It’s been a year since the revival of Cleveland’s Smooth FM 107.3 The Wave. Rubber City Radio Group, Inc. revived the smooth music format just after the closing of the purchase of the station from Elyria-Lorain Broadcasting on December 16, 2011. The “celebration” began with an all-Christmas smooth jazz format through the holiday season until the official debut of the format on January 4, 2012. Since that time, and after some adjustments to listener requests and likes, The Wave sounds better every day.
In reality, the previous version of The Wave and its Smooth jazz format should never have disappeared in the first place. In my opinion, it’s all in your perspective and interpretation of ratings (and the audience that you are trying to reach). While it’s undeniable that the smooth jazz format was in an overall decline nationwide, The Wave had consistently favorable ratings for its demographic of adults (mostly urban) age 45+ years. Radio stations, in general, have suffered a decline in listeners as many of us who have loved radio over the years now also have many more choices in how we listen to our favorites (even old folks like me have an iPod, an iPhone and a Nook with a music player). When you couple this reality with many stations across the country bolting from Smooth Jazz because of the perceived aging target audience, it was apparent that there was a movement of change to reach a slightly younger demographic. In addition, an indictment of Smooth Jazz performers during this decline was that there was not much new material that was appealing to radio formats. As a result of a combination of all of these factors, Elyria-Lorain Broadcasting decided to make its move from Smooth Jazz to the AAA (Adult Album Alternative) format in 2009 to reach a slightly younger demographic for its potential advertisers—the new format failed to catch on and essentially flopped within 20 months. WNWV was put up for sale in October 2011, leading to Rubber City Radio’s purchase.
As radio stations compete for listeners, it is important for stations to pay attention to those who care to make suggestions on improvements. The Wave’s return to the Smooth AC (Smooth Adult Contemporary) format has had some tweaks over the past year, and all of the tweaks were sensitive to what listeners wanted to hear. One of the great strengths of the original Wave was its ability to move outside of the typical Smooth Jazz format with some classic music that you would also hear on other adult-contemporary stations. After the initial launch of the station this January, there were a lot of Smooth AC vocalists that were less familiar to Cleveland listeners, and some of the music didn’t seem to fit well within the format. The change from Smooth Jazz to Smooth AC took some time to gel this year. Thankfully, the tweaks over the months have brought back more of the smooth jazz artists that we had grown accustomed to (Kenny G, Alicia Keys, and Norman Brown) and phased out some of the artists that sounded more like pop and soft rock than Smooth AC. The result has been a “smoother” (pun intended) music experience with an influx of new and classic Soul, R&B, and adult contemporary jazz. The overall listening experience is now more enjoyable and captures one’s attention longer than before. The plusses of the Smooth AC format are the talented vocalists like Adele and Anita Baker, whose new releases have provided a spark to the format. Artists such as Boney James, Luther Vandross, Joyce Cooling and even Michael Jackson have been worked into the rotation with a playlist of their hits. I’m looking forward to the introduction of new music from these and other Smooth AC artists to keep the music fresh.
Initially, the weekend broadcasts were dominated by more of a network “feel” than local on-air talent. It was a good move for the station to lessen the network presence and hear more of the local DJs on the air through the weekend. It’s also great to hear the lone holdover from the original Wave, Mark Ribbins, in the director’s chair every day. The weekday piloting of Ribbins, Dan Deely, Bobby Thomas and Lynn Kelly, all Cleveland radio veterans, makes for a very appealing listening experience throughout the day.
The greatest appeal of The Wave as we approach the one-year anniversary of its return is the development of the station into its own personality within the Smooth AC format. It has improved as the year has progressed and it is great background music throughout my busy workday. Here’s to everyone at WNWV for bringing smooth music back to the airwaves in 2012 and a most satisfying listening experience.
Copyright © Melvin Gaines. All rights reserved.