RIP Jazz FM’s Richard Wheatly 1946-2015

Richard-Wheatly-in-Studio

Chairman of Jazz FM and Jazz Notes show presenter Richard Wheatly died unexpectedly on Wednesday 22 April, aged 69, after a short illness. Following a very successful career in global advertising Richard took over the running of Jazz FM, which launched in 1990, as managing director in 1995 and built the business up into a successful FM radio and online enterprise, rebranding the station with the ‘Listen in Colour’ tagline and broadcasting highly respected shows such as Dinner Jazz and The Cutting Edge.

Richard was passionate about jazz and balanced the often-tricky job of growing audiences and listening time with delivering enough relevant and credible jazz content to satisfy serious jazz fans. Jazz, soul and blues became the station’s staple diet and business diversifications included a successful record label that rode the smooth jazz trend of the mid-1990s with big selling compilations. Jazz FM was sold to The Guardian Media Group in 2002 and, despite initial pledges by the new owner, swiftly cut back the jazz programming, rebranding it Smooth FM and shelved the Jazz FM name.

As head of a consortium, Richard bought the station back from GMG in 2008 and relaunched Jazz FM as a DAB digital station with many of the most popular presenters back in place, including Helen Mayhew, Sarah Ward, Peter Young, Mike Chadwick and David Freeman, while attracting highly respected names from the station’s very early years such as Chris Philips, and introducing new shows such as The Ronnie Scott’s Radio Show and the Performance Series.

In 2013 he launched the Jazz FM Awards and The Love Supreme Jazz Festival at Glynde Place in Sussex, which has rapidly become an essential date in the UK festival calendar, and in 2014 hired radio industry pro Jonathan Arendt as CEO. Richard was a great believer in helping up and coming jazz musicians and, as well as initiating a jazz for schools project, was also chairman of the National Youth Jazz Collective. It is with particular sadness that we learned of Richard’s passing as he worked with Jazzwise on a number of joint initiatives and was a strong advocate of the magazine. A memorial service will be announced shortly.

– Jon Newey

J4L-Party-05

Photo above: Richard Wheatly at the recent Jazz For Labour Concert at The Barbican in February. Pictured left-to-right: pianist Alex Webb; Riot Squad PR Kerstan Mackness; Jazzwise editor Jon Newey; Jazz For Labour’s Bob Blizzard; Serious Director John Cumming; and Richard Wheatly (Photo by Tim Dickeson)

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