anyone out there," she says, "there's still a two-week window." Any deal would be a good one if it included her recipe for tomato-basil soup.
The Vermont Film Commission used to send still photographs to producers with cinematic designs on the state. Now anyone can get a look through a locations database on the commission's helpful website. Most of the categories still come up empty:
"Vermont as Antarctica," "Vermont as Austria" and "Vermont as Romania," for example. Others are sorely lacking: "Sports: Skiing" turns up only one downhill area: Ascutney. "We want to populate the database with as many locations as possible," says Film Commission Deputy Director Tammie Blockburger, noting that the illustrated info bank is an opportunity for folks to market their properties to moviemakers. It's not a bad way to brainstorm a last-minute summer vacation, either. Under "Water: beaches, shoreline," private "Fishbladder" Island is listed along with Caspian Lake, Basin Harbor and Henry's Sportsman's Cottages in Alburg.