If you turn the dial on a car stereo during a drive through California, you'll run into Alice, Mike, Kelly, and a couple Josés. Disc jockeys? Nope. They're radio stations, each emblazoned with a distinctly human nickname.
They have plenty of company. From coast to coast, dozens of radio stations have adopted people's names over the past year. There's "98.7 Earl FM" in Knoxville, Tenn.; "102.9 Mike FM" in Fort Wayne, Ind.; and "103.3 Ed FM" in Albuquerque, N.M.
Even historical figures are getting in on the trend: Benjamin Franklin inspired Philadelphia's "Ben FM," and the logo of "Abe FM" in Springfield, Ill., features a certain stovepipe-hatted president wearing a pair of earphones.
Why abandon traditional radio nicknames like "Star" and "Kiss"? The answer lies in the rise of a new-fangled music format that randomly "shuffles" songs from large playlists of tunes from the past three decades.
The stations typically hire few, if any, disc jockeys. But to avoid having no personality at all, programmers turned to nicknames with panache, one that, for example, conjures up Nicholson, Kennedy, and Kerouac - "Jack." There are now more than 30 "Jack" stations in the US and Canada. Jack, in turn, begat "Steve," "Doug" and "Charlie." Even country stations joined the "shuffle" bandwagon, producing "Hank" and "Bob." "These days, if you're doing a station of that sort, the bold iconoclastic move is not to name it after a person," says Sean Ross, a radio analyst with Edison Media Research.
Will the names stick around? For now, the "man-stations," as some radio insiders call them, are on a roll. "It's a fad, and radio stations tend to follow the leader a lot," says Tracy Johnson, program director at "100.7 Jack FM" in San Diego, and a fan of the names. Mr. Johnson says people remember his station's moniker. "It's unexpected and unusual, so the name sticks quickly with a listener," he says.
And in a world where terrestrial radio is under threat from iPods and satellite stations, sticking power is more important than ever.