Milwaukee Talks: FM 102.1's Jacent Jackson
Like many radio personalities, Jacent Jackson describes his career path as "nomadic." The FM 102.1 program director and midday DJ knew from the age of 12 that he wanted to be on the radio, and spent years following opportunities whether they were in Boise, Detroit or right here in Brew City.
"I've never really worked a day in my life," says Jackson, a perfect fit for his work.
Today, Jackson lives in Wauwatosa with his family, and feels that FM 102.1 is an extremely unique station that provides him with enough creative freedom to be himself. He is on the air every day during the week from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.
Recently, OnMilwaukee.com kicked back with Jackson and talked to him about his station, his goals and tried to get him, once and for all, to declare a favorite between FM 102.1 morning show co-hosts Kramp and Adler.
OnMilwaukee.com: Is Jacent Jackson your real name?
Jacent Jackson: Yes, it is. I know. That's weird. It was a real disadvantage in my childhood. If I wanted a mug or a license plate with my name on it while on vacation I was out of luck. Monogrammed stuff? Forget it. Everything had to be custom. It sucked. It became an advantage when the Internet happened, though. "Jacent" is virtually always available. So I guess it comes out in the wash.
Most people assume Jacent Jackson is a made up radio name. I don't get radio folks who make up handles for themselves. Are you really that famous? Allow me to answer my own rhetorical question: You are not. If you are like me, you say "Here's Green Day" a lot. And maybe you say some weird other stuff, too.
OMC: When are you on the air?
JJ: I am on from 10 a.m to 2 p.m. weekdays. I also celebrate '80s and '90s alternative music each day with the Flannel Flashback. It's a show where I pick the songs until you start making requests. Then I silently judge your requests as I slowly relent and play your songs in place of my songs. In other words, I actually take requests.
OMC: How did you get started in radio?
JJ: I've been nomadic like many in my business. Working backwards, I was most recently the music director for Q101 in Chicago. Before that I lived in some damn sexy markets working at radio stations that no longer exist. Ever wanted to kick it in Detroit? What about Boise, Idaho? Actually, you can't knock Boise. Boise kicks ass. It's like putting Madison in a mountain range. Lansing, Mich., is another story, however. I lived in Lansing during the GM strike in 1998. Got my tires slashed for not having an Oldsmobile. Good times.
I've done whatever was required. Morning show. Nights. Music director. Program director. Whatever. It's been fun. I started doing radio while in college. Like everyone in our on air lineup, I started left of the dial and then started earning a living on the right of 92. Thank you for listening to ad supported radio, it means a lot to me. Because of you I've never really worked a day in my life.
OMC: Was radio a big part of your childhood?
JJ: I was lonely and depressed as a kid and the radio cheered me up. I knew I wanted to be a DJ when I was 12. I don't think many people can say they are actually in a career they wanted to do as a child. My career has morphed a lot, of course. When I was 12 I didn't know what a program director was. I'm still on air, but I am also responsible for programming across the whole radio station.
I grew up in Urbana, Ill., so my favorite radio stations were WLRW which was a Top 40 station at the time, and WPGU which played progressive rock. I first learned of The Replacements and The Smiths on WPGU. I first learned of Taylor Dayne on WLRW. I can't wait until Taylor Dayne is eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I'm getting on the guest list for that ceremony. I liked the music on progressive rock radio and the DJs on the Top 40 station. I've been trying to weld those two elements into some twisted version of a radio station ever since.
OMC: What was your biggest flub on air?
JJ: It depends on the day. We're not the most professional bunch of people. I try to make the most of my mistakes. I think sometimes the mistakes are more interesting to listen to that a seamless, clean, music break.
OMC: What was your greatest radio moment?
JJ: I'd like to think it hasn't happened yet. I remember being on the air the day they found Kurt Cobain dead. That day was pretty surreal. I was on the air for the OJ verdict, too. I remember Sept. 11 for a multitude of reasons, one of which was being on the air for that day. I've been on the soundboard for some of the biggest events of our times.
OMC: What is your role as program director for 102.1?
JJ: I am the program director and the midday host. This means I am responsible for managing the music, talent and image of the station, whether it is communicated on-air, on the street or online. I like this role at this radio station in particular, and think it is a good fit.
WLUM is one of the last independently-owned commercial radio stations in a market this size. This means there is no radio consultant, no corporate head or programming or any of that nonsense. We can dream up an idea and then just do it. It is totally unique in that way. Even NPR and most non commercial radio stations these days have radio consultants who call many of the shots. I cannot stress enough how cool it is to do what we are doing here. We're the only station in the market with this kind of freedom.
OMC: Can you explain the Milwaukee Radio Alliance?
JJ: WLUM is part of what I like to call a radio co-op called the Milwaukee Radio Alliance. In the '90s radio was deregulated and as a result large Wall Street-driven corporations swallowed stations up. Two owners who had individual ownership never sold out but instead moved in together and formed an LLC. WLUM is owned by Green Bay Packer legend Willie Davis. He owns an AM station called WMCS that serves the African American community. Our sister station is WLDB, which is owned by a family that owns the Scranton Times. Yep, THAT Scranton. They are hardscrabble there, I tell you.
OMC: How else is 102.1 different from other radio stations?
JJ: It is independently owned and run by a group of like-minded weirdoes who got their start doing non-commercial radio and are now basically doing a grown-up version of a college radio station. It's different in that everyone here uses their actual name on the air and doesn't pretend to be something they are not. It's different in that we make all of our own decisions in trying to reach the broadest market possible for our advertisers. All of that is pretty different. Look, it's not as if commercial radio is getting great press. We all feel like we're hanging out in a bomb shelter watching the Wall Street radio mess work itself out.
It's not different in that it is a commercial radio station. We're trusted here, but we are expected to be profitable and get ratings. So, thank you for supporting free, ad-supported commercial radio. You don't have to write a check to us, someone else will. The downside is you don't get a tote bag.
OMC: If you could play any five bands on air what bands would you play?
JJ: We actually talked about doing this. Once a week a DJ takes an hour and plays whatever and explains why they like it. I would like to play any and all Afghan Whigs, any and all Concrete Blonde, any and all by The Format, and any and all early '90s hip-hop, especially pass-the-mic jams like "The Symphony" by the Juice Crew. Speaking of Juice, I would like to karaoke over the ending to "The Rain" by Oran "Juice" Jones. Best kiss off song of all time
OMC: Where do you live? Are you married? Kids?
JJ: I live in Wauwatosa. Good folks, good schools and I don't have to try to be cool, which works out since I am not really that cool. Wauwatosa is not pretentious. It beats the hell out living in Wicker Park in Chicago. Wicker Park Chicago is a bunch of people from Des Moines who are trying too hard. I'm 34 or 35, depending on when this interview runs. I am happily married and have two little ones under 3 years old that I affectionately call Pineapple Sauce and Baby Hank.
OMC: What makes a good radio personality?
JJ: Someone who can find life interesting and isn't afraid to share it.
OMC: If you weren't on the radio, what would you be doing?
JJ: Working in advertising. I got into radio while getting an advertising degree at the University of Illinois. Got recruited by Phillip Morris in college, and passed to do a morning show in Lansing, Michigan. Thirteen years later it still feels like the right move.
OMC: Kramp or Adler?
JJ: How dare you! I think they're made for each other. I also think they are what's next in Milwaukee radio. I know old habits are hard to break, but try something new, won't you?
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