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There’s still jazz on Chicago radio, despite the death of Smooth 87.7

Editors’ note: Since the publication of this article the smooth jazz format has returned to the Chicago airwaves. Read this January, 2014 update for more details.

My post about the demise of Chicago smooth jazz station Smooth 87.7 two weeks ago continues to gather comments lamenting the station’s passing. Many of the commenters express a sentiment like Sandy Kowalski, who writes,

I searched all the chicago (sic) FM stations for another jazz station, I can not find any.

Anyone know of a station in chicago (sic) with similar music?

I would like to bring some hope to many of these forlorn jazz fans by letting them know that, yes, indeed, Chicago still has jazz on the radio.

It is true is that there no longer is a full-time analog FM station featuring the subgenre of smooth jazz. But there are several noncommercial stations in Chicago that have been loyal purveyors of jazz programs for longer than Smooth 87.7 or its spiritual predecessor WNUA were ever on the air. There is also a new HD digital-only channel with a 24/7 satellite-fed, and non-local, program feed.

Now, finding jazz on any of the noncommercial analog stations requires paying a little more attention to a schedule and the clock; none airs jazz 24/7. It should also be noted that none of these stations play much music that would be considered mainstream smooth jazz; you won’t hear any Kenny G or Dave Koz. But you likely will find a decent helping of straight ahead and classic jazz artists with plenty of melody, depending on when you tune in.

While I have listened to all of these stations, I haven’t necessarily heard all of their current jazz programs. So, aside from reading program descriptions, I can’t comment accurately as to whether any individual show leans more traditional or out and avant garde. I also should admit that my tastes run more more to the avant, free and experimental end of the spectrum, though I also enjoy plenty of trad, bop and straight ahead stuff, too.

For each station I’ve noted where it can be received most clearly. I’m using the FCC’s primary service contour and my own experience as a guide. Using a car radio you may get better distant reception, whereas you may have a harder time with a clock radio inside a brick building. Your results may vary.

But FM radio is still free, so it costs nothing to tune in and try a new station and several shows yourself. If you find something you like, make a note of the day and time, then tune in again. If what you hear isn’t quite your cup of tea, then try a different station or program. The joy, and challenge, of listening to these stations is the thrill of the hunt and the discovery.

WDCB 90.9 FM – Glen Ellyn

Listener-supported public station WDCB features the most jazz of any station in Chicago, with a solid block weekdays from 6 AM to 6 PM, in addition to specialty jazz programs late nights and weekends. The station also features the most straight ahead and melodic mix of tunes. Broadcasting from Chicago’s West Suburbs, WDCB is heard pretty well into Chicago’s West Side as well as in part of the Northwest Suburbs, but it can be a challenge to pick up in the Loop and other parts of Chicagoland.

WHPK 88.5 FM – Chicago

WHPK broadcasts from the University of Chicago in the South Side’s Hyde Park neighborhood, and can be picked up pretty well in the Loop and South Side. The station has had a commitment to jazz since going on the air in 1968, and currently has jazz programs from 7 – 9 PM Monday through Thursday, along with several more programs on the weekend. These shows cover the gamut of styles which are described pretty well on WHPK’s jazz show page and DJs make a point of featuring Chicago artists. So it should be easy to find a show that appeals to you.

WLUW 88.7 FM – Chicago

I found only one obvious jazz show on Loyola University’s WLUW, called Jazzcast on Thursdays at 6 AM. But on college radio shows often come and go, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there are ones I don’t know about, or new ones coming on board for the summer semester. With a transmitter in the far North Side neighborhood of Rogers Park, WLUW is heard most clearly down to the North Loop, as well as up into the North Suburbs.

WNUR 89.3 FM – Evanston

Full disclosure here: I am the advisor to this college station. But that doesn’t mean I can’t tell you about its jazz programming. WNUR has jazz every weekday from 5:30 AM to noon. Like WHPK nearly every style of jazz can be heard, though I should warn the hardcore smooth jazz aficionado that ’NUR is well known for its focus on avant garde, experimental and free jazz. However, the station’s DJs also dedicate quite a bit of time to Chicago musicians, past and present. Broadcasting from the first suburb north of Chicago WNUR has a strong signal down to the Loop, out west to O’Hare and into the North Suburbs.

WLUP HD–3 97.9 FM – Chicago

Perhaps to atone for its sins, Merlin Media has brought smooth jazz back to the Chicago airwaves, but only for the handfull of HD Radio listeners in the area. Beginning last week WLUP’s HD–3 channel starting airing the satellite-fed Smooth Jazz Network. As a bandwidth-constrained HD–3 signal the fidelity isn’t great, but might be better than some streaming internet stations. HD signals broadcast at a lower power than analog FM, so the HD–3 signal won’t come in everywhere the analog hard rock signal can be heard. But it comes in pretty well in my far North Side neighborhood, some seven miles away.

There may be programs or stations that I’ve missed therefore I welcome recommendations from readers on jazz that can be heard on the radio in the greater Chicagoland area.



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18 Responses to There’s still jazz on Chicago radio, despite the death of Smooth 87.7

  1. Mr Street May 16, 2012 at 5:46 am #

    I’ve started a jazz/blues channel here is the link turntable.fm/savoy_ballroom all you need is your iPhone or Android phone with a Facebook or twitter account. it is a new channel/room so we have no set schedule as yet.

  2. Mike Page May 16, 2012 at 9:35 pm #

    Disappointed!!!

    Long time listener from the beginning.

    Hard to believe with the population of Chicago Metro and we can’t get enough interest to support smooth jazz!

  3. Donna Rae May 18, 2012 at 11:47 am #

    I HATE hip-hop, rap, etc. Listened to WNUA for years. . What happened to smooth jazz in Chicago? I know we have enough listeners. 87.7 sold out too? What else can we do? Radio has been free my whole life and I do not subscribe to Sirus radio; maybe I should, it’s the only way to insure that when you turn on a jazz station, it will BE THERE!!!!

  4. Sophie Kozlowski June 7, 2012 at 3:31 pm #

    The music was my wake up call when I was employed. After retirement every time I was in the car driving that was my listening station. I was frantic when I realized it was gone. I searched and searched, the 90.9 station is a disapointment. I pray smooth hazz will return.

  5. Nakota Anderson June 24, 2012 at 7:04 am #

    I began listening to WNUA and 87.7 with Parents several years ago. I really enjoyed this music it was soothing. Sometimes when I wanted to get into the relaxing mode I would flick it on and relax. My 21 year old son even started listening to it, it was very heart breaking when I discovered I could not listen to my favorite music any more. Please bring it back! This is not acceptable to all the fans who enjoyed the station.

  6. Linda Kohke July 7, 2012 at 10:31 am #

    I miss Smooth Jazz so much…it relaxes me like no other music

    Just something special about the sound

    Can’t believe it’s gone again…at one time I listen to WNUA 95.5

    With such a big city as Chicago you would think there would be a lot

    of listeners. PLEASE BRING IT BACK!!!!

  7. Darrell M Rhea July 29, 2012 at 8:29 pm #

    Thank those powers that be that I can return to radio and hear what I like……smooth jazz. I am running out to my car to home in on these stations. I am devistated that WNUA has gone but it is what it is. If I win the powerball I plan to buy a radio station and play nothing but smooth jazz ALL DAY LONG!!!!!!!

  8. Daisy J. Bell August 25, 2012 at 6:13 pm #

    I miss Smooth Jazz so much…it relaxes me like no other music

    Just something special about the sound

    PLEASE BRING IT BACK!!!!

  9. Jerome Nashem October 2, 2012 at 8:39 am #

    Clearly, this is some kind of marketing ploy. Wnua had a serious following for years, with bebop, Latin, and Smooth Jazz. Are the Spanish-Speaking numbers that great to close yet another great and ledgendary Jazz station? I am definitely lost and have turned to Itunes for a smooth jazz station in Europe! Very Sad…

  10. John Kacz October 2, 2012 at 11:48 am #

    I was listening to WSDM back in the ’60s for real jazz that was current at the time. Does anyone remember “Den of Daniels” hosted by Evon Dainels? I eent to sleep listening to Paul Horn’s, I think the tile was, “Clear Day”. They broadcasted from 39th and Kedzie if I remember correctly.

  11. Tasha Boris October 8, 2012 at 11:40 pm #

    Please bring back smooth jazz, as I miss it like never before, this hip-hop and rap is for the kids, but what about the grown-ups don’t we deserve to listen to something we like?

  12. Lynn Clow October 19, 2012 at 9:33 am #

    How very sad. I am a 60 something female. I would listen to 95.5 and then 87.7 every chance I got. The music was relaxing and mood elevating. Hip hop, rap, western, hispanic, they all have their own stations, why kill Smooth Jazz Stations that offered just as many talented artists, and made so many people happy. Please bring back Smooth Jazz…………………

  13. Mario Mendoza October 20, 2012 at 12:52 pm #

    I’m sure there are still instrumental musicians around who choose to express themselves with the sounds of a smooth melody. No need for words, it’s always the rhythm that gets you!

  14. rob November 18, 2012 at 5:48 pm #

    its a joke we need GOOD MUSIC back in are city and suburbs i know ALOT of people that are very disppointed give us something good too listen too

  15. Debbie Mc Mahon November 28, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

    Please bring back Smooth Jazz, miss it so much! What a shame there is not a station that supports smooth jazz and all it listeners. Especially Chicago that even had smooth jazz cruises, that not one of the stations would pick up this venue. There is complete garbage on some of these stations. I miss hearing Kenny G. Anita Baker and many more artist that are not featured on any of the regular fm stations/

  16. Joe Fay February 2, 2013 at 1:10 am #

    Based out of Naperville, Metromedia Radio broadcast Jazz and the Great American Songbook. Our broadcast can be picked up within automobiles via smart phone technology and the use of a Belkin device We are rebranding the old New York City station WNEW, the station that discovered Sinatra.

  17. kristalgayle June 1, 2013 at 8:40 pm #

    How can Chicago be a home to jazz music but not have a Jazz radio station? Please bring back WNUA!

  18. Cintra C July 10, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

    I really miss listening to smooth jazz. My children and I would listen to it everyday. They ( my children) grew up listening to smooth jazz. My older grand-children loved it also. Please bring back WNUA 95.5 SMOOTH JAZZ RADIO!!!! Thank you.

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