I asked for it and I got it:
lots of excellent questions from listeners and fans. I promised to answer them all, so here we go.
What are the chances Smooth Jazz
will be back on regular radio in Chicago?
As a full-time format?
Doubtful, unfortunately. And now
there’s another issue that’s working against us. It came up in a conversation I had with
longtime Chicago broadcasting executive John Gehron last week. “AM’s dying,” John pointed out to me, “and
companies are trying to move their talk formats to FM.” That’s putting even more of a squeeze on
available frequencies on FM. Unless
there’s an independent owner out there who’s willing to take a chance on Smooth
Jazz, we don’t have much of a shot. But
I’ve learned never to say never . . . .
What’s your prediction for the
future of Smooth Jazz radio, short and long term?
On terrestrial radio, bleak. On satellite radio, good, although the choices
there will always be slim. On the
internet, excellent. I do think we need
more traditional radio thinking on the internet side to improve the product. There’s a lot of substandard internet radio out
there that you have to wade through before you get to the good stuff. Internet music stations are not created
Give us your vision of the Smooth
Jazz station you’d create if cost were no object.
Wow—I get to dream with an open checkbook? Well then, I’d love to create a national Smooth Jazz superstation to be delivered on all the major platforms: terrestrial, satellite and internet. We’d hire a veteran major market Smooth Jazz host to handle each daypart (Talaya from the Wave/Los Angeles; Carol Handley from KWJZ Seattle; Miranda Wilson from KKSF San Francisco; Michael Tozzi from WJJZ Philadelphia; Sandy Kovach from WVMV Detroit; and so on) and fill in with the likes of Dave Koz and Steve Cole. On weekends we’d feature premiere syndicated shows such as Legends of Jazz with Ramsey Lewis, Chill with Mindi Abair, the Dave Koz Weekend Show. Oh, and we’d be playing the traditional Smooth Jazz mix, 55% instrumental, 45% vocal.
I’d bring the entire genre and format together under our umbrella to coordinate marketing and promotion of everything from concerts to cruises to new releases, and we’d have some kind of presence—someone on the ground—in every city where a Smooth Jazz event would take place. We’d coordinate with record labels and artist managers to make sure nothing would escape our attention. And we’d do a fair amount of contesting. It would be a total one-stop Smooth Jazz network.
I’d also like to see us get back to presenting concerts across all tiers, from top-priced shows in large venues all the way down to intimate “Listener Appreciation”-type parties where we introduce a new artist and give away tickets or charge only $20 or so to get in—in as many cities as we could.
I want the format to do what it did best in its heyday, to
be a classy place where people can come to relax and be soothed or be uplifted
Why did the format fail so hard on
commercial radio so fast?
RO: The end of the format on commercial radio wasn’t all that fast. It was more of a steady decline. Here’s a chronology of when the Smooth Jazz stations in the country’s top ten markets left the format for good:
New York – 2/08
Los Angeles - ???
Chicago – 4/12
San Francisco – 5/09
Dallas/Ft. Worth – 10/06
Houston/Galveston – 3/08
Washington DC - 8/09
Philadelphia – 9/08
Atlanta – 1/09
Boston – 9/99
These format flips weren’t equally significant. When WQCD in
New York decided to pull the plug, that was the tipping point, when everyone
else started losing confidence in Smooth Jazz. Madison Avenue saw the change happening in
their backyard and started diverting ad buys to other formats. When revenues start to drop, ownership gets
nervous and starts looking in a different direction.
Do you agree with Carol Ray that 25
year old “chestnuts” should be retired into special programming to allow for
new music to be almost “exclusive?”
I know where Carol’s coming from, and I respect that. I beg to differ. Playing lots of new music sounds exciting, but it’s a ratings killer. On the other hand, the chestnuts I think she’s referring to have had proven staying power with our audience. It wouldn’t be the same if we stopped playing Anita Baker, Luther Vandross, Stevie Wonder, Sade and artists like that. When they wanted to unveil the RAV4 in 1996, Toyota didn’t stop producing the Camry. The popularity of the Camry enabled Toyota to finance new models such as the RAV4.
How do you select which artists to
First, we need to break this down into two groups: instrumental artists and vocal artists. Within the former, we look for a compelling
and melodic hook (e.g., is it hummable?).
Within the latter, it gets a bit tricky.
Ideally, we look for an artist who has musical integrity and some degree
of jazz heritage, like an Al Jarreau or Steely Dan. We also consider artists who aren’t
associated with jazz but who are generally embraced by Smooth Jazz listeners,
such as Michael McDonald, Phil Collins and Seal.
How do new artists get airplay?
Again, we need to draw a line between instrumental and vocal
artists. New instrumental artists are
judged in the same way we judge established instrumental artists: is the music catchy and compelling? For new vocal artists, the standards are much
tougher. Since vocals are the only
consistently familiar selections on the playlist, it’s risky to slip an
unfamiliar artist into that position.
New vocalists need to be a nearly perfect fit to be considered.
Why don’t you play newer music from
established artists (e.g., David Sanborn) instead of the same old songs they
released years ago?
Say you’re at a Hall and Oates concert. Which group of their songs do you think will get the bigger hand?
Group A: “So Close,” “Everything Your Heart Desires” and “I’ll Be Around.”
Or Group B: “Kiss On My List,” “I Can’t Go For That” and “Rich Girl.”
Group A is all newer music. Group B is “the same old songs.”
As in the case of Hall and Oates, when it comes to David
Sanborn, our listeners are much more apt to embrace his older material (such as
“Chicago Song” and “Maputo”). That’s why
you hear more of it.
Why do you play music that was never
Smooth Jazz when it was released (e.g., “Raspberry Beret” by Prince)?
As a general rule, the narrower a format defines its musical
boundaries, the smaller the pool of potential listeners. If we played strictly Smooth Jazz artists,
all we’d appeal to would be the diehard Smooth Jazz fans. And we’d never grow our audience. A song like “Raspberry Beret” helps open up
the format and make it accessible to more people. Also, having a few mass appeal pop songs on
the playlist never hurts in a workplace situation where majority rule often
decides which station gets played there.
How much input do advertisers have
in the selection of the music? How much
input do listeners have?
I can’t recall ever getting any input from advertisers, to
tell you the truth. Listeners, however,
can have a big say in what gets played, through requests and participating in
station research projects such as focus groups and music tests.
Do you listen to other Smooth Jazz
outlets, like television stations, to find music and artists you might not otherwise
Yes! But this might
surprise you: most of the time I listen
to other broadcast outlets to try and find non-Smooth Jazz artists who might be
a good fit for us. I do that because,
between the national charts and record promoters, I’ve got Smooth Jazz pretty
What makes a song right for the
Smooth Jazz Sunday Brunch but wrong for the weekday?
For many of the same reason restaurants have separate menus
for breakfast and dinner. The mood, the
feel, the lifestyle—they’re all different.
Sunday mornings call for lighter, more elegant musical fare. You’re not at work, wanting music to help
motivate you to finish a project.
Rather, you’re kicking back with a cup of coffee and the paper. When you're at work, you don't want something that might slow you down.
What can we listeners do to make
SmoothJazzChicago.net more successful?
(Speaking for myself, I definitely want you and this venture to
Every little bit helps a lot: telling a friend about the station and sending them the link; posting the link on your Facebook page; liking our Facebook page; attending a concert; patronizing an advertiser and letting them know you appreciate their support of SmoothJazzChicago. We’re grateful for any of these things.
~Rick O’Dell (FmAm1@aol.com)
Our Smooth Video of the Day: Without the Smooth Jazz format, how many of us would even have known about an artist such as Richard Elliot and a tune like “Street Beat?”