Kick in the jazz

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Dear Ace: I thought that Charlottesville was hungry for smooth jazz! At least that was what we were told when 107.5 switched its format 18 months ago. Now they are playing Kelly Clarkson and Rob Thomas and calling it the “Best Mix of Everything.” What happened?—Waves Goodbye

Dear Waves: Leave that dial alone, kid, because Charlottesville’s Smooth Jazz 107.5 has indeed undergone yet another format change.

   You see, Waves, it all started back in March 2004, when the owners of what was then called Mix 107.5 decided that the current programming just wasn’t cutting it in the competitive Charlottesville market. So the then-WUMX changed its call sign and programming to WCJX Smooth Jazz 107.5. The station hoped the new formula would boost the mediocre ratings (the original Mix ranked ninth out of the then 15 Charlottesville radio stations).

   But apparently, the formula gamble didn’t work out as planned. According to Abitron radio ratings, by July 2005 Smooth Jazz had dropped in the rankings down to No. 12 out of 18 (Ace found all of this and more at www.radioandrecords. com). So media überconglomerate Clear Channel Radio, which also owns seven other radio stations including WCYK-FM, WHTE-FM, WCHV-AM, WSUH-FM, WBTJ-FM, WKAV-AM and WRVA-AM, made the command decision to switch the new format back to the old format, at least in name if not practice.

   You might be wondering about the difference between the old Mix and the new Mix. Aside from the obvious deviation of the new Mix’s DJ-free broadcast, any other changes seem to be largely a matter of semantics. The old Mix was what industry types would call a “Rock AC” station, while the new Mix, at least according to the media news website Vartv.com, is “Hot AC”—AC being short for adult contemporary. Hot or rock aside, the new Mix claims to be the “Best of Everything”—with “everything” referring to anything that was popular during the ’80s, ’90s and anything that is popular today. So, if on the old Mix you might have heard more Whitesnake and less Clay Aiken, you can now expect the exact opposite to be true. We’re not sure whether that’s a win or a loss for Charlottesville radio rats.

Kick in the jazz

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Q:Dear Ace, What happened to Charlottesville radio station Mix 107.5? There seem to be no DJs on the air since March 5 and the music selection has changed. Any information would be greatly appreciated!—All Mixed Up

A:Don’t touch that dial, Mixed—it wouldn’t do any good. Mix 107.5 has gone through what those in the biz call a “format change” to Smooth Jazz 107.5. Just last week the call letters officially changed from WUMX to WCJZ. Gone are Cyndi Lauper, the Bangles and the neon-bedecked ’80s brethren that once populated the frequency. In are Kenny G andwell, more Kenny G, Ace guesses.

Media überconglomerate Clear Channel Communications owns the former Mix, as well as local talk radio channel WCHV-AM 1260, Super Hits 102.3 (WSUH FM—which underwent its own format change last year from the classic rock of WFFX), Country 99.7 (WCYK FM), sports station WKAV-AM 1400 and Hot 101.9. Mix just wasn’t cutting it, says Clear Channel Charlottesville operations manager Regan Keith.

No kidding. According to the latest numbers released by radio rating company Arbitron (which Ace found on radioandrecords.com), WUMX ranked ninth out of 15 in the Charlottesville market, behind all of its Clear Channel bandwidth mates except for the two AM talkers.

Keith says that Clear Channel tried a couple of tricks to bring in listeners, most notably adding syndicated morning jock Kidd Kraddic to Mix’s lineup last year. But ultimately “it just wasn’t viable anymore,” Keith says. “We were throwing good money after bad.”

Hence the format change. Butsoft jazz? Ace has heard from numerous disgruntled readers who recently turned on Mix for Don Henley’s “All She Wants to do is Dance” and instead got lots and lots of sax. But Keith says that’s what the people wanted. Clear Channel’s in-house research, he says, discovered repeated requests for a jazz station. And as he points out, walk down the Downtown Mall on any weekend night and you’re liable to catch some smooth sounds wafting out. “People are hungry for it,” he says.

That raises the question of whether local jazz will find its way onto the station alongside the aforementioned Mr. G. It’s a possibility, Keith says, and Clear Channel has been considering approaching a local jazz luminary who has a history in Charlottesville radio (he wouldn’t tell Ace who).

“If we can find enough resources in the area that could support something like that” it would be great, he says. “That’s the roots of jazz, out on the street.”