How jazz disappeared from the airwaves

The music schedules are a swamp of cheesy easy listening

Last week, a friend took me out to Ronnie Scott's, which used to be a fleapit, but is now totally glamorous, thanks to a refurbishment by its new owner, Sally Greene. It was great: cocktails and dancing and decent frocks to gawp at. But most of all, I loved listening to the Ronnie Scott's All Stars. I do like a trombone, especially one that's being pumped like a machine-gun.

This got me thinking: where on radio can you hear jazz and swing, or the best standards? I know that Radio 2 does its bit (though God alone knows why the fantastic Sunday show by Russell Davies, which celebrates the popular song, was trimmed to make way for the egregiously bland Elaine Paige), and I know that Radio 3 will cover this month's London Jazz Festival. But it's patchy. What if you feel like some Grant Green or Bobby Darin on a Tuesday morning?

In London, there used to be Jazz FM - until, that is, it was bought by the Guardian Media Group and became Smooth FM . . . at which point it suffered an identity crisis. By night, it is still recognisably a jazz station, though without experts such as Helen Mayhew (she, incidentally, can now be found presenting shows on BBC Radios 2 and 3). By day, it turns out a terrible mishmash of vaguely soulful sounds: Lemar and Simply Red feature prominently.

However, GMG Radio, the station's parent company, recently submitted a proposal to the regulator Ofcom, asking that it be allowed to change Smooth again, turning it into an easy-listening station for the over-fifties (it will, however, maintain the 45 hours of "specialist" music programming it still claims to broadcast). Ofcom has launched a public consultation, which will close this month.

I hope that Ofcom, egged on by music fans, will refuse. Turn the dial on your digital radio and you'll find that there is already too much easy listening out there: Galaxy, Magic, Saga. (And who has its eye on Saga? GMG, among others.) Then again, perhaps Smooth is already so far down this road that it doesn't matter. Besides, there is always Jazzfm.com. Yes, I have made the astonishing discovery that Jazz FM is still alive on the internet, where it can be listened to for free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Choose from two streams: modern jazz, or classic vocals. Or become a member of its club ejazz - naff name, I agree - where you can choose from an archive of 200 specialist shows. It also has the most fantastic listings. If this sounds like an ad, that's because it is. I simply can't fathom why GMG doesn't raise the profile of this site.

And so to the Corridors of Power (28 October, Radio 4), in which Sir Christopher Meyer, the former British ambassador to Washington and now chairman of our own dear Press Complaints Commission, considered "the cultural legacy" of The West Wing, and asked why the Yanks revere their leaders while we abhor ours (or, at the very least, like to take the piss out of them as often as we can). Oh dear. Where to begin? Does The West Wing merit such analysis? Answer: no, it's soapy schlock for people who consider themselves too clever to be seen to enjoy soapy schlock. And why so much Nick Robinson?

And isn't it a bit lazy for a BBC documentary team to interview, er, the BBC's political editor? As for Meyer, his presenting style - amiable laughter rippled with murmurs of mild surprise - was, rather like the organisation he heads, polite and ineffectual.

Pick of the week

Book of the Week – North Face of Soho
Starts 6 November, 9.45am, Radio 4
Strewth! Clive James reads from the fourth volume of his memoirs.

The Archers
7 November, 2pm and 7pm, Radio 4
Episode 15,000. Will Ruth fight for David, or will she fall udderly in love with Sam the cow man?

Don't miss . . .

Yo La Tengo on tour

This indie-rock group is best described as a cult favourite, the husband-and-wife duo of Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley, together with bassist James McNew, owing a debt to their fellow American acts Sonic Youth and the Velvet Underground.

And even if you haven't rushed out to buy their latest album, I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, you will soon come across their work at the cinema: they have composed soundtracks for films such as the controversial Shortbus, opening next month.

Yo La Tengo will play Cardiff, Gateshead, Cambridge and London from 7 November. More details: www.yolatengo.com