Save Our Soul: The demise of jazz radio in Atlanta

91.9, WCLK, “Jazz of the city,” has officially lost its S.O.U.L. 

Not only its metaphorical soul, but the literal program S.O.U.L. (Sounds Of Universal Love) hosted by acclaimed DJ Jamal Ahmad.

On Aug. 23, WCLK snuffed out Atlanta’s last bastion of 24-hour jazz and replaced its programming with a smooth jazz format.

For the uninitiated, smooth jazz, or adult contemporary, is the equivalent to elevator music. You have heard it in dentists’ waiting rooms, shopping malls, in the background of particularly cringe-worthy sex scenes in Lifetime movies, etc.

A $60,000 study conducted by WCLK decided the change was necessary to increase their donors, as the noncommercial station is based out of Clark Atlanta University and heavily relies upon listener support.

Their previous roster of 900 songs has been slashed to 400, and the DJs, who have helped thousands of listeners explore the boundaries of jazz, no longer have the ability to curate their own sets.

This is a confusing move, both financially and stylistically. There has been an outpouring of criticism from WCLK’s dedicated patrons who mobilized to create a Facebook group (with 409 members), an online petition (with 802 signatories) and countless online rants.

Fans of WCLK rallied around a return to the original format of Ahmad’s eclectic program, which has garnered national and international attention. He previously left the station in 2007 when they attempted to incorporate smooth jazz and ultimately failed, leading to his return.

WCLK’s desperation for donations is understandable considering their donor to listener ratio is a sparse 1,900 to 100,000. Yet their move remains perplexing as smooth jazz stations across the country have been steadily dying out.

Atlanta’s own former smooth jazz station, Smooth Jazz 107.5, floundered due to the genre’s lack of financial support.

Who becomes impassioned for a genre designed to make you forget it’s even there? Who cares whether their steady source for bland white noise stays on the radio?

I hope WCLK finds out the answer to that before Atlanta’s last jazz radio station fades out for good.

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