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 10

  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.

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