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Monday, May 17, 2010

So Now That Smooth Jazz Is Dead...

In case you didn't notice, Smooth Jazz is dead.
It actually started dying two years ago, in 2008. In March of 2008 many of the radio stations that played "smooth jazz" changed their format. Here is a wonderful description of smooth jazz, by Marc Fisher, a writer for the Washington Post:
"Actually, it was a listener who uttered the phrase that a consultant used to sum up this fusion of instrumental music styles. At a focus group held in Chicago by Broadcast Architecture, the firm that first sold radio stations on the new format in the early 1990s, a woman who was asked to describe the songs being tested blurted out "smooth jazz."

What she was describing was a jazz-like sound without the jazz essential of improvisation, a melody-driven, generally instrumental set of songs played primarily on instruments used in jazz."

So what started in a marketing focus group has just died in a marketing focus group.
KTWV, "The Wave" in Los Angeles, has just officially dropped the word "Jazz" from their name and marketing material. KTWV, if you do not recall, was the first station in the US, way back in 1987, to take on this new format of "Smooth Jazz". The station has been gradually moving away from instrumentals to feature more "soft R+B" and other songs that copy the easy-listening radio style of KOST ("The Coast"). But now the move is complete. And what caused them to switch?

A recent "focus group" put together by The Wave found that just the word "jazz" scared people away. Here is how it was put by KTWV program director Jhani Kaye in the Los Angeles Times last week:
"The research pointed out that we needed to adjust the mix of music, to make it more welcoming to people who tuned in on occasion," Kaye said. "We discovered instrumentals had a highly polarizing effect on the audience."

Kaye said their research also found that the word "jazz" itself was polarizing — radio listeners "either love it or they hate it," he said.

"We don't need to give the listener a reason to tune away, especially since it's only a word," he said. " 'The Wave,' under its 'smooth jazz' moniker, was more of a niche station, and now it's more mass appeal."

He said the station had maximized its primary listeners, and if it wanted to grow, it had to attract new fans.

The changes seem to have paid immediate dividends. In January, the station placed 16th in Los Angeles/Orange County ratings, averaging 2.9% of the audience age 6 and older. In February, KTWV shot up to a fifth-place tie, at 3.5%. The station remained at 3.5% and placed sixth in March, the most recent figures available from the Arbitron ratings service.

"The music is much more recognizable than in the past," Kaye said. "An amazing thing happens when you play hits: The audience grows."

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