SmoothFM defied playlist research to create ‘unique and distinctive sound’, station bosses reveal

Nova Entertainment’s SmoothFM ignored consumer research in the run up to its launch after the public rejected the music it was planning to play, station bosses have revealed.


And Nova group program director Paul Jackson said that while research is occasionally still conducted, it continues to dismiss the results.

Speaking at the Mumbrella Entertainment Marketing Summit yesterday on how Smooth defied history by taking the station to number one in the Sydney FM market, Jackson said there were moments when they felt “fuck, this is never going to work”.

Out of 200 songs tested with the public, two of its planned signature numbers – Michael Buble’s ‘Home’ and Take That’s ‘Back For Good’ – came rock bottom.

But rather than pander to the research results, Nova rejected the findings and stuck to its original playlist.

The subsequent success of the station, which has seen it take a near 10% share of the Sydney FM market and is growing in Melbourne, backed up its theory that Smooth would attract new radio listeners and have a unique and distinctive playlist.

“In the months leading up to the launch in May 2012 we did some music research to test the water and to get a feel about what people might love or not,” Jackson told delegates.

“We tested 200 songs, and his (Buble’s) song came second bottom. Nobody liked it and our heart sank. The very bottom was Take That’s Back for Good which is a favourite of (Nova CEO) Cathy O’Connor and mine.


Paul Jackson: There was a moment when our hearts sank

“We were hoping to play lots of this stuff on the radio all the time and we had a moment when we thought fuck, this is never going to work. But we realised very quickly we’ve got to create this thing, take it to people, present it to them and they will tell us what they think of it.”

Jackson said the research could be explained by the fact that many of the songs had rarely, if ever, been played on the radio in Australia.

“The research told us only what was already loved and all the songs we were planning on playing didn’t test that well, basically backing up our initial theory that the listeners we’d attract at the start were in the main not currently listening to commercial radio,” he told Mumbrella.

“We did a good job of not bothering to research it. Going with feel and emotion served us well,” he added.

“Once or twice a year we test a bunch of songs, pretty much every time we’ve gone, ‘yeah whatever’, because a couple that we like to play a lot didn’t work, but anecdotally we talk to people and these are the ones they tell you they love.

“We’ve gone from 200,000 listeners to over 800,000 and when we research we are only talking to a couple of hundred people.”

Jackson said Smooth was unashamedly focused on positive and “warm and loving” tunes designed to help people through the day.

“It’s all about feel and emotion and tone,” he said. “We don’t play songs like REM’s Everybody Hurts (by REM), because it’s very downbeat and slow in a slash-your-wrists-as-you’re-driving home way.”


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