You could almost hear the collective gasp when Sandusky Broadcasting announced abruptly at the end of 2010 that, after 19 years, New Adult Contemporary/Smooth Jazz KWJZ-FM was changing name and format to Click (KLCK-FM) 88.9, a Modern AC/Alt-Gold format. While other jazz programming exists on other stations (notably on KPLU-FM), KWJZ-FM was one of only a handful of smooth-jazz stations remaining in the nation and had a passionately loyal following in a sophisticated traditional jazz marketplace. It also was one of only a couple go-to stations for businesses and the work-from-home/home office crowd seeking non-intrusive ambience, not to mention being a nice background accompaniment for dinner parties, relaxing and romantic evenings.
More than a radio station, KWJZ-FM also was the hub for the smooth-jazz scene where community was found in shared experiences at such events such as the Smooth Jazz Festival and the Secret Jazz Series at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley. Thus the collective let-down. Taking the emotion out of it, most observers felt the change was not that surprising. Sandusky also owns WARM 106.9 (KRWM-FM) — the station that brands itself as the workplace station — and Movin’ 92.5 (KQMV-FM). The audiences (especially KRWM’s and KWJZ’s) overlapped significantly and competed for the same ad dollars. Others felt that the smooth-jazz audience was aging and harder to sell to advertisers, thus the move to a younger format.
And the data bears that out; in this market, smooth-jazz resonated overwhelmingly with Boomers, especially the 45+ crowd, which includes the vestiges of the New Age movement. KWJZ audiences crossed over mostly with the primary listeners of Talk-radio formats, KTTH-AM, KIRO-AM, KIRO-FM and KVI-AM (prior to move to oldies) as well as oldies format KMCQ-FM, followed by KRWM-FM. Yet, interestingly, it also had a strong relationship with KNHC-FM listeners, a techno-dance format produced out of Nathan Hale High School, as well as KUBE-FM (Rhythmic Contemporary Hits), both of which register strongly with much younger audiences. Additional channel-jumping came from its sister station, KQMV-FM, as well as KCMS-FM (Contemporary Christian), KJR AM (Sports), KJR-FM (Oldies), KJAQ-FM (Adult Hits) and KMTT-FM (AAA). NPR/Jazz focused KPLU-FM, which one would expect to be the beneficiary of the shuttering of KWJZ, was much farther down the list, showing only average cross-listening.
The result: a diverse mix of listeners who were the primary listeners of other stations, which likely made it an even more difficult to buy if you were targeting specific audiences beyond smooth-jazz aficionados… and sports fans, which I find a curious dichotomy.
Like energy, the vibe never dies; it just finds a new form. This past year, Carol Handley, ex-KWJZ-FM program director and on-air host, has been carrying the torch on the events side through her Carol Handley Presents productions. And out of the KWJZ ashes she’s launched SmoothinSeattle.com, an Internet station streaming 24/7 “Smooth Jazz, Nu Grooves and Old School Cool.” The site offers a live feed and area smooth-jazz events listings. She also is the weekday host from 10am to 4pm.
It will be interesting to watch how the audience develops, since smooth-jazz listeners are not the biggest users of online media, and slightly below-average for listening to Internet radio, like Live365, which syndicates smoothinseattle.com’s live streaming. They are, however, considerably more likely to have a satellite radio subscription and that functionality also is available through the site.
Advertising on the radio website is limited, with premium packages available, including a mix of online, on-air, via newsletters and through concert sponsorships.