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Pureplay of the Day: Smooth Jazz Chicago

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On April 30, 2012, Rick O’Dell was fed up. WLFM in Chicago switched away from the Smooth Jazz format (to Alt Rock), leaving the city’s terrestrial listeners without a station for that shiny genre. It had happened before, in 2009, when Clear Channel’s WNUA abandoned Smooth Jazz for Spanish-language programming — that’s when WLFM picked up Smooth Jazz.

Seeing an opportunity to serve an estimated 500,000 Smooth Jazz listeners, O’Dell started Smooth Jazz Chicago (www.smoothjazzchicago.net) as an online pureplay. We’ve been playing the station recently, enjoying a solid playlist, and particularly appreciating one of the finest single-stream websites we’ve encountered.

We’re not motivated to sign into pureplay websites for request lines and community features. But we signed into this one to check out a playlisting feature. You can grab previously played tracks (reaching back more than 12 hours) and build a favorites list. You can play clips of any track, though not the whole song (which would trigger royalty consequences). The station partners with TuneGenie to accomplish this handy feature.

The music is mainstream Smooth Jazz — Boney James, Toni Braxton, Gato Barbieri, Sade, Richard Elliot, Kenny G, Paul Hardcastle. The listening experience can feel like Smooth Jazz all-time hits. Chuck Mangione’s Feels So Good, for Pete’s sake. But we also encountered surprises — Everything But The Girl’s track, Missing, is well-known, but not usually regarded as Smooth Jazz. Our ears also noticed an Alicia Keys tune.

The station is highly localized to Chicago, with audio promotions of city merchants (we heard car dealer ads) and a regional concert listing page on the website. There is also a certain terrestrial sensibility built into the playlist elements, with professional voice readings of commercials and promos. We heard this: “Nearly an hour of nonstop music begins now.”

Brad Hill

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