Not impressed by new Classic FM schedule

Following the news that GCap Media are to scrap their theJazz and Planet Rock digital radio stations, it seemed that Classic FM, as an analogue station, would emerge unscathed. Unfortunately, the closures have had a knock-on effect that has changed Classic FM for the worst.

In the week, I’m only really able to listen to the station in the evening. Changes at this time of day include the scrapping of the 6:30pm Classic Newsnight programme. While this was not the best news programme imaginable, it was the only news bulletin I could catch after work, having usually missed most of Radio 4’s news. Instead, Smooth Classics at Seven has been extended by an hour, becoming Smooth Classics at Six. Smooth Classics, presented by John Brunning, was always one of my favourite programmes. Unfortunately, they have now pushed John out in favour of Margherita Taylor, who apparently used to present a programme called Easy Jazz at Six on theJazz. I’m afraid I am so far unable to get used to Ms Taylor’s voice. I don’t know if she’s supposed to be a celebrity because she’s been on TV; I’m not interested in celebrities. I liked John Brunning’s smooth voice presenting this programme. Margherita Taylor appears to have a “trendy” voice with an end-of-sentence intonation I don’t appreciate.

In turn, John Brunning has displaced Nick Bailey as the presenter of the Evening Concert programme, which has been renamed The Full Works. For around five years, Nick has presented the programme live, enabling him to read out listeners’ e-mailed comments as he received them (including several of mine over the years!) This gave the programme a much more personal touch, and meant it was better company for anyone listening alone. Early indications are that The Full Works is no longer presented live. Nick Bailey has now been pushed into the overnight slot, starting from 2am, displacing Mark Griffiths who has now left the station. I’m quite certain Nick isn’t happy about losing the Concert and having to present overnight.

One aspect of the new schedule that has proved most controversial is the introduction of two hours of jazz each night, starting at midnight. The programme is presented by Helen Mayhew, who is also a refugee from theJazz. Lisa Duncombe, the young violinist who was given a job after complaining that the station didn’t promote young artists enough, has also been given the axe. Classic FM used to promote itself as the country’s only 100% classical station, as opposed to rival BBC Radio 3, which has always played jazz. That distinction has now been lost. I should probably go to bed at midnight anyway, but I have to say that, despite my reservations, the jazz programme is the change I mind the least. The music is still quite relaxing, and at that time of night the music is only background to reading or whatever, rather than being for serious listening.

The station has responded to complaints about the introduction of jazz by claiming:

Radio stations periodically change their programming line-ups and our research shows that there is a very strong cross-over between listeners to classical music and jazz.

That is implying that they introduced the new schedule as a result of careful audience research. I would contend that they have done no such thing. The new schedule was introduced in a hurry after GCap decided to pull out of DAB. The evidence for this is clear. In the past, new schedules on Classic FM have been the subject of much fanfare and promotion for weeks beforehand. Now they are calling this the biggest change in 15 years, yet there was no mention of the new schedule until just before it started this week. In the just-released April issue of the Classic FM magazine, they have just managed to get the new schedule in there. But there is a detailed listing of the music that will be played on the Evening Concert in March, with an accompanying article by Nick Bailey who it says, “presents the Classic FM Evening Concert every weekday night from 9pm”. That shows these changes to the schedule weren’t carefully planned as the result of audience research. They were rushed through for commercial and contractual reasons as a result of theJazz closing, after much of the magazine had already been produced.

The jingle that accompanies the new programmes can only be described as naff. I don’t believe it was created by David Arnold, the composer of the famous Classic FM jingle, and of the many arrangements that are heard on the station. It was no doubt recorded in a hurry, again because the schedule change wasn’t planned very far in advance. And what on Earth is the slogan “We raise you up” supposed to mean?!

It seems GCap needed to find a job for Margherita Taylor as a matter or urgency. Perhaps she had some sort of contract that would have been expensive for GCap to terminate – more expensive than sacking Mark Griffiths anyway. Perhaps the contract also specified that Ms Taylor’s programme should be at a time when decent numbers of people are listening, not in the middle of the night. So to make way for her, they have shunted along two long-standing presenters on the station who had presented their respective programmes for many years extremely successfully. The same may be said for Helen Mayhew replacing Lisa Duncombe, although there the motivation is probably also an attempt to appease jazz fans: they can still listen to jazz, as long as they don’t mind staying up until 2am!

I am quite unimpressed with the changes to Classic FM’s schedule. Because of what are ultimately business decisions by the owners, they have spoilt my favourite station quite a bit. Now I can’t listen to the news, I can’t hear “Mr Smooth” present his classics, and I can’t enjoy listening to the concert with Nick Bailey. I hope some of these changes can be reversed when theJazz’s former presenters’ contracts expire. I know that other listeners are unhappy, particularly with the jazz programme. Yet they are unlikely to abandon the station as there aren’t many alternatives. Unless, that is, GCap’s own internet broadcasting strategy turns out to be the way forward, in which case people may well discover that there are many good classical music stations around the world (from countries without draconian copyright laws) and so they can consider abandoning the station that puts business before its listeners.

236 responses to “Not impressed by new Classic FM schedule”

Showing comments 1 to 20

  1. Mikaswed

    Why are GCap trying to destroy Classic FM? Margherita Taylor is a horrible radio voice and 3 hours every night……………..
    And Nathalie Wheen´s saturday and sunday afternoon shows are gone!!!!She IS the Best…..and now its 22.00….
    The way Classic FM hade their programs prior to this week was a winning consept (Sony award winnging station) so WHY on earth destroy it? Its beyond me.

  2. Marc Alan

    After a few weeks away, I was shocked to see/hear the changes at Classic FM. Frankly, Lisa was not a loss, but Griffiths? And moving Nat and Nick?

    This really started when they moved Crick out of the breakfast show, years ago. I used to tell all my broadcasting friends to listen to Jamie, just to hear a proper morning ‘air’ personality that wasn’t daft! He is a wasted talent at mid-day.

    If anyone sees Griffiths, send him birthday greetings from his fans in the States!

  3. Andrew Rogers

    Classic FM was rather good when it started, with presenters like John Julius Norwich and Michael Mappin, but it’s been going downhill for years and is now mainly a product placement channel for Classic FM CDs and the like. My advice would be to try Radio 3.

  4. Mark Savage

    All very valid points, especially yours, Jonathan. There is something that distinctly stinks about the haste with which these changes were made- yet they are all the stranger because, for the moment at least theJazz remains on the air on DAB. Rumour has it that the station will close at the end of March if a buyer is not found- but it’s rather more than rumour that Global Radio are keen to get their hands on the whole GCap empire including Classic FM. Indeed, British Stock Exchange rules mean that by the end of this month, they must “put up or shut up”.
    I hope that Global do win their prize, and perhaps see sense with their radio assets in a way that Fru Hazlett’s dreadfully preciptious moves has not done. theJazz may not have been the commercial success that GCap was aiming for, but why compound one failure by taking a course which seems bound to alienate a substantial number of Classic FM listeners while gaining scarcely any new ones.
    The biggest loss for me in the changes is Mark Griffiths, who had the perfect voice and style, I believe, for the slot he covered. Nick Bailey is admittedly a fine broadcaster of many decades standing- he started his career on the pirate ships, of course, but he’s just not right for the “graveyard slot” and indeed it shows. I feel really sorry for my namesake Mark- I didn’t even have the opportunity to wish him goodbye before his programme vanished, and sadly his website hasn’t been updated so I don’t know what he’s up to now.
    Contrary to Andrew Rogers’ comments, I think that Classic FM still had a winning formula- the fact that the format has been either licensed to or copied by many stations worldwide speaks volumes. But as other correspondents here say, the station has now lost its uniqueness with the incursion of Jazz (though I always felt that the “Chiller Cabinet” and similar weekend fare were marginal to the original ethos anyway). And indeed, the new slogan and jingle are dire.
    Fru Hazlitt seems to have an obsession against DAB, but doesn’t she realise that if she doesn’t return a decent, friendly, classical service to FM with the voices people know and love, that will generate nothing but bum notes too. If anybody at Classic FM reads these comments, please think again and reverse these changes. After all, Henry Kelly was brought back after a sudden departure, so dare we hope Mark Griffiths and others can return too?

  5. Eddie the Expat

    Like Marc I have been away and came back to find Nick Bailey’s voice at 4 o’clock in the morning. Mark Griffiths gone and now tonight Lisa Duncombe said farewell. I liked Lisa, her voice was alive and she will be missed, by me anyway if that counts for anything. I would like to have listened to Mark Forrest for longer than his 6 pm sign-off as he, Jamie, and Jane have good shows. Simon Bates is switched off before he utters a sound as I think him to be insulting and condescending to his colleagues. He recently referred to elephants when introducing Nicola Bonn for a traffic report.

    The new schedule has a lot to be desired and I accept that changes have to be made to keep listeners from drifting but retrograde steps have been made. How can you introduce jazz on a classical programme? It is on as I write this and it is a plink-plonk of piano with a piercing trumpet that is now getting up my nose. How I wish I did not suffer occasional bouts of insomnia.

  6. Buggsie Heath-Brown

    ClassicFM is definitely changing for the worse and I agree entirely with Eddie the Expat. What really gets me is that Margerita seems totally incapable of reading out the names of any composer or artist unless they are called John Smith’s Band! If we do have to endure her until her contract expires could someone please get her a voice coach!

  7. Peter KIng

    Iagree with all the Classical Fans (I’m a Jazz Fan) you cannot mix the two, now two types of listener are upset
    and the Jazz listeners have to become insomniacs to hear their brand of music on a DAB radio set or have their computer based in the lounge or dining room permanently and running 24/7. This does not go down well with HER-IN-DOORS particularly when entertaining friends or family. My wife listens regularly to The Jazz when doing the chores at home,but has lost the pleasure and cannot be expected to carry a laptop on her hip. Is’nt there someone out there who can rescue the situation and make Classical and Jazz listeners happy. I have looked at My Classical FM site and was not impressed, particularly as I was unable to get either Jazz or Classical Live music over the Web

    Saddened Jazz Fan !!!!!!!

  8. Anne Roebuck

    Margherita Taylor has the most grating voice so I have to switch her off!
    Mark Griffiths is an awful loss. Two hours of jazz at midnight is not conducive to my insomnia. Bring back Mark please. As for audience research, I’m on the mailing list but no-one asked for my opinion!!!!!!!!!!
    As for that awful”we raise you up”………………… I will be going back to Radio 3 after having been a loyal listener to Classic FM since day one.

  9. Simone Apel

    I agree completely with Peter King and feel sorry for all The Jazz supporters and classical music lovers too. I love the Jazz and listened to it a lot on Sky in the lounge & on my digital radio. I too do not want to turn on my computer in order to listen to music I like. I am annoyed with The Jazz for advertising a similar Jazz station on Classic Fm, as actually, it doesn’t exist. I still don’t understand why the Jazz had to close (I know tons of people who listened to it) and why poor classic fm had to take the changes too.

  10. Keith

    I don’t like the new CFM schedule either. I think John and Nick should never have been shunted, and I do miss the news too. Margherita Taylor’s voice really annoys me. She played something last week, that wasn’t even a relaxing melody. Let’s hope CFM see the light and put things right. I find it very difficult listening to CFM now since all the changes.

  11. Jan

    Most of the comments above chime with mine. I am a relatively late convert to classical music and Classic FM in particular, and I did not believe that the format (as it was) could get very much better, except perhaps for the loss of a few presenters like Myleene Klass or Lisa Duncombe or Katie Derham, who add nothing to the station. But even with them, I was happy with the schedules. Now that we have the intrusion of jazz (sorry, all you jazz lovers, but I just loathe the stuff) I feel the station’s raison d’etre has been violated. I was appalled at the abrupt exit of Mark Griffiths, who has one of the best voices on radio, and John Brunning is no substitute for Nick Bailey. I don’t listen to Natalie Wheen because I’m not fond of her choice of music, but I am outraged on her behalf and that of her regular listeners that she should be shunted to late night.

    But I am even more indignant at the palpable untruths that are surrounding these alterations, as it is patently obvious that the changes were rushed through and that no market research was done. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas: neither would Classic FM fans vote for jazz on their station, or their long-standing and in many cases favourite broadcasters be pushed out of the popular spots and into areas where they can conveniently no longer be listened to.

    And yes, the jingle is unmemorable. The other one could occasionally get on one’s nerves, but it was noticeable and so it did its job. And ‘We raise you up’……? What? Think again, Classic FM, if you want to remain a popular station or indeed grow even bigger.

  12. Nancy

    I totally agree with what everyone else is saying here. I too have been a CFM listener for 15 years and this latest schedule is not good. Aled Jones was a huge loss and I have not listened to Saturday/Sunday mornings since Myleene Klass took over. Nice person I’m sure; radio presenter no way. That aside the rest of the schedule was pretty good overall. Everyone is going to have presenters they like and dislike, we all know that’s a fact of radio. But this, what have they done. It’s just awful. I too am considering Radio 3. I cannot abide the stupid “ding dong ding” jingle, it is driving me nuts. I have mailed the station to ask why the changes and could they possibly consider removing the new jingle – strangely enough …. I’ve heard nothing back! Hey ho.

  13. Helen Lawrie

    I read with interest the comments on insomnia. I, too, sufer from poor sleeping habit only now, I toss and turn in silence as I too, hate loathe and detest jazz – indeed, sometimes, 2 a.m. is actually welcomed as at that time I can get back to ‘my’ kind of music.

    And what have they done with Henry Kelly this time? I disagree with Simon Bates’ comments that Sunday morning are now improved!

  14. Jonathan

    I believe Henry Kelly will return with a new show after the special programmes for the Classical Brits have finished.

  15. Mikaswed

    Please, Give me back my “old” Classic FM – Mr Smooth, John Brunning, at 7 (the perfect voice after a long and streesful day, M Taylor has a awful,grating voice) Nathalie Wheen on weekend afternoons, she who has given me many new music idees and Mark Griffith, my only company on many sleepless nights.
    Acording to GCaps own website, CFM has gone from 6.3 million listeners in September 2007 down to 5.7 today………that´s 600 000 listeners that have abandon CFM in a verry short time, so mrs Hazlett, take a hint and listen to what CFMs listener and your own statistics tells you!

  16. Jill (tearing hair)

    I’ve really tried to like the changes, but it’s no good, I can’t talk myself into it. On the positive side it’s good to have 3 hours of smooth classics, but PLEASE not with Margherita. As for losing Mark Griffiths, if anything they should have moved him into a daytime slot where more people could hear him. I want presenters who introduce the music as though they know what they are talking about but who speak in a natural, un-sugary and uncondescending tone; i.e. Nick Bailey, John Brunning, Mark Forrest, Mark Griffiths, Anne-Marie Minhall, Henry Kelly; not those who sound as though they’re doing us a favour by talking to us (Margharita, David Mellor, even Jane Jones).
    I’ve been a faithful listener since the trial broadcasts, but tune in far less frequently now. I emailed the station and did have a reply, along the lines of ‘thank you for your message, we value your input’. Hah! I don’t think so.

  17. Gwendoline Bailey

    I am sorely missing Mark Griffiths. He was a pleasure to listen to.
    It is just not the same now so I will go back to listening to Radio 3.

  18. Sandra

    Only now can I bring myself to write calmly, after enduring the garbage that Classic FM is now inflicting upon us following the radical programming changes several weeks ago.

    I live in a different time zone from the UK, so my days were definitely brightened by the professional delivery and lovely musical choices of John Brunning, Nick Bailey and, most especially, Mark Griffiths. No longer, I fear. Who on earth is this dreadful female, “Margherita Taylor”? Do I understand from previous comments that she is a TV personality? What has that got to do with classical music? Then there is the two-hour jazz presentation — again, what does that have to do with classical music? And finally, there is the execrable Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen … he, alone, is reason enough for a ClassicFM boycott!

    Friends, fear not — if you are a web listener I can heartily recommend kdfc.com in San Francisco and king.org in Seattle. Both stations remain true to their programming commitment (unlike ClassicFM) and have pleasant and professional presenters (yes, they have American accents but, despite that, I promise you they are very easy to listen to).

    So, classical music lovers, remember the maxim, “Vote with your feet” (in this case your “ears”)? Classic FM depends upon revenue from advertising, so together let’s ditch ClassicFM and turn our attention to other more deserving classical music stations.

  19. Jill (tearing hair)

    I wouldn’t want to ditch Classic FM – up to now it’s been a great station, and parts of it still are. We need to persuade the current people in charge that they’ve got it wrong, and hope that the drop in listening figures will convince them that they need to go back to the successful formula. I’m sure that several of the long-standing presenters must feel the same as we do.
    I’ve heard KDFC when visiting my son and his family in California, and I agree that it’s excellent; but I prefer to listen on the radio (not online) so that doesn’t work for me in the UK. Radio 3 is not the answer, either.

  20. Jonathan

    @Jill: You could try a dedicated internet radio set, which will receive the signal from your wireless router. The quality can be much higher than DAB. They start at under £50 now.

    Incidentally, I don’t agree about David Mellor, who is one of the few presenters who actually knows what he’s talking about!

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