It may be the most densely-populated state in the union, but country music is alive and well in New Jersey – especially the Jersey Shore – where a longtime radio host has launched a digital station dedicated to the music he knows his fans love.
“Kaptain Jack” Aponte, known for his stints on WJRZ 100.1, The Breeze and Thunder 106, is something of a human bridge between Nashville and New Jersey, discovering new artists and bringing their music back to his home state. His newest venture is Jersey Shore Country, which this season will be broadcast from a live studio in the middle of the Seaside Heights boardwalk at the lifeguard headquarters near Franklin Avenue.
“Thirty years ago when they built this building, I remember looking up at it and thinking, ‘this would be a great place to broadcast from,'” Aponte recalled. “Now, lo and behold, where am I? Here!”
Aponte keeps the music front and center, and over the last year as he’s been setting up the business, has already gained a loyal following online. Jersey Shore Country is the only internet-based radio station in the world classified as a reporting station for MusicRow, a service that produces charts for the recording industry. In recent weeks, Jersey Shore Country has made it to Alexa devices as well as the Live365 app plus a web stream.
“He has something really cool going on here,” said platinum-selling country star Bryan White, who came to Seaside Heights from Nashville for the official ribbon cutting for the station with local officials. “He’s first class and we don’t want to leave. I’ve played New Jersey quite a bit over the last 20 years – I performed at Six Flags and that’s where I proposed to my wife. I have a lot of great memories here.”
Aponte hopes his venture will help create new memories on the Seaside Heights boardwalk. He’s temporarily broadcasting from a small studio on the top floor of the lifeguard building, but after some construction is finished, will be moving to a larger space that is ground-level, giving him a chance to interact with fans and newcomers.
“Seaside Heights has been my love my entire life,” Aponte said. “It’s where I grew up, spent time at the beach.”
Before realizing success on the radio and becoming a well-known figure in the world of country music, Kaptain Jack spun records as a club DJ in the 1970s, performing at clubs like the Chatterbox, Club Hollywood and Joey Harrison’s Surf Club.
Aponte said what sets his station apart from most terrestrial radio stations, and even satellite radio, is the variety of music he plays. It’s hand-picked by him, and he says he knows what the people want to hear.
“We play good country music and lots of it,” said Aponte. “You’re going to hear Johnny Cash and you’re also going to hear Toby Keith and Florida George Line. We have people listening for five, six hours at a time because they know they’re not going to hear the same 20 songs over and over again.”
Matt Kennon, a Georgeia-based artist who has earned a top 40 hit and co-wrote a song with Randy Travis, also headed up to Seaside Heights to help kick off the station’s first full summer season.
“Nashville has a real appreciation for Jack because there’s so much great music coming out of there but not everyone is willing to play it,” Kennon said. “Here, Jack is the head honcho. A lot of music that may have never been heard will be heard.”
As for the doubters of country music’s popularity in New Jersey: “We proved ‘em wrong once, and we’ll prove ‘em wrong again,” said Aponte.
And there is no better perch from which to spread good music than Seaside Heights’ “classic American boardwalk.”
“This is our coming out party – this summer, we’re putting boots on the ground and we’re moving in,” Aponte said. “It’ll give me more of a chance to interact with the people, which is what I really love to do.”
To listen to Jersey Shore Country, visit the station’s website for listening options.