Back in May 2012 Nova launched smoothfm, a new station focused on providing listeners with ‘more music and less talk’. Fast forward to 2022, and the station has just blown out ten candles after a decade of doing just that.
In the most recent radio ratings survey, smoothfm was the biggest mover in Sydney, ending up as #3 commercial station after gaining 0.8 points – the largest rise in the survey. In Melbourne, smoothfm enjoyed a big surge of 1.7%, also landing as #3 station in the Melbourne market.
Mediaweek spoke to Nova Entertainment’s chief programming and music content officer, Paul Jackson, about turning ten and what the future holds.
“It’s an anniversary therefore it’s a moment in time, but to us, life just continues on,” says Jackson. “People in the office have said ‘gosh, is it really 10 years, it feels like only yesterday,’ or ‘I swear, it’s only been three or four years’. Smooth still feels like a newbie to us.”
“It’s evolved a lot from when we started – it was very soft and slow, and coming into a very unique place 10 years ago. It was much more ballad driven and positioned as your easy place to relax. Over time, we slowly pepped it up a bit.
“The wheels have kept turning on it slowly but steadily. The feel and the presenters have stayed the same, and the audience has come along on the journey with us.”
With smoothfm consistently performing well and showing no signs of slowing down, Jackson says a lot of the strengths of the station hark back to what Nova set out to do ten years ago.
“It was very important when it started that it resonated well with the audience. We aimed to be very consistent with what we did back then: we were very clear that we weren’t preaching to audiences about the music, we weren’t giving our opinions, we weren’t going to sound like any of the other radio stations, and it wasn’t just lots of chat. We were very focused on the position of more music, less talk and that was unique in the marketplace.”
As Kate Bush’s 1985 track Running Up That Hill shoots up the charts again on the back of Stranger Things season four, Jackson says that there is another component of the station that the team have worked to keep consistent: playing songs from all eras while still remaining modern.
“smooth launched pre-Spotify, believe it or not!” says Jackson. “Things have changed a lot. You can see with Spotify and streaming so much of that is back catalogue and a renaissance for artists like Elton John and Fleetwood Mac. A lot of these songs are in movies and become very contemporary again.
“We’re always very mindful never to say ‘here’s something from the 70s’ or ‘here’s something from the 80s’ so that we don’t age it. The tone and the feel of the radio station has always been very here and now, very contemporary, very much talking to a wide range of people.”
As with everything, Covid has a major effect on smoothfm. The station had already seen a 135% increase in streaming since August 2017, and as people spent more time at home, Nova recorded a further 58% increase in audiences accessing the station via streaming and a 67% increase in time spent listening from March 2020 to March 2022.
“More media is being consumed these days than ever before, it’s easier to consume it as well,” says Jackson. “We saw huge increases through the lockdown period and through the Covid period. We also saw lots of different listening habits and patterns – people were not listening as early in the morning and coming in a bit later. We had to cater for that. We’ve also noticed a lot more consumption of things like podcasts and other audio as well.”
Looking ahead, Jackson says that the future for smoothfm is very bright, and might include an expansion or two.
“The brand is very trusted, and we have a real opportunity to expand that brand, because if people are heavy smooth listeners then the presenters are very familiar to them and they love and trust the music and the output.
“When they fancy a change away from the main smooth channel and want something to chill out a bit, they’ll use smooth relax, or smooth 80s, or smooth 90s. So I think more brand extensions when you’ve got such a strong and trusted music brand in the first place will be one of the ways to go.
“I’m hoping for many more years to come with the current presenters and people that they have on the station. We feel that our journey has really just got going. In comparison to all the other radio stations, we’re still the baby on the FM dial.”