Smooth jazz seemed like it would dominate forever.
But then, everything changed.
In the early 2000’s Arbitron, the firm that measures audiences, introduced a new technology,
The Purple People Eater —
I’m sorry I meant to say the “Portable People Meter.”
It’s this little beeper — people believe it killed smooth jazz.
PPM, which is still in use today – is an electronic beeper that captures audio tones masked in
the signal of radio broadcasts. Basically, it picks up audience listenership automatically.
It replaced a decades-long practice of using paper diary entries to measure audiences.
“People would write down for a week what they listened to and they would turn it in. Very easy for people to do.”
what we want to ask you to do is wear this on your belt all day
and we want you to do this for a year.”
But it often didn’t work with smooth jazz.
The format’s soft, ambient sound didn’t allow for the signal to be consistently masked
in the music without being discernable to listeners – if the signal wasn’t embedded,
the beeper just couldn’t register it.
Polling site Fivethirtyeight tracked the number of six large-market smooth jazz stations
before and after PPM – in each instance they either changed formats or shutdown entirely.
But it might not have been all PPM’s fault
“I think it’s a reflection of what our economy did.
Our station went off the air when everything crashed.”
Smooth jazz radio was music for ordinary, everyday people trying to get through their
It certainly never cared about critics during its solid 20 year run, and unlike
straight-ahead jazz, it didn’t care so much about challenging the listener either.
And it’s why from the 1960s to the ’90s
anything written about the music looked like this:
But dig deep into smooth jazz’s history and you’ll find some really exciting music.
“There was an album Herbie Hancock did call the “New Standard.”
I’d come off there talking about that.”
“I was like, Oh this is what this is why I’m doing what I’m doing.”
Or go even further back to Grover Washington Jr.’s “Winelight.”
“And just listen to it as you’re cooking dinner or something.”
“It’s just chill, man. And it’ll give you a feeling for why people fell in love with this music.