Smooth operator

Saga stations to be rebranded as Smooth Radio

Whilst other UK radio operators have been very cautious as of late, Guardian Media Group has recently been on the acquisition trail, picking up the Century FM and Saga radio brands and stations to add to its portfolio. The Saga name was never really going to be usable since the rights to that name (like Virgin in the case of Virgin Radio) were only borrowed.

So the adoption of the Smooth brand for the ex-Saga stations was a foregone conclusion given the suitability of the name for an over-50s easy listening music format, but GMG might have boxed itself into a corner given the relative success of Smooth FM in the North-West of England.

Smooth FM in the North-West started life as a regional outpost of London's Jazz FM but evolved separately into a station playing predominantly soul and AOR music during the daytime; its popularity increased dramatically as a result. However when GMG tried the same trick in London, the Smooth rebrand wasn't a success in the highly contested London radio market.

But as Smooth FM NW will follow the other ex-Saga and the London stations into the Smooth Radio rebrand, I wonder if this particular station will remain true to the soul/AOR formula which had previously worked so well in this particular region? Or will it now start playing more Frank Sinatra and Glenn Miller during the daytime like, presumably, the others?

Whether GMG will shoot itself in the foot with the Smooth Radio semi-national network remains to be seen, since much of it looks reasonable on paper and such a network would provide an alternative for older listeners disenfranchised with Radio 2, but this could ultimately mean the end for the success story that was Smooth FM in the North-West.

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April 2014

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