22 May 2009

RIP Smooth Jazz WNUA

In 1987 I was ready for a change, as was Chicago, though neither of us knew it at the time.

WMET had been a staple of my radio diet for as long as I could remember. On a summer night my car radio was most likely on WLUP, WMET, or WBMX.

I mean who under 21 didn't have an 'MET sticker on the door of their 8-Track player?

In August 1987 WMET changed call letters and format to WNUA - "Smooth Jazz".

Most of us just spun the dial and moved on, but for a few of us, an interesting dynamic came together - this was just about the time many of us were getting into computers, and found the unobtrusive, mostly instrumental, music on 'NUA the perfect "soundtrack" to playing video games and other time "wasted" on what would ultimately become our livelihoods. It didn't happen all at once, but it happened.

'NUA introduced me to Ambient and Space music, a genre that would become my musical passion for the rest of my life, and kept playing an unreleased track from Blade Runner which finally forced me to seek out and reconsider this film, making it the #1 on my favorite movies list, as well as opening me up to art that didn't begin at the beginning or end at the end, but was instead an immersive piece of a larger world.

Musical Starstreams, and Hearts of Space, became regular destinations, and many late-night projects in someone's garage or house were backed by the artists from Waveform Records.

Without 'NUA, there would be no Sensations of Tone in my life, no Brave New World, and none of the ancillary music, literature, and other related media which makes me, "me".

'NUA arguably had its heyday during the same period the music did - the late 90's and early '00's - as the genres waned and merged, so did the format. I mean has anyone heard anything in 10 years from Randy Crawford or Art of Noise (whose Moments in Love is still one of my favorite songs and makes me stop when I hear it)?

The station both suffered and prospered from playlist fatigue - playing the same couple of hundred tracks in rotation with little change. This was "good" in that they were a known quantity - perfect for a summer evening on the deck, a quiet ride home with the kids sleeping in the back seat, or late night surfing - but they weren't catching the attention of the ever-important younger demographic, a demographic which apparently includes more Hispanics than middle-aged white guys from the suburbs.

I initially heard the news this morning on WGN-TV. 'NUA's website published this notice just now:

May 22, 2009

Dear WNUA Listeners,

I would like to take a moment to thank you for your loyal support of Smooth Jazz 95.5 WNUA during our 22 years of being a part of the Chicago community. We hope that you have enjoyed listening as much as we have enjoyed serving you. However, recent changes in how stations are evaluated by advertisers has resulted in a significant decline in financial support for WNUA. As a result, we are now faced with a decision that we hoped we would never need to make. Today at 9:55am we will be changing the format on our main frequency of 95.5 FM.

Thanks to the support of our parent company, we will be able to continue offering our Smooth Jazz format online at WNUA.com and on HD Radio at 95.5 HD2. If you do not have an HD Radio, please click here to get more information about HD Radio and to purchase your own. You can also listen to Smooth Jazz on your Blackberry or iPhone using iHeartRadio.

I also invite you to tune to one of our sister stations. V103 plays Today’s R&B and Old School at 102.7 FM. WLIT 93.9 FM, plays a great variety of songs from the 70s, 80s, and 90s – and all of Today’s Lite Music.

The WNUA On-Air Personalities have put together a photo montage of just some of our memories from the last two decades including Listener Appreciation Parties, Jazz Concerts, Trip-a-Day Destinations and so much more. Thank YOU for making all of these memories possible. Click here to view the memories.

On behalf of Ramsey Lewis, Karen Williams, Glenn Cosby, Dave Koz, Scott Adams, and everyone at Smooth Jazz 95.5 WNUA, we sincerely thank you for listening.


Earl Jones

President/Market Manager Clear Channel Radio Chicago

So it looks like they won't be completely gone - still available online and via one of those newfangled HD radios, but not having them on the dial is going to leave an empty place there for a long time.

Chicago radio is just not what it used to be, thanks in no small part to our good friend the internet and the incredible choices we all have. Steve Dahl and Buzz Kilman are sitting out contracts after being bounced from WCKG, Garry Meir is on WGN, and Kevin Matthews is nowhere to be found. At least we still have Johnny B. It makes me real glad I'm not commuting, or worse spending all that time in a truck on the road as Paul and I used to during the talk radio days.

Just last night while setting up the pool, we had about 15 people in two yards enjoying an early summer evening and listening to good 'ol 'NUA from seperate radios - a fitting farewell to a cherished friend.

Thanks for 20 years...