Where is all that jazz?
In light of the collapse of radio station TheJazz last year, Neil McKim warmly welcomes the latest British jazz radio station, UK Jazz Radio
I’m pleased to see the launch of a new jazz radio station last week. It’s reassuring to hear that the said station, UK Jazz Radio, has been gathering listeners at a steady rate since its soft launch in the summer – and all by word of mouth. Hopefully it will fare better than other jazz stations
So, let’s put it in context. It’s been a tough call for jazz radio stations in Britain recently, even when large organisations are behind them. Just look at the sad rise and demise of TheJazz, the DAB station which was launched by GCap Media in April 2007 with a top line-up of presenters, and which promised ‘to do for jazz what Classic FM had done for classical music’. Despite healthy audiences of over 300,000 in its first few months, the station became a victim of commercial cuts and after its first year found itself frozen out to the far reaches of midnight scheduling on Classic FM. This has since been removed completely.
But in a curious turn of fate, TheJazz’s first presenter, Helen Mayhew, has now landed a job on the relaunched JazzFM, a brand name that its owners Guardian Media Group have remained in possession of since they bought the original station back in 2005 and changed its name to SmoothFM. Although the new JazzFM does have jazz content and promotes jazz at Ronnie Scott’s, a scan of the schedules leaves one asking whether it's still in fact a ‘Smooth’ operator?
Then there’s BBC Radio, which continues to make quality jazz programming, in part thanks to production organisations such as Somethin’ Else, and which is committed to the London Jazz Festival. But over the last few decades – take 1971 as an example, when a decision to cut half-an-hour from Humphrey Lyttleton’s Best of Jazz spearheaded a petition from jazz fans, and the decision was reversed – the ongoing debate about levels of jazz coverage has continued between the public broadcaster and the listener…
These issues aside, the growth in internet jazz radio has to be a good thing. Take DAB radio station Our Kind of Music, which has grown steadily since 2001 across the M4 corridor area and Essex, and which is now available online. It's a strong outlet for American Songbook-era material, much of which crosses over to jazz.
The internet-based UK Jazz Radio managed to pull 150,000 listeners on its launch and the organisers are boasting ‘Jazz music for jazz people, by jazz people’. It may be a bit rough around the edges, but the lack of corporate gloss is probably what appeals to jazz enthusiasts and musicians – a selection of top players from the UK jazz scene are already onboard – and this has to be good thing for jazz radio in this country.