WBGO Reinventing Jazz for Audiences

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WBGO provides access and opportunity for listeners to engage with jazz, blues and classical soul programming produced in the jazz capital of the world.

“We’re making jazz relevant, and that’s how we’re ensuring the past has a future,” says Amy Niles, president and CEO of WBGO 88.3FM. “Even if you’re hearing something from 1942, it’s new to you.”

In 1942, much of America was deeply in thrall to big band swing music and the jazz stylings of mainstream vocalists. Eventually rock ‘n roll and television gained popularity, night clubs closed, and jazz was driven off of the radio. Still, the genre retained a core audience of record collectors and DownBeat readers.

A new spark of interest began to grow, fanned by Ken Burns’ Jazz documentary, Baby Boomers looking for more thought-provoking music, and the digital revolution. New fans began to reach out and find music from jazz’s past and present.

WBGO was ready. Founded in 1979, the station persisted through the ebb and flow of jazz’s popularity, developing a corps of knowledgeable and professional on-air personalities. Eight hosts have been with the public radio music station for 20 years or more, including Rhonda Hamilton who was on the air the very first day.

Over the decades, WBGO perfected playlists packed with jazz giants like Miles Davis and John Coltrane, well-known vocalists like Billie Holiday and Carmen MacRae, and attractive jazz newcomers like guitarist Andreas Varady and singers Cecile McLorin and Jazzmeia Horn.

“This is music that should be cherished.” – Amy Niles, president and CEO of WBGO 88.3FM

In recent years, the pace has quickened for WBGO. The station worked with NPR and Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center to produce Jazz Night in America. The weekly program of music and interviews now airs on more than 200 stations. Recently, NPR named WBGO its primary source for jazz programming.

A testament to WBGO’s ability to keep up with the times, the station recently won the 2018 Webby Award for Film & Video: Music for its “Jazz is the Mother of Hip-Hop.”

The station sponsors local jazz concerts and brought in reporter Nate Chinen to revamp its online content to include more jazz criticism. The site now features articles and two weeks’ worth of on-demand recorded programs and playlists for every show.

WBGO is about more than just staying power. Having survived the decades for jazz and jazz lovers, the station is now on the forefront of a thriving jazz culture.