Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Death of Smooth Jazz!

The common wisdom is that Smooth Jazz has been on the downhill slope for years now. WSJT in Tampa dropped it at the end of August.  107.7 WJCD in Norfolk dropped smooth jazz for oldies only 48 hours ago. Even stations in California, where the format did well historically are dropping smooth jazz as KKSF did in San Francisco last Summer. major markets like Philadelphia, New York and Chicago no longer have a Smooth Jazz station at all.  In September 1995 Billboard was describing Smooth Jazz as a format that could bump up a station's ratings:
"Shoring up sagging ratings plays a part in virtually every format flip, with station managers stepping back and anxiously hoping they have made the right musical move. That means there are a handful of happy programmers in Kansas City, MO, Honolulu, Norfolk, VA, Buffalo, NY and Washington DC who recently jumped to Jazz/AC where success has come quicker than imagined..."
Today it's more often described as rats leaving a sinking ship. But it's really all piffle without some statistics.  A stack of anecdotal articles does not amount to the end of a format. But the doom-mongering has been roiling for years.the articles have been almost universally negative, each pronouncing the death of a format that is  at very least still breathing at retail. Here's a sampling of the nay-saying.

The UTNE Reader (May of 2008)

Pop Matters (April 2008)

Jazz Artistry (May 2010)

The deletion of the The Jones Radio network feed for "Smooth Jazz" in September of 2008 is usually considered the turning point. But the half-dozen stations using that feed all switched over to carry the Smooth Jazz satellite feed from Broadcast Architecture. All things considered, it wasn't much of a turning point, really more of a blip.  Wikipedia sums up the descent in a single sentence.  " 2007, the popularity of the format began to slide." Today we do the real math.

But as with all math there are caveats. I do not have exact dates for every smooth jazz flip that has occurred in the last decade. Rather than try to concatenate and sort the varied data points of varied reliability, I will use select data of known reliability focusing on the top 150 markets. It reduces the sample but that reduces my chances of introducing bad data which would skew my sample. The trend line here is logarithmic to avoid the drama of a facetious linear 0 point, but in all honesty, the difference is trivial.
The above data set runs for 6 years, from October 2004 to October 2010. What you see is a drop from 47 stations in the top 150 markets to a total of 18 in those same markets. While the markets that make up the top 150 have changed somewhat over that time window I think it's still a fair indicator for the trend line. Interesting also is that there is a noticeable plateau from September 2005 through April 2007, the total number varied over those 20 months but each time returned to about 40. Then it began the sharp fall into it's contemporary abyss. Yet even today this is not a dead format. The data set appears to be starting another plateau where it may sit for many more months or even dwindling years.