Radio’s leap of faith: smoothfm turns 10
Ten years ago this week, Michael Bublé burst forth on our TV screens – front and centre of the advertising campaign to launch what would become one of the most successful media brands in the Australian radio landscape.
This Saturday, smoothfm enters its second decade.
“On one hand, it feels like the blink of an eye. Then when you think about it, it feels like a different life,” says Nova Entertainment’s Chief Programming and Music Content Officer Paul Jackson, who’d not been in Australia long when the smoothfm brand was launched.
Vega had rebranded to Classic Rock. The Nova product was evolving. Early discussions identified a gap in the market, and that ‘easy listening’ was the way to go.
As the first Australian radio station to be programmed based on a mood rather than an era or genre, Jackson tells Radio Today the ‘feel good music’ format switch was a leap of faith:
“About six or seven months out from launch, we had done a lot of work on what would the name be? What would it look like?”
“People kept saying to us at the start ‘It won’t work.’ I think one of the things I was conscious of right from the beginning was ‘what is the tone and the feel, and the image that we present to the audience?’”
Marketing, positioning and imaging played an integral part in cementing the more music, less talk brand:
“One of the very first things we did was seek out Michael Bublé, who at the time was huge and having regular hits.”
The resulting TV ad campaign hit the mark:
“We wanted to come in with an extra bit of gravitas, something to turn people’s heads.”
But Jackson says in that first year, awareness of the brand also developed in other ways:
“It became one of those things where everyone who knew about it, loved it. It was like a badge of honour, telling other people ‘I know about this station, it’s really great.’ So it was like a secret thing to begin with, like its own little club. For all the marketing we did, and everything we did on air – I would say a lot of the traction we got at that point was word of mouth.”
“We were very, very conscious of playing music that nobody else in the marketplace was playing, or even had played. So there was a real freshness and difference about it. And we weren’t targeting any of the rival radio stations in the marketplace. We were kind of targeting people who just wanted something different.”
“A lot of it was people who said ‘There’s no radio station for me on the FM dial. Bear in mind, this was before Spotify launched. We were in a different era. There was no podcasting and there was no Spotify.”
“We were mindful of not charging out of the blocks and going ‘We’re going to have a number one breakfast show!’’”
He says over time, people formed a habit:
“We were probably five years in before we started hitting very big breakfast show numbers, in Sydney and in Melbourne.”
As the first announcer on air when it launched, smoothfm 91.5’s Mike Perso in Melbourne is an integral part of the station’s history. He tells Radio Today “I remember we started out at our usual time and, at 7 o’clock, ba-boing! We switched over and suddenly there was me introducing Michael Bublé, which was kinda cool.”
His nine year on-air partnership with Jennifer Hansen has produced many highlights, including going number one in breakfast:
“It was fantastic. It’s not something we ever really expected to do. I think what that proved to us is that it is possible.”
Most of the announcers on smoothfm have been with the station for almost the entire time it has been on air, including Bogart Torelli, Ty Frost, Byron Webb, Simon Diaz, Cameron Daddo, David Campbell and Mel Doyle.
Richard Wilkins has been a part of 95.3 smoothfm in Sydney since its launch. He tells Radio Today:
“We went from literally a standing start – with kind of no-one listening – and we’ve risen through the ranks over the last ten years to be, at various times, number one in both markets on FM, and number one on the weekends. It’s been a glorious ride.”
Wilkins is passionate about the brand.
“I love it. I love being on the ground floor of it. And even though I’ve been on TV for donkey’s years, it’s a completely different skill set. I really wanted to learn to use my voice to connect with someone sitting in a car or someone sitting at home or going for a jog around the block.”
“It’s been so exciting. I’m really proud of the success of the station.”
The station notes that over the past decade, its cumulative audience has grown by 227% and that streaming and DAB numbers are very strong.
So how does Jackson see the next ten years?
“There’s more consumption of audio than there’s ever been. But at the same time there’s more fragmentation than there’s ever been. So the future probably is – if you have a very strong brand like Smooth – you have a real opportunity to bring your audience on a broader journey with you. Because the Smooth listeners – yeah, they love core Smooth feel-good stations, but they also love a variety of podcasts – crime, lifestyle, news – and there are other music formats that we know they like as well.”
“I think it’s sensible for us to explore moving into those areas, so ultimately in life, you have a Smooth offering for every time of day it is, and whatever mood you’re in.”