There are not many times in life where I admit to cocking it up but changing Jazz FM London into Smooth radio was one such occasion. I dished the brand, the station and the marketing when it was the right station for the right market. Even today, Smooth radio is nowhere near the audience figures for Jazz fm set a decade ago.
However, removing Jazz from the North West and replacing it with Smooth Radio was a masterstroke.
Making mistakes is all part of making decisions. Not everything goes to plan.
Indeed, there’s a section in my book where I recall the joys of owning Jazz FM. I urge you to read it because there are some wonderful tales to tell.
One relates to when we were in trouble with the regulator.
They complained that we didn’t play enough ‘jazz’. I complained that they didn’t know what the F*** they were talking about. Most people agreed with that.
However, a row followed where they asked me to describe what jazz music was.
Flippantly, I said it was “anything with a trumpet”.
It was clearly a mad thing to say but being mad is often an advantage. In fact, we were all mad back then and that particular discussion has gone down in folklore.
Another wonderful occasion worth highlighting was when I was asked at the GMG board why I was ruining jazz fm by playing those god awful radio commercials.
I couldn’t stop smiling as the chairman moaned about an advert that was destroying his favourite ‘dinner jazz’ programme. it was embarrassing he claimed.
The advert began with the words… “do you have an erection problem”. This was not something that made for a cosy listen he said.
I countered of course that we couldn’t ban a commercial just because he didn’t like it. Furthermore, this was a ‘health advert’ and some people see this as valuable information. I did stop short of asking him if he wanted the number!
The problem with jazz fm – as with most stations of this kind – is that they seek a profitable sanctuary, but rarely find it. The station survived in the 90s by relying on things like Hed Kandi, jazz events and CD sales. It was the genius of the then owner, Richard Wheatley.
Over the years, Jazz FM has gone through a wave of creative survival techniques. It was on DAB 1, then it came off. It raised a lot of cash, it spent a lot of cash, it has always failed to make a return for investors – with the one exception of when it was sold to GMG. However, the passion for the brand is high and always has been.
I thought the station was doomed a year or so back but that didn’t take into account the people who run it and those who love it.
Focusing on niche, not trying to be everything to everyone, knowing their audience and the community they serve, is what they do. The station delivers focused and credible content while providing an experience that few can match. Above all, they do exactly what it says on the tin!
This love of Jazz booms out of the speakers. Richard Wheatley and his team are better at running this kind of business than most others.
Their rise in RAJAR is impressive, but it is the focus on what they produce that deserves far more coverage than they’ve received to date. The national press are far too popular facing when this is the kind of thing that deserves their attention. Many of the things they do, we are doing right now at Team Rock.
The question before them was this: Is a national DAB service worth paying the extra money for? Clearly not in this instance.
Their regeneration and current success is admirable and should be widely applauded.
If only the agencies knew what they had.
If only the people who buy radio airtime were not locked into share deals.
If only agencies had more cash to spend on niche brands so they can work smarter for their clients.
Well done Jazz FM.
I salute you – and with my very own trumpet!
PS. Radio Today interview with Jazz FM here
Footnote. Slightly updated at 1800hrs to include their latest logo.