“What a magical journey it’s been,” says Paul Jackson on smoothfm’s success
With a handpicked on-air cast and an “easy listening” soundtrack, smoothfm fittingly began with the Michael Bublé smash, I Haven’t Met You Yet.
Not much has changed since 95.3FM Sydney and 91.5FM Melbourne underwent a third round of reinvention on 21 May 2012.
Even the silky-smooth jingles, perhaps almost as familiar as some of the station’s staple songs and voices, have not been meddled with since their first reveal.
“I’m a great believer in don’t play with it, if it ain’t broke,” says group program director and station mastermind Paul Jackson, who spent two years developing the format.
As smoothfm enters its fifth year, celebrating its birthday on Sunday, comes the cheeky revelation that festivities actually commenced on 27 April when both stations rocketed to #1 FM – a milestone distance from the 4.1% share they began with.
For evidence of the celebration that unfolded at NOVA Entertainment’s Sydney headquarters when the second GfK survey results were released last month, let’s take a peek at the smoothfm music logs.
Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys (10:13am), Celebration by Kool & The Gang (11:20am), You Win Again by the Bee Gees (12:44pm), Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now by Starship (1.34pm) and The Winner Takes It All by ABBA (4:05pm).
Byron Webb confessed these last minute playlist tweaks were the network’s “subtle” attempt to tell the market that smoothfm was, as the Carpenter’s Top of the World played-out, enjoying a well-earned victory lap.
Even the Pharell William’s hit Happy found its way on-air that Thursday, revealing further insight into the “mood-based” programming approach the network regularly touts.
Before accepting Jackson’s invite, Webb was lecturing at AFTRS and pulling casual shifts at the SCA-owned Triple M. “I could see something in Paul’s eyes. Paul said, ‘just trust me’.”
Initially turning down the offer, Webb eventually conceded and joined the once nameless network that had already endured two failed starts; first as talk-based Vega, and then with a classic rock format.
Today, Webb hosts the #1 FM drive show in Sydney, which is also “duel-programmed” to smoothfm in Melbourne. “My job is to give people a big hug after a busy day of work and get them home with some songs,” he says.
Having never set foot in NE’s Richmond studios, Webb prepares his show with the help of Melbourne-based afternoon host Simon Diaz. Together they share weather and city updates throughout the day, to ensure each station “feels local”.
It was Melbourne program director Rohan Brown that lured Diaz back to radio after a much needed “break” – spent landscaping gardens – after a 13 year run with the ARN-owned Mix 101.1.
“I don’t think I could do contemporary hit radio again. We want smoothfm to be in every taxi, every Uber, every workplace, every shop, every doctor’s surgery,” Diaz tells Radio Today. “The format is always evolving, and that’s the beauty of it.”
Ask Diaz what he thinks the secret sauce to smoothfm’s success is, and he’ll pull a quote from The Castle: “It’s just the vibe of the thing.” And he’s right. The station doesn’t “feel” or “sound” like any other.
“Paul Jackon is a wizard of music. He’s a master. With music director Kate Mason, it’s like they create a work of art. Every hour is hand placed.”
Now serving up an easy place to relax for an audience of 1.7 million across Sydney and Melbourne, Jackson says he himself could not have written the story any better. “To be number one in both markets is a reflection of what a magical journey it’s been.”