Shannon West
We are entering the second decade of the 21st century.  How in the world did we get here so fast?  In the smooth jazz universe, it seems like the world turned slowly for a long time with playlists shrinking to only one or two new songs a month and a chart clogged at the top with year-old releases.  Then it went into a tailspin that shook a lot of people up and out into the realm of the unemployed or unsigned.  That happened after a long period of comfort and complacency.  Back when we were in the throes of millennium fever, there was a smooth jazz station in almost every decent sized market.  Most of them had good ratings.  Some heritage stations had spectacular ratings and raked in the advertising revenues selling upscale car dealerships a target audience of designer clad wine aficionados.  The chinks in the armor were starting to show - jazz sales were down even as the market share of adult music buyers was increasing and original instrumentals were being replaced by an increasing number of cover songs and lite pop crossovers.  One company consulted most of the important stations.  They told the stations what to play and the personalities what to say.  The accepted mantra was "if it works, don't fix it" and if it was starting to not work a little smoke and mirror work could fix the problem. 

It came to a head this year.  A number of heritage stations, previously thought to be invincible, abandoned the format.  Radio and Records, the trade publication that gave the most extensive coverage to the format and selected the stations record companies and artists had to focus on, closed their doors.  Harbingers of doom and gloom popped up on every blog and internet forum saying the format was dead.  Then little voices began to tweet "the format may be dying but the music is very much alive and not only that but now that nobody has the status that came with being chosen as a Radio and Records reporter I might matter too!"  This is where we are now.  For the first time since the mid 90s, there is room for creative programmers who care about the music to come on board, or come back on board.  Before media consolidation and the one-consultant system there were lots of people playing this music on the radio and using lots of approaches.  It varied by market because these stations and specialty shows were local and in touch with the people who listened to them.  Not by "research" but by actually seeing them at the grocery store and the gym.  Nobody was saying, "I do it this way and I am getting ratings so everyone should do it the same way I do or you'll fail."  One person might be mixing in some traditional jazz, someone else might be playing some R&B vocals, then another person might toss in some jam band or rock instrumentals.  They all might be getting ratings and making money for their respective stations. 

We had trade publications where we could share our ideas, viewpoints, theories and music discoveries.  We were a community.  Looking back, I'm amazed that we did it, that we shared so much information and encouragement by way of phoning or (later) faxing information in to editors who would compile it, write it up, print it, then put it in the mail so we could have it on Monday.  What we have now was unimaginable then.  We have so many ways to communicate immediately.  Even more important, we are now in a place where your skills, creativity, and commitment matter more than having the name of a big corporation or major market on your resume.  The other good news is that there isn't one "party line" anymore.  Listen to a variety of indie smooth jazz programmers and you'll hear a variety of approaches, from the traditional "smooth and relaxing" to "jazz that rocks," from playing the hits to free-forming it and everything in between.  Now we can begin to communicate with each other and listen to our listeners, not as "research study participants" but as living, breathing, music loving human beings.

There are so many innovators out there right now that it would be impossible not to miss some significant ones.  Here is a very partial list.  Most indie smooth/contemporary jazzers are networking via Facebook so even if you don't want to "friend" people you don't know or play games and do apps it might be worthy to sign up just so you can get status reports like "Randy and Michael Brecker... some skunk funk...streaming at www.wsge.org."  Check out their shows online.  Some promote concerts where you will be treated well while you hear the music you love.  Enjoy and be inspired. 

Tammy Greene
The Jazz Spot
She gets first listing because her status report mentioned above popped up while I was writing this- her show is "The Jazz Spot" 10-12pm eastern time on WSGE-FM, in the Charlotte N.C. area.  She has also been producing concerts under the name of the Carolina Smooth Jazz Friends Concert Series and produced her first festival last Labor Day Weekend.  And oh, she has a 'daytime job" too. 

The Smooth Jazz stations on Live 365 
The link above will take you to a list of stations that cover the genre from just about every point of view.
There are some professional stations but most of these webcasters do it to share the music they love. 

Kerri Donovan
Another really busy woman.  She hosts "After Hours" on WQNA, Springfield, Illinois, she also has her own stream "Smooth Jazz Expressions" www.smoothjazzexpressions.com and does a top 25 countdown on Monday mornings.  She has a webcam/chat site open when she is on the air.

Ted Hasiuk 
His "Cafe Jazz" show is syndicated to radio stations but also available on demand at his website .  He digs deep into CDs and plays a lot of discoveries, classics, and deep tracks.  He has about 3 months of 4 hour shows available in their entirety.

John Beaudin
Beaudin is a long time smooth jazz radio programmer from Canada.  SmoothJazzNow has been a high profile site for a while.  After his station flipped formats, he decided to create a station of his own online and brought in some big names to host the shows.  Nick Colionne, Ken Navarro, and Cameron Smith all host shows as do internet broadcaster and brunch show host Steve Bauer, and Shannon Edwards and Beaudin himself. 

Chris Acton
This station has something for everyone.  A deep music library, a mix of contemporary jazz and world music, New Age, Ambient, Chill and Down-tempo, in the mix and on specialty shows.  He streams "Cafe Jazz" on weekends and has several other show hosts.

Jimi King
Keepin' it cool on the other side of the pond, Jimi King is another broadcaster who has migrated to the web and created one of the most popular smooth jazz streams online.  He has lots of musicians visiting the studio and has begun to host and promote concerts.

Talking Smooth Jazz
The Jazz Queen and Mike Reynolds are among the first to use BlogTalkRadio to stream their show.  They interview big names and new discoveries and play some music along the way.

Steve Bauer
Bauer hosts a brunch show on an Adult Contemporary station in Wichita, KS and is now doing mornings on SmoothJazzNow.com.  A long time "bruncher" at commercial radio he was also one of the first internet broadcasters.  He also has a blog. 

Michael Tozzi
Tozzi came out of the traditional broadcast world.  He worked the corporate format but he was in radio back when it was exciting and programmers were passionate about music.  He has brought that vibe to his internet stream with a deep music library and some traditional jazz mixed in.  Check out the "last 10 played" on the website and you'll want to stick around for the next 10. 

Chris Standring
 Standing has created a solid music networking site.  There is a streaming station with several people hosting on-demand shows that change weekly.  The cool thing about these shows is they reflect the individuality of the show hosts.  So different from homogenized, liner card radio both streaming and broadcast! 

This is just a sampling.  There are many, many more.  We are a community, and people tend to link other people's sites and streams.  Check out some of the recommendations you get from these sites and continue to explore.  There is a lot of fine music being released and the only way to really hear it is from independent and internet programmers.