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 21 to 40

  1. Jill (tearing hair)

    Thanks for the hint, Jonathan. I’ll give it a try.
    I agree that David Mellor knows what he is talking about; my reference to him was because I don’t like his condescending tone (or his very poor intonation).

  2. Geoff

    Beautifully summed up Jonathan, the most irritating change for me is the jazz at midnight when the radio is on sleep-timer. What’s most depressing is the hurried nature of the changes, makes you wonder what gods (or demons) they’re appeasing. Either way I agree that what started as a positive refreshing change to classical music broadcasting is being progressively compromised.
    I’d also wonderd about the internet radio idea but then wouldn’t I also be party to the demise of DAB?

  3. Will Flesher

    I have several points to make about this situation:
    1. GCap Media is obviously an incapable body to deal with the transmission of radio stations, especially Classic FM. A big media magnate does not really fit their image!
    2. The online player is awful! Not only does it constantly display picture based ads, but the bit rate is slow and the lack of presenters makes it almost completely unlifelike and inhuman. I cannot get it to work on my Windows Vista computer, and it is no substitute for either theJazz or CFM.
    3. When it was announced that tJz was to close, I listened to it every night until it did close to try and boost the ratings. Unfortunately this didn’t work. The only remnant of this station I have now is a CD!

  4. Tamsin (very disappointed)

    I would just like to say that I agree with many of the commenst so far. I, like many listeners, am disgusted at the shunting of Nick Bailey and the ‘sacking’ of Mark Griffiths. I was recently on holiday, and even people whom I met on my trip to Greece were talking about the changes; and the ‘waste’ it was to have Nick Bailey on the overnight slot. I think in general people miss Nick. And let’s not forget Mark who had the pefect voice and personality for overnight radio. Although John Brunning is not my favourite presenter, I don’t think he should have been pushed into Nick’s wonderful concert programme just to make way for Margherita Taylor. I think the problem here is that it would have been cheaper to get rid of Mark than to pay-off Taylor and the result has backfired, because not only have CFM lost a great voice and compromised outstanding presenters, they will now inevitably loose listeners!

  5. Mark Griffiths

    Oh – I’ve just been told about this excellent website of Jonathan’s and I’m amazed to see that I’ve been mentioned on it several times – and in quite a positive way too. Thank you. For those who have been wondering what has become of me – and I see there are one or two – I must first apologise for my sudden departure from Classic FM. It was as much of a shock to me as it seems to have been to many Classic FM listeners. There’s a lot to tell about what happened. As I’ve indicated on my website home page – and you can find my site at http://www.markgriffiths.name – I will soon be back with a new classical music show, featuring the same kind of music, quiz, your emails (I hope) and other bits and pieces – along similar lines to my show at Classic FM. I also have some other really exciting news about a new radio show I’ll be presenting from South East Asia, starting in June 2008. It’s going to be broadcast on AM and FM around the world (including the UK and USA), as well as from about 10 different satellites and on the Internet. You might like to sign up for my newsletter to find out more about what happened at Classic FM in February, and about what the immediate future holds for me. I run the website, so you won’t be inundated with rubbish if you sign up for the newsletter. I hope to hear from you with a bit of feedback about my new shows, details of which I’ll be announcing in my next newsletter. Thanks again for your kind comments – it would be great to hear from you through the contact form at my website. Let’s all keep smiling. If you do the opposite it gets you nowhere even faster! Let’s keep in touch. Mark

  6. Hazel Jacques

    Dear Mark
    We miss your wonderful voice every night, as we have listened for nearly ten years. Classic FM have ruined our listening hours of ten until six in the morning. For the insommniacs this is devastating, as not only did we have wonderful music, enjoyed some super quizzies, which keep the brain alert, and presented by the one and only Mark Griffiths, outstanding velvet voice.
    We no longer tune in to Classic Fm, But listen to Radio 4 and SAILING BY, and the long radio weather forcasts for DGGER BANK etc. How can this programme be called CLASSIC sorry you have lost us and all our night friends. Hazel Jacques

  7. Michael Mappin

    I follow the comings and goings at Classic FM with a mixture of annoyance and amusement. I was very sorry to hear of Mark’s departure, but not totally surprised at the apparant change of direction at the station. Those presenters with a passion for the music (and I admit Classical music does provoke more passionate reactions than many other kinds) seem to be getting thinner on the ground. Let’s face it, the ultimate aim of a commercial radio station is making money and for that they need listeners. The fear at Classic FM, going right back to the earliest days, is that the audience would plateau. The first Programme Controller, Michael Bukht, was not afraid of this, stating that plateaus made good steady launching pads for higher and greater things. His strategy was to load the rocket (sorry, the metaphor is wearing a trifle thin) with things Classical and imaginative. The introduction of Jazz to CFM is a sad, cynical bid for new listeners. The immediate decision to vote with their feet made by many listeners is of no consequence to those who make the decisions. Letters or emails will make no difference. The only thing to do is ride out the storm and wait for a change in the weather. I agree with Mark that it’s better to smile than frown. But it is only with the benefit of distance that I can raise a grin at the remembrance of one producer who told me that he would make a programme about bricks if he thought it would bring in the listeners.

  8. Peter Herring

    I agree with all comments that I have read. My mother and I listen frequently to Classic FM.

    Since the sudden programme changes I have missed listening to Lisa Duncombe’s ‘Late night’ programme. I don’t like the Jazz prog at all. So I switch off at midnight or tune to Smooth Radio for a different style of music altogether, if Classic Fm had Classic music on after midnight I would stay. Classic and Jazz do not mix on the same station. I am not a jazz lover anyway.

    Also, I use to enjoy Nick Bailey with his evening concert, but now that has gone. So, the programme changes I am not impressed with at all.

    But I suppose knowing what I know about UK commercial radio, which I have followed since it’s introduction to our shores in 1970 and the way it all ticks. All run by accountants and computers, it is hardly suprising that these changes have happened, I have seen other good stations deteriate in the same fashion. The truth is the people who are in charge, have not a clue on how to run a radio station.

    The Jazz on DAB was doomed from the start really, as the audio quality on DAB is not nearly as good as on FM. Again it’s due to money. They limit the bandwidth to get more stations on the DAB network to make more money. Even Classic FM sounds better on FM compared to it’s DAB channel. Even my mother of 80 years notices that.

    But with all that, I hope that Classic FM takes note of people’s comments and makes ammends.

  9. Mark Griffiths

    Hey Michael – it would be good to meet for a chat and catch-up before I disappear off to SE Asia in two weeks. Give me a call or send an email through the Contact page of my website – http://www.markgriffiths.name/contact.html – if you have a moment! I have an email address for you, but I think it’s an old one… Mark G.

  10. Stuart Morris

    Classic FM has been going elsewhere for years. The ousting of Nicholas Tresillian was about the low point and that babbler, Nick B taking over. Nick Tresillian “wanted the opportunity to look after his pigs” Nick B didn’t, and still doesn’t know one end of a piece of music from another and I do NOT miss him, but Natalie Wheene taking over at the weekend – never my favourite when on Radio 3 – is a considerable improvement. She might ven be better during the week, but ‘The Full Works’? Ugh!!!
    Margherita Taylor and her voice; unctious in the extreme, but when a radio station is run by such merchants, what more, I suppose, does one really expect? An interesting comment about her origins with Jazz FM Explains a lot.
    I also thought that Michael Mappin was a superb presenter and he knew what he was taking about, but with Michael Bukt being invalided out all those years ago, like so much, the Saturday Night quiz with Quentin ??, the axing of JJN and others, the hooligans took over and these changes are all part. It seemed that anything bordering on the intelligent was out of the window.
    Let’s also face it Radio 3 has dropped some awful clangers. (Sir) Nicholas Kenyon as controller and John Tusa, the better candidate, being edged out to be asked to read the 1pm TV news!!
    Don’t listen and play CDs ; it will soon be read in the audience figures. Courage, mon ami!

  11. Jonathan

    I don’t agree with your comment on Nick Bailey. He did his best, and it was the only time the programme was live, which meant it was possible to e-mail him to discuss the music, and he always replied! Also, Quentin Howard, who presented that quiz, is actually an executive who’s been partly responsible for the state DAB is in by insisting that the bitrate should be low to squeeze stations in at the expense of sound quality:
    http://www.digitalradiotech.co.uk/articles/President-of-WorldDMB-was-dishonest-about-DAB+-on-BBC-TV.php

  12. Moaning Minnie

    Classic fm is going off and has been for a while. Why the introduction of all these ‘celebrities’? (Alex James, Laurence Llewellyn Bowen (ugh!)), etc.
    Jane Jones is irritating, with her ‘sugary’ voice, and as for Simon Bates ….!
    Mylene Klaas is OK but does sound as if she is reading from a script. As for ‘We raise you up’ -AAARGH! I’m afraid I have to switch off every time I hear it or anticipate it, (and then often forget to switch on again!).
    Switching to Radio 3 is not the answer, as the reason Radio 3 listeners swicthd to Classic fm was because they liked ‘proper music’ with good tunes, rather than a lot of the jangling discordant stuff Radio 3 is determined to inflict on us.

  13. Terry

    It is great to hear from Mark Griffiths and how his future is now being mapped out. I enjoyed listening to him and I wish him all the best

    What has happened to Lisa Duncombe? How is she now coping? Come on Lisa, drop us a line so that your fans can keep in touch. I am a night worker and really enloyed listening to her dulcit tones. Alas night listening will never be the same again!

    If the executives from ClassicFM are accessing this site maybe they are now realising the errors of their ways and are looking at ways to appease their audience….

  14. Mark Griffiths

    Thanks Terry – I just saw your comment. I’m in touch with Lisa and am arranging to meet up with her next week before I fly to China for a job at China radio International – something completely different and a change of direction for me. I’ll tell Lisa about this page so she can put a comment on here if she wants to. I’m also working on a classical music project for radio and hope to have it up and running soon. I hope you’ll sign up for the occasional email newsletter by clicking on the button at my website homepage at http://www.markgriffiths.name so you’ll be among the first to know exactly what’s happening both with me and some of the other presenters no longer at Classic FM. You can also contact me directly if you want to, through my website contact page. It would be great to hear from you. You may already know that GCap (the company that owned Classic FM at the time of the changes) has now been taken over by Global Radio, and I for one would definitely go back if the new owners approached me and suggested it, so you never know… normal service may well be resumed at some point in the future…

  15. Gordon

    What do Classical and Jazz have in common? – They’re different forms of quality music. I find it quite strange how some people can be so narrow-minded. For the record, the Midnight Jazz program is fantastic!

  16. Jonathan

    So Gordon, would you also introduce heavy metal or contemporary R&B on the station? There’s plenty of quality music there too. But when people switch on a classical station they expect to hear classical music, and that’s exactly how Classic FM advertised itself for a long time. Where do you draw the line? You can have a station that plays every type of music under the sun, but then it has no distinct identity. As I said, I personally don’t mind the jazz programme, but I still don’t think it should have been introduced, and the worst thing is the way Classic FM have lied to people over why it was.

  17. Jan

    I agree with Jonathan. I don’t like jazz anyway, but I accept that some people do and I respect their opinions. However, its arrival on Classic FM is unfortunate to say the least. If there are not enough listeners to keep a dedicated jazz station going (as it appears there are not) then maybe jazz lovers should bite the bullet and realise that they are in a minority and therefore find their music on stations offering a mixed bundle. Jazz should not be allowed to dilute the identity of Classic FM – I mean, what will be next? A renaming of the station to Classic-and-Jazz FM?

    These days I no longer listen to Classic FM as often as I used to. In fact, the only programme I regularly tune in to is Nick Bailey’s in the early hours – and that is because I grew used to radio listening at this time due to Mark Griffiths’s show. I like Nick, and in days past have enjoyed his Evening Concert, so I was pleased that it was he who filled the huge gap left by Mark’s departure.

    Once a week I listen to about 30 minutes of Margherita Taylor (which is quite enough, thank you) and wish that she didn’t continually use strained adjectives to describe the music (everything is ‘wonder-ful’ or ‘beauti-ful’), which may be something she does to hide the fact that she does not know a great deal of background information on that music.

    And I find irritating in the extreme the new habit of running two pieces of music together, separated only by an advert for another of the station’s programmes, with no intervention by the presenter. This seems to happen at least twice an hour. Maybe it happens even more often than this – as I said, I don’t listen as frequently, or as long, as I did.

    Bring back the classic Classic FM!

  18. Nancy

    Jan, so very well put.

    Nancy

  19. Madame Arcati

    Lisa Duncomve to return to Classic FM?
    http://madamearcati.blogspot.com/2008/06/lisa-duncombe-dj-babe-to-return-to.html

  20. Gordon

    I still think that the Jazz show is right and is in keeping with the general Classic FM atmosphere. Radio 3 has managed to broadcast Jazz and Classical for years although it seems to cover a much wider musical field.
    For those of you who are simply saying “I don’t like Jazz”, then all I can say is that the “We raise you up” jingle is all you deserve.

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