Jazz FM returns with ambitions beyond radio

Jazz%20FM%20120x120Jazz FM is being resurrected by the Local Radio Company (LRC) in a move that sees the group’s strategy inch away from its “local” roots.

The station was scrapped three years ago by owner Guardian Media Group Radio, in favour of Smooth FM, but will be relaunched under a licensing deal with LRC in September.

LRC says the timing is ideal to relaunch the radio station and media buyers suggest it will find a niche but potentially dedicated following. LRC says it will be able to extend the brand beyond radio with lucrative concerts, compilation CDs and an international Web presence, reducing its dependence on the fickle and declining radio advertising market.

LRC founder and chief executive Richard Wheatly and financial director Alistair Mackenzie were part of the team that launched Jazz FM before selling to GMG for £41m, and believe that their knowledge, passion and “tlc” will bring the heritage brand back to life. It is also reviving the station’s “Chameleon” brand icon and “Listen in colour” advertising strapline for a marketing push ahead of launch. It will launch a DAB service in London, the West Midlands and the North-west, as well as coverage through the Sky Digital platform and streaming over the internet.

Yet one media buyer questions whether the new-look station will be able to generate “real scale” through those digital platforms. “It will be tough for them in terms of gener-ating advertising revenue,” he says.

The deal was unveiled on Monday, when LRC, which floated in May 2004 with a stable of local and regional stations, also announced it would sell six loss-making FM stations, citing a “difficult advertising environment in the radio industry”. Bath FM, Brunel FM, 3TR, Ivel FM, Vale FM and Pennine FM will be sold “for nominal amounts”, having recorded a loss of £443,000 together with Dune FM, which was sold earlier this month.

A low-risk development

The “opportunity” that Jazz FM brings, is to develop a new business in a market segment not currently served by any UK radio broadcaster and “at very low risk,” says Wheatly, a former Leo Burnett chairman. “The traditional radio market is going through a tough time, but this is a different model, one that is less reliant on spot airtime. It is going to be much more based on partnerships with clients, the music labels, the concerts business,” he continues.

When GMG Radio dropped the Jazz FM brand for Smooth FM three years ago, GCap Media launched a Digital Audio Broadcasting station, The Jazz, which was discontinued earlier this year. The Jazz, which had a total weekly audience of 407,000 listening for over 2 million hours, was axed as part of a radical cost-cutting programme as the media company fought to stave off Global Radio, which later bought its assets.

Wheatly says The Jazz carved a valuable audience despite getting little support and he is confident that Jazz FM will beat both its figures and those of Jazz FM prior to its rebrand to Smooth FM. When GMG bought it in 2002, the franchise had a total weekly audience of 1,024,000, with more than 5 million listening hours.

Small-scale success

But MindShare investment director of radio Howard Bareham says/ “Jazz FM was reasonably successful when it was a station but it didn’t drive terribly large numbers.”

Wheatly believes the real value comes from all the associated spin-offs, and jazz line-extensions as well as from Jazzfm.com, once the world’s biggest radio website, which will be relaunched. He says that by 2002 two-thirds of the brand’s revenue came from non-spot advertising, such as the Hed Kandi record label, now owned by Ministry of Sound, concerts and events. “We used the radio station to develop a music business,” he says.

As Bareham says: “If you have a loyal listener, a community with shared interests, then you can work such specialised models a bit harder than the traditional stations.”

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