The station was launched as a result of a ten-year campaign by musician Dave Lee (jazz musician), who was inspired after listening to a Los Angeles jazz radio station, which has since turned into a classical station. In 1980, Lee wrote the following to the Independent Broadcasting Authority: “Dear Sir, I hereby apply for a licence to open a jazz radio station in London.”. The licence to broadcast was given in 1990 to London Jazz Radio who subsequently changed their name to Jazz FM on launch. Jazz FM launched on 4 March 1990 with an Ella Fitzgerald concert at the Royal Festival Hall in London. Ella was flown in by the station to perform the concert to play with the Count Basie Orchestra and the concert was Ella's last appearance in Europe. To promote the station, Jazz FM paid out £750,000 for advertising on ITV.
Jazz FM faced insolvency in its early life. Broadcast Investments made an offer of £348,000 to purchase the station. Broadcast Investments withdrew their offer when Golden Rose Communications made a higher offer of £500,000 for the station. Golden Rose Communications took over the station in 1991. Former finance director Alastair Mackenzie stated that in an interview in 2002 that the station had run out of money three times in 1991, and he also helped with a management buy-in of the station for £435,000 in 1992.
Jazz FM's licence was put up for renewal in 1993 by the Radio Authority. As well as Jazz FM, there was a bid for the licence from Euro Jazz London, which included ex-Jazz FM employees. Jazz FM retained its licence to broadcast.
In 1994, the name of the station was changed to JFM by the station's management in order to appeal to more listeners who may have been put off by the name "jazz" in Jazz FM, and who thought that Jazz FM only played jazz records. The station spent £500,000 on publicising the name change. Richard Wheatly was appointed chief executive officer in 1995 to revive JFM which was running out of money due to both JFM and sister radio station Viva AM, a radio station for women. When Wheatly joined JFM, the station had three months cash remaining in the bank. Golden Rose Communications was floated on the stock exchange in the early part of 1995. Wheatly sold Viva AM which was losing £100,000 a month before the sale for £3 million to Mohamed Al-Fayed as part of his cost-cutting plans. After 15 months of being branded as JFM, in the autumn of 1995 the name reverted to Jazz FM after Wheatly asked the Radio Authority for approval to change the name of the station back from JFM to Jazz FM. The change back to Jazz FM was reported to have cost £900,000.
Golden Rose Communications opened a jazz themed restaurant, Cafe Jazbar in Liverpool in April 1997. The restaurant was operated under a joint venture with Regent Inns. A travel service in partnership with Thomas Cook Group and British Airways was also set up. There were also plans for jazz retail outlets named Jazshops selling CDs and merchandise.
In December 1997, Golden Rose Communications planned to make a bid for Melody 105.4 FM which did not succeed. The station was purchased by EMAP and rebranded as Magic 105.4 FM.
From 1998, Jazz FM also looked to expand its operation across the UK. The station made bids to run stations on FM frequencies in Central Scotland, the North East of England, South Wales, Yorkshire, the West Midlands and Glasgow. Jazz FM withdrew from bidding for a FM licence in the East Midlands because of chief executive Richard Wheatly's belief that a dance station would secure the licence. The East Midlands FM licence was awarded to Saga 106.6 FM which started broadcasting in 2003. Jazz FM did become a member of the MXR consortium and did launch on DAB multiplexes operated by MXR as well as Switch Digital multiplexes in London and Central Scotland.
The station signed a deal with Clear Channel Communications in February 1999. The deal not only invested £3 million into the station but also allowed Jazz FM to advertise on unused advertising billboards.
On 12 December 1999, Golden Rose Communications changed its name to Jazz FM plc.
In January 2002, Jazz FM plc made a £20 million bid for London talk radio station London News Radio. The bid was backed by the Guardian Media Group and Clear Channel International. If the bid had succeeded, the station would have combined London News Radio's operations with its own in order to save money. The station was later sold to the Chrysalis Group for £23.5 million.
In 2002, US radio audience research company Arbitron announced that Jazz FM was the most listened to Internet radio station.
In May 2002, the Guardian Media Group made a bid of £41 million to Jazz FM plc at 180p a share. The bid came on the day when the draft Communication Bill was published Jazz FM plc's largest shareholder, Clear Channel had been waiting for a 220p a share bid, but agreed to the 180p a share bid in late May. Herald Investment Management who had a 7.7% stake in the company and Aberforth Partners were not happy with the 180p a share bid. On 6 June, GMG raised its bid to 195p a share to secure the institutional shareholders who were holding out for a better bid. Richard Wheatly announced that he would leave Jazz FM once the takeover was complete. The offer was declared wholly unconditional on 5 July. In December 2002, GMG moved its sales operation from Clear Channel Radio Sales to the Chrysalis Group, inline with the sales operation for other GMG Radio stations.
Plans for a Jazz FM TV channel to launch in the middle of 2004 were reported by various websites from 2003. The channel if it had launched would have been a mix of music videos and documentaries.
In 2005, GMG made the decision to drop the jazz name completely and rebrand Jazz FM to Smooth FM. Chief Executive of GMG John Myers said: "As sorry as we are to say goodbye to Jazz FM, it’s a sad fact of life that it has never made a profit in its 15 years of existence." However, in 2001 Jazz FM plc did make a profit before tax for the six months to December 2000 of £60,000, with most of the profit coming from Hed Kandi and other Jazz FM Records CD sales, a move of Jazz FM's sales team to Clear Channel's control, saving Jazz FM plc £1 million every year and increased revenues from advertising due to higher audience figures. Jazz FM also announced in 2001 that it had made full year profits before tax of £134,000 to 30 June 2001.
Other reasons given for the rebranding was disappointing RAJAR figures, that the Jazz FM name was putting people off listening to the station and that the station not playing enough jazz for the purists. The latter situation was solved by GMG Radio by adding additional investment into the ejazz.fm website and changing the name to jazzfm.com at the same time 102.2 Jazz FM became 102.2 Smooth FM. Included in the investment would be two dedicated jazz stations of which one still runs to this day and has been rebranded to Jazz FM.
The North West version of Jazz FM was the first to rebrand on 1 March 2004 and then the London version (including the Freeview and many of the DAB feeds) on 7 June 2005. During the last few weeks before the launch of Smooth FM, Jazz FM changed its jingles slightly from "Smooth Jazz and Classic Soul" to "London's Smooth Favourites" as an indication to listeners of the change to come.
Jazz FM in its previous form closed on Friday the 27 May 2005 with the last track played being, rather fittingly, Ella Fitzgerald's 'Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye'. GMG then played a promotion for Smooth FM alongside music tracks to be played on the new station and live news at the top of the hour until the launch of Smooth FM at 10 am on 7 June with the help of R&B singer Lemar and then breakfast show presenter Jon Scragg.
The station continued to broadcast after the launch of Smooth FM under the Jazz FM name as jazzfm.com on the Internet and on DAB in West Central Scotland at a higher bitrate.
On 28 February 2008 GMG Radio's chief executive John Myers made an announcement that Jazz FM would be brought back in London, the North West and the West Midlands on DAB. Myers also said that he believed it would make more sense for there to be a dedicated radio station for jazz listeners than the current 45 hours of jazz to be played on Smooth FM, as required by the licence granted to them by Ofcom. The closure of theJazz on Digital One was also part of the reason for the return of Jazz FM. The relaunch of jazzfm.com, under a three-year deal with The Local Radio Company happened on 6 October 2008.
When Jazz FM launched, the station played a mixture of mainstream jazz, with the daytime schedules originally dedicated to smooth jazz, and some soul programming. Specialist programming from Jez Nelson and live concerts were broadcast in the evening and at weekends. In 1992, the policy changed and all non-jazz programming was taken off the schedules.
In 1994, alongside the change of name to JFM, the core playlist was changed under agreement with the Radio Authority to give a more mainstream sound of soul, jazz fusion and blues music, with a requirement that only 25% of music played on the station had to be jazz.
In 1995, when the name changed back to Jazz FM, smooth jazz and fusion music was reduced. More popular, well known and mainstream jazz was placed in the core playlist.
Chief Executive Officer Richard Wheatly noted that the station format was in trouble because of its serious straight jazz playlist. To counteract this downturn in listeners to Jazz FM, from 1998, Wheatly introduced more varied jazz into the daytime playlists. From February 1998, smooth jazz and soul music were more integrated into the core playlist of Jazz FM.
Although Jazz FM has originally from the start played jazz music, more soul and softer R&B music was added later on in Jazz FM's lifetime to appeal to the 25-45-year-old market that Jazz FM needed to entice to the station, especially after GMG Radio took over the running of the station and in particular in November 2004, after an agreement with Ofcom, jazz was dropped from the daytime playlists. John Simon, GMG programme director for Jazz FM at the time said that the station was never licensed as a jazz station, but a station that played a broad range of black music styles.
Ofcom as part of its licence agreement with Jazz FM, stated that Jazz FM had to dedicate at least 50% of the daytime output before 19:00 to 'Jazz' music, and that the music "must sit well with the label jazz". However, from the 15 November 2004, as part of an agreement with the Guardian Media Group, Ofcom agreed to allow GMG to change the format of the station, with the 50% jazz in daytime output requirement dropped. John Myers, the chief executive of GMG said "The policy we are going on is ratings by day, reputation by night. Jazz is much more of a night-time listen so the changes fit well." As a result, jazz music was increased from 40 hours to 45 hours and the Dinner Jazz programme hours were increased from two to three.
Ever since the station launched in 1990, many fans of traditional and modern jazz had criticised Jazz FM for pandering to more 'accessible' music, with Jazz FM playing more smooth jazz, soul and R&B music, especially during the daytime schedules.
British jazz and blues singer George Melly stated to The Independent in 2003 that he had become so disillusioned with Jazz FM's playlist he had stopped listening to the station altogether, describing much of the music as "middle of the road". Grammy award winning jazz artist John Chilton stated that Jazz FM was failing to reach its remit for jazz and also said that he would prefer the station to adopt a pure jazz policy.
Professional British jazz musician and former Jazz FM presenter, Digby Fairweather in 2006 wrote an article on the, at the time, upcoming British jazz radio station, theJazz. In the article, he said that Jazz FM had turned into a "tragic and swift disaster story" and that the change of playlist later on was "responsible for both the attempted rape and (fortunately abortive) re-definition of the music" to which no-one within the Jazz FM coverage area would forgive.
In March 2003 the Radio Authority (since embodied into the UK governments communications regulator, Ofcom) investigated Jazz FM after it received two complaints from listeners who complained that the station was playing more "pop" music, after changes made to the Jazz FM playlist in January 2003. Artists played on Jazz FM which were alleged to have infringed its licence included U2, Eric Clapton and Van Morrison.
Chris Hodgkins, director of Jazz Service which is funded by the Arts council in the UK, stated he would lodge a complaint with the Radio Authority because jazz artists were being denied airplay because of the daytime output of smooth jazz and soul.
Jazz FM was cleared by the Radio Authority of any breach in June 2003. By the end of the investigation, it was revealed that fifteen people had complained that Jazz FM was not playing enough jazz.
Kay Garner, a British jazz singer, was asked by the founder of Jazz FM, Dave Lee, to sing the original jingles for the station when it launched in 1990. Jazz FM has also had many other jingles and slogans during its 15-year life. The most well known was the "Listen in Colour" (featuring the Jazz FM chameleon) strapline, poster advertising campaign and CD in January 1997. The campaign was created by the Willox Ambler Rodford Law advertising agency. The campaign was credited with a 48% increase in RAJAR listening figures from 437,000 to 650,000 in the last quarter of 1997. Later on in 2002 a poster campaign by WARL was launched featuring the chameleon peering through a misted window with the tagline "Come into the Cool". Other slogans include "The Rhythm of the City" and afterwards, during the GMG era, "Get It On" created by Kitcatt Nohr Alexander Shaw, though on-air it was swiftly replaced by "Smooth Jazz and Classic Soul". The £5 million relaunch with Manning Gottlieb over three years from 2003 brought an end to the Jazz FM chameleon because extensive research carried out by GMG Radio found that few people could associate and recall the chameleon with Jazz FM. The Bespoke Music Company created the Jazz FM jingles which were in use since 1 January 2003, until 102.2 Jazz FM was relaunched as 102.2 Smooth FM. A sample of the jingles used can be heard from their website.
As well as broadcasting on FM in London, Jazz FM was also made available on digital radio in the United Kingdom via the Sky Digital platform on 30 April 2002 and on the Freeview platform on 30 October 2002. Both launches were preceded by test transmissions. Jazz FM was also available on DAB digital radio on a number of MXR multiplexes across England, South Wales and Central Scotland (excluding MXR North West, which hosted the defunct 100.4 Jazz FM service for the North West) and the Switch Digital multiplex covering Greater London. Jazz FM was also broadcast around the world on the Internet through their website.
Jazz FM, like its counterpart GMG radio stations, held 'Bring A Pound To Work Day' in late October/early November 2003/2004. Listeners were asked to donate and collect pound coins for a local children's charity – Nordoff-Robbins in 2003 and the Lennox Children's Cancer Fund the following year. Listeners could also text message a number for donations at a cost of £1.50, of which £1 went to the charity. Jazz FM has also held auctions in past years to help boost the money raised for charity. Lots included a signed edition of Harry Potter, exclusive concert tickets and even a chance to join the former breakfast presenter Jon Scragg on his show for one day. 'Bring A Pound To Work Day' was enormously successful for the chosen charities; in 2004, enough was raised to purchase a new Lennox holiday home on the south coast of England.
The automated Jazz FM service that exists today no longer runs 'Bring A Pound To Work Day', although the campaign remains on other GMG stations. Jazz FM's successor Smooth FM have rebranded their fundraising effort the Smooth Appeal.
Many of the programmes that formerly played on Jazz FM did continue to be broadcast for a while on Smooth FM and were made available for download on the jazzfm.com website until 2008.Andy Peebles' Soul and Soccer: A three-hour show on Saturday afternoons featuring soul music alongside soccer updates and scores. The show continues on 100.4 Smooth FM but is now entirely playlisted, and musically mirrors the station's normal music output.
Behind The Mask: A six-part series which was commissioned in early 2003 following GMG's purchase of the station which saw vocalist Alison Moyet profiling well-known figures within the jazz industry.
Behind The Mic: An occasional series which tended to air on Saturday lunchtimes between 1 pm and 2 pm – famous figures within the jazz/soul industry were invited to play their favourite songs.
Dinner Jazz: One of Jazz FM's flagship shows on weekdays between 7 pm and 9 pm/10 pm featuring easy listening and jazz. The show made a return as part of Jazz FM's relaunch in October 2008.
Drivetime with Russell Pockett: A four-hour show playing jazz and soul music, included the Million Sellers at 3 pm, which only played songs that sold a million records or over and the Top 3 Most Requested at 5 pm, where a listener requests three pieces of music to be played in sequence on the show.
Hed Kandi: Hed Kandi had two parts: between 2 am and 5 am, presenters Mark Doyle and Andy Norman played dance music for the "post-clubbing generation". Then, for one hour between 5 am and 6 am, the Hed Kandi Chillout Hour played more chilled out music.
Legends of Jazz with Ramsey Lewis: A show which features classic jazz recordings from major and influential jazz artists.
Mainstem with Campbell Burnap: A two-hour programme which included many forms of jazz from classic to Latin as well as a mix of jazz from the younger players of the day.
Mike Chadwick's Cutting Edge: A two-hour show on Saturday nights featuring contemporary jazz music. The Cutting Edge was also produced for jazzfm.com, theJazz and part of the programming for the relaunch of jazzfm.com to Jazz FM in October 2008.
Paul Gambaccini's Jazz 20: A jazz chart show which was originally broadcast on Saturdays but which moved to Sundays in 2004, and became the 'Jazz 40', between 5 pm and 8 pm.
Peter Young's The Soul Cellar: A show on Sunday afternoons which featured soul music, including northern soul.
Sidetrax: A half-hour show (1990–1991) from 10 pm on Saturday nights doubly presented by curators from the British Library Sound Archive in which a broad selection of jazz tracks was alternated with world and popular music according to a chosen theme. Introduced in a one-hour live special with the late Malcolm Laycock on the station's first day of transmission, the programme ran in its original form for over a year with Chris Clark and Lucy Duran as the main presenters. Sidetrax transferred to a slot within 'Somethin' Else' in February 1991 and continued until May that year.
Smooth Jazz Through The Night: A three-hour show through the night which played well known smooth jazz records from the archives of Jazz FM.
Somethin' Else: A four-hour show on week nights featuring contemporary and classic jazz music, competitions and listener contributions. Presented and produced by Jez Nelson and Chris Phillips.
The Late Lounge with Rosie Kendrick: A two-hour show featuring chillout grooves and jazz. In 2008, the show was brought back on the relaunched Jazz FM and presented by Claire Anderson.
Tony Blackburn's Real Party Night: A show presented by Tony Blackburn featuring lively soul and disco music from the ages. Tony Blackburn also presented a show on Jazz FM called Real Soul between 10 pm and 12 am on weeknights from March 2003 for twelve months. Real Soul was replaced by a three-hour show from 1 March 2004 featuring jazz, soul and R&B music presented by Clive Warren.
Jazz FM also had an established record label called Jazz FM Records, publishing smooth jazz and soul music in line with its former music output before the rebrand. The first CD released by Jazz FM was in 1996 and titled Dinner Jazz American Classics.
Jazzfm employee Mark Doyle created and marketed many of the later Jazz FM Compilations and also created the Hed Kandi label running and compling the albums until his departure in 2005. From 2000 Hed Kandi began to market events appearing at nightclubs around the world. Their most successful events were the residencies in Ibiza at El Divino and at Pacha in London. Hed Kandi also launched two other labels Stereo Sushi & The Acid Lounge and had a series of chart hits with the artist Stonebridge. In November 2001, Ministry of Sound and Jazz FM plc made a deal where the Ministry of Sound would distribute all Jazz FM records, Jazz FM Records has since been renamed Enterprise Records, which in turn was bought by the Ministry of Sound record label from the Guardian Media Group for an undisclosed sum in January 2006. However, under plans to relaunch jazzfm.com as Jazz FM, the Jazz FM Records label was brought back.
Jazz FM Events specialised in setting up and providing events based on a wide range of jazz and soul music based on the radio stations output. This included anything from concerts to performances in bars across the UK. Major events would be publicised via the radio station and the Jazz FM website, including the famous Soul Weekender weekends.
Jazz FM Connections was a dating site run by People2People.com. The service required an individual to pay a subscription to chat and meet up with other people registered on the service. The service continued as Smooth FM Connections, and later became Smooth Soulmates.