Just recently in Orlando a long running station dedicated to the genre of Smooth Jazz changed to Latin Contemporary leaving the area with its Classical Jazz channel WUCF. While the station, WLOQ, was one of the only independently owned Smooth Jazz stations in the country, and arguably was the station that started the genre over 30 years ago, it in later years decided to follow the corporate play list used by many other conglomerate owned channels.
A Short History Lesson: Most stations are owned by large companies and have decided to save money by putting out a central playlist. This playlist is produced by a consulting company which takes local DJ’s and Program Directors out of the picture.
As a result when these hundreds of stations all play the same songs by a small group of artists all at the same time, the songs invariably will chart on Billboard giving the false impression that stations nationwide and the listening public are clamoring for them. It has been proven that is not the case. Listeners grew tired of hearing the same songs by the same artists several times a day and ratings dropped.
The consulting company then made the decision to add in some pop songs to the jazz station playlist. These songs were very popular on the Adult Contemporary and R&B stations so they should do well on the jazz station also, right?
Nope! That backfired as most listeners did not want Elton John or Alecia Keys mixed with their Jazz. Ratings dropped even more and Jazz stations from across the country started failing: Dallas, Chicago, Miami, New York, etc all changed format.
While each failure is a tragic blow to jazz on terrestrial radio, there is new hope. There is a return to Contemporary Jazz and the music is sounding exciting again.
The stations that are still operating either always lived in Contemporary Jazz and have shunned the playlist or have gotten the message.
One station that has in my memory always played a huge variety of artists was WFSK, Fisk University, Nashville where you can listen for days before you hear the same song again.
Also Watercolors on XM Sirius Satellite Radio is now using the phrase “The Art Of Contemporary Jazz” and is living up to it. I’m now hearing new music that was considered “too risky” for the Smooth Jazz stations and a return to old school Contemporary artists like Yellowjackets, Rippingtons, Spyro Gyra, Gerald Albright, Grover Washington, Kirk Whalum, Michael Franks, Foruplay, etc. that could not seem to get airplay anymore unless they watered down their product.
While we will miss the familiar WLOQ, especially the concerts, around the city of Orlando It gives me hope that the genre will spring back and be relevant again.
“Long Live the Art of Contemporary Jazz!”