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 41 to 60

  1. Nick London

    Yes, Margherita ‘I Robot’ Taylor is bad, very bad. That downwards inflection at the end of every sentence is annoying in the extreme. Actually, perhaps Classic FM should replace her with the in-train announcement system the Underground use – it might be an improvement.
    I agree with the earlier comment about Jamie Crick being wasted in the lunchtime slot – a true pro, who comes across as a very nice guy. I suggest he replaces that irritating smarta**e Forrest character (who, infuriatingly seems to be on every time I tune in) with his wretched ‘faux northern’ pronunciation:
    ‘mAsterclAss’, ‘After’, ‘pAst’…. ughh.. so phoney it makes you want to throw up!
    Simon Bates though is a superb broadcaster and I will not hear of him being criticised in any way! As for Jane Jones… well yes, sugary is the word alright. Gushing insincerity by the truckload… get ‘er off!

  2. Jan

    Thank you for agreeing so generously with my previous post, Nancy.

    Gordon: well, of course jazz lovers like the jazz show on Classic FM. But the point being made is in the name. ‘Classic’ FM. Not Jazz FM, or Classic-and-Jazz FM. If the radio station in question wishes to remain a serious classical music station and true to its name, then it needs to ditch the jazz. Radio 3 can broadcast all the jazz and other music it likes: it is not named ‘Classic Radio 3’, ‘Classical Music Radio’, ‘Radio 3 for Classics’ or any combination thereof, and thus does not openly proclaim its tendencies. There is no comparison.

    The other day during my once-a-week short foray into Smooth Classics at Six, Ms Taylor was having problems. The whole thing was going haywire, with Ms Taylor blithely announcing the details of a track that had not been played, was not going to be played, and featuring nowhere in the programme. I can only assume someone had messed up the music so that her (presumably recorded) presentation no longer fitted what was intended to be played. Did anyone else catch this? Maybe it’s a regular occurrence these days.

    Actually, I like Jane Jones’s choice of music, though (and it seems like everyone else on this forum) I wish she would moderate her style! But anyone who likes both Mozart and Rachmaninov cannot be far from good in my eyes……

    I have to admit that listening to the station as it is now does nothing for me. I find the format irritating and, now that I can no longer listen to it for an hour or so after midnight, it has almost ceased to have any useful purpose for me at all. If it weren’t for Nick Bailey’s show, as far as I am concerned, it would be history.

  3. Jonathan

    I heard Smooth Classics go wrong the other day. The presenter’s part has always been pre-recorded, so the same thing used to happen when it was John Brunning. That’s one thing I miss about Nick Bailey’s Evening Concert – it was the only time that programme has been live.

  4. Nancy

    I know that most people like a good moan, me included. However, I thought that some might be interested to hear about my change in “listening” habits. In the past when CFM have changed schedules in a way that I didn’t like I’ve come round and got used to things. This time it isn’t so. My radio is tuned to CFM for maybe 1-2 hours per day, other than that it is switched to R3 or R4 or off altogether. The changes and some of the new ‘presenters’ have really switched me off and I just don’t want to listen. That’s really sad for me as I’ve been a fan for such a long time. I know the playlist is very limited but so what. Most of the music they play is lovely. I just can’t stomach some of the gushing OTT and ignorant presenters. But do you know what has turned me off more than any other single thing ….. yep, the ghastly jingle “ding dong ding we raise you up” I can’t stand it! It alone has forced me away from a station I used to love!

    Hey ho!

  5. Jonathan

    Nancy, the irony is that the one programme that still uses a variation of the old jingle is the jazz programme! I liked the old jingle, composed by David Arnold, and it was very clever the way he made so many different variations of it. I realise that the new jingle is actually the first three notes of the old one, so live in hope that they’ll eventually go back to using the whole thing.

  6. David

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one to dislike the new Classic FM schedules. The station is going downhill, and find myself listening to Radio 3 more and more

    I particularly dislike Alex James (why does he say everything is cute?) and I also dislike Margherita Taylor’s (and Jane Jones) voice.

    Myleene Klass is ok. But the sooner that blasted jazz show is kicked into touch the better.

  7. Jan

    What you say is so right, Nancy. Most people are naturally resistant to change, and I am no different, but eventually I usually come around to accept change where it is inevitable. And although it seemed very unlikely in February, I thought that given some months, I might at last come to terms with the new schedule. But no. I simply can’t. Like you, I have changed my listening habits radically. Every radio in my house (and I have quite a few!) were always tuned to Classic FM so that when I switched on I didn’t have to fiddle with the dial or presets. It was only rarely I listened to other stations. But now – well, literally the only show I listen to is Nick Bailey’s for an hour or so in the morning before I go to work. I used to listen to some of Mark Forrest’s show when he had Drivetime, but now at the time I drive home from work (and turn on the radio) he is doing that ‘Kid’s Call’ thing. I am all in favour of children listening to classical music, and indeed some of the brief interviews are good, but let’s be honest, nine times out of ten the music chosen is a film score – Harry Potter and the like. It has become so predictable that it is tiresome. So I don’t listen to Mark Forrest any more. And I am afraid that my 30-minute period of Margherita Taylot has been discontinued. I just cannot bear her. Last week I tuned in to Radio 3 instead, and they had a very pleasant woman presenter who gave us some splendid Mozart and Beethoven chamber music. All the movements, too; I had forgotten how very satisfying it is to have more than just one movement played on the radio. I do find that I am playing my own collection of CDs much more now, and the radio stays off. Ironically, many if not most of the CDs were bought because I had first heard the music on Classic FM.

    How sad it all is.

    Jan.

  8. Ian Smith

    A bit late in the day but I agree with every criticism made on the schedule changes, down to Taylor’s dreadful voice. The link comments, such as “We raise you up”, are spoken by people who have no idea of intonation when speaking,flat, boring and dropping the tone at the end of the sentence.
    I am also a trad jazz fan but on the one occasion that I listened at midnight, it clearly wasn’t my scene.
    I,too, have gone back to listening to my own CDs, which has done wonders for my blood pressure.

    Yes, Jan, it is all very sad.

  9. Bob Dinan

    Now it seems as if Nicola Bonn has gone from weekend overnights, replaced by Matthew Stiff.

    I think it’s a shame the way Classic FM is using ‘names’ from TV (Myleene Klass, Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen, Alex James, Matthew Stiff), all of them apparently voice-tracked. It means we’re losing people who have an affinity for radio, real communicators. In fact, I think it’s a scandal that a national station has so much pre-recorded stuff, esp at weekends.

    Bob Dinan

  10. Patricia B

    I came across this website whilst Googling Nathalie Wheen in an attempt to find out what else she is up to. I agree wholeheartedly with the gripes and grievances already listed (changes in programming, irritating voices, people who obviously have no knowledge of music or artists or how to pronounce them, jazz when I’m trying to go to sleep and – above all – the loss of Mark Griffiths). As a refugee from Radio 3 when Classic first started, I’ve drifted back – and still find Radio 3 as irritating as ever on occasions – and if Classic ‘improves’ I probably won’t know as I hardly listen to it now. I heard Nathalie’s excellent and very funny one-‘man’ show last year when she said how happy everyone was at Classic – I wonder what she would say now?

  11. Simon Lowrie

    It’s such a relief to find this thread and know that I am not alone. For reasons too sad to mention I actually _need_ the radio, but the horrific Margherita (la belle dame sans merci, if one ignores the ‘belle’ bit) has forced me to Radio 3, where I have acquired a profound knowledge of what a string quartet sounds like when it’s boiled alive.

    Is listening to some vile dirge preferable to hearing Madame Robotica’s unceasing alternation of “..here on Classic FM..” with “..on smooth classics at six..”? Of course it is. If the alternative was death by wolves I could understand why folk might seek out Ms Taylor’s company, but no other circumstance makes any kind of sense.

  12. Jan

    Where has Nicola Bonn been, does anyone know? As Bob noted, she disappeared off the schedules some weeks back, prompting speculation (as least from me privately) that she had gone for good. And this morning, when my radio crackled on as it normally does early morning for Nick’s show, there was Nicola Bonn. Nick said on air last week that he was sitting in for Jane Jones on the breakfast programme this week, so I had been curious to see who would substitute for him. I half-expected it would be that rather wooden presenter Matthew Stiff (Stiff by name….), but had a lovely surprise when I heard Nicola’s dulcet tones.

    So where has she been? At the Olympics, perhaps?

    Jan.

  13. Nancy

    Travelling home from a long weekend away there was nothing much to listen to on R4 at the time so I hesitantly switched to CFM. I say hesitantly because it was gone 6.00 pm which meant that Margherita Taylor was broadcasting.

    I really don’t like her style as mentioned before, it’s just too gushing and seemingly insincere (IMO). I was quite surprised though, her style appears to have changed and she is speaking more naturally without the over-cooked intonations etc. I would still prefer John Brunning of course but I was quite taken aback; maybe some of the feedback is filtering through?

    Interested to hear what others think?

    Jan – I too missed Nicola so am glad to hear she is back in some form. I’m always glad when anyone sits in for Jane Jones as I find her too OTT (but not as much as MT). I was very happy when Jamie Crick took over the lunch time slot from JJ.

    Nancy

  14. sylvia ross

    I too am glad to see (or is it hear?) the return of Nicola Bonn. I live alone and the Classic FM presenters are like my family sometimes. I hate when someone goes missing without explanation. I do find this criticism of Margherita Taylor a bit harsh. John Brunning was a very hard act to follow and Margherita plays the same lovely music as John. She always replies to e-mails as well. As an insomniac I find the friendly style of and musical choice of Nick Bailey does the job perfectly. Like me he`s also a cricket nut and a Baroqueaholic.

    I agreewith the comments about jazz – I dislike jazz, find it harsh and discordant. Sometimes I find myself just waiting for 2am!

  15. Jan

    Nancy, following your remark about Ms Taylor, I spent some time summoning up the enthusiasm to make an effort to listen to her again. And I *have* listened to her, on at least three separate occasions, including one where I managed 30 minutes all in one go (!). I am afraid I haven’t changed my opinion of her. Maybe she had a few off-days when I listened, but back were the slightly condescending tones, the recourse to ‘wonder-ful’ and ‘bee-yoo-ti-ful’ when describing a track. Yes, I’m sure it is wonderful for her, and beautiful, but DON’T keep telling us (as if we didn’t know!).

    Nicola Bonn fell into the same trap this morning. I listened to her for about an hour during which she described one track as ‘won-der-ful’ and another as ‘gorg-eous’. I cannot tell you how irritated I get! Now with the departed, much-lamented Mark Griffiths we had a much more adult attitude. Of course he sometimes praised the music and mentioned that he liked it, but an encomium was given in a different way; what sticks in my mind is the way he described a piece once: after we had heard it on air he said, ‘It’s always a privilege and a pleasure to play that.’ Enough said.

    However, at least Nicola doesn’t mumble like some of the presenters. Lisa Duncombe was a good one for that, and so is Anne-Marie Minhall – and come to that, she is ubiquitous these days, isn’t she? It seems that every time I switch on there is Anne-Marie, standing in for someone. And is Jane Jones off for three weeks? Nick Bailey is still standing in and yes, Sylvia, I too hate it when presenters go off and disappear into nothingness with never a word.

    My late night listening is sorted for this week, however; it won’t please those of you who don’t care for Mozart, but I’ve checked the Radio Times and the overnight show on Radio 3 features the demi-god Wolfgang every single night for the best part of an hour. Hmmm, Mozart on Radio 3 or Jazz on Classic FM? Isn’t that what these days youngsters call a ‘no-brainer’?

    Jan.

  16. Philip Platts

    I have just found this site and am glad at last to be able to communicate with others experiencing similar disillusionment with Classic FM. I have tried to tell CFM but as others have pointed out, they simply don’t listen. The station has been going downhill for far too long, with the best – and most knowledgeable – presenters being removed or shunted to graveyard slots, and replaced by celebrities with few qualifications either for radio broadcasting or presenting classical music, or both. And all this is stitched together with endless self plugging. Obviously they have to run advertisements in order to stay on air, but why plug the station to people who are already listening to it?

    In the absence of any evident desire by Classic FM’s bosses to listen to people who are apparently abandoning the station in their droves – me included – wouldn’t a better idea be to lobby the bosses at Radio 3 to recognise that they have a 5 million + audience there for the taking? Just do the following: (1) employ Mark Griffiths, Michael Mappin, Natalie Wheen, Nick Bailey, John Brunning, Anne-Marie Minhall ( a lot better I think than people give her credit for ) and Jamie Crick (2) liven up their programmes by being a little less “heavy” although a little less commercial than Classic FM and (3) advertise the changes in the national press and on BBC television. Then it will be Bye Bye Classic FM and Hello to all our old favourites and a 24 hour a day fabulous classical music station with no advertisements – and no We Raise You Up (how condescending!)

    Or am I living in a dream world?

  17. Sanders

    I was looking for Lisa Duncombe and came across this site.
    I certainly miss Late Night Lisa as she was cheerful, enthusiastic and clearly knew what she was talking about. Now on CFM we have celebrity presenters who appear to read the sleeve notes that come with the CD’s. They probably don’t know one classical artiste from another and probably have never been to a classical concert. Sandra (April 28) is right about kdfc.com and king.org. They are well worth listening to as are many other classical internet radio stations. Ian Smith (July 25) is right about the midnight jazz programme. Although some of the music is pleasant it is mostly New York cocktail lounge music – i.e. background music to which nobody really listens. And as for the “cool” “smooth” “chillout” jingles — AAAAAAAHHH!!.
    The real jazz classics are not being played and I sometimes wonder if the programmers really know what is jazz.
    It’s all down to money and the bean counters rule. They are also the same people trying to stop the development of DAB radio in this country. Click on the link at the comment of Jonathan (May 31), and you will see the tricks the radio moguls are up to. They need to hold back any advance on DAB radio so that they can squeeze as many as possible poor audio quality stations onto the available bandwidth.

  18. Josh K

    I totally agree with all these comments (and the original blog post) on the whole. 3 hours of Margherita Taylor is a bit too much, and her voice puts me off my work!! I do, however, like Jane Jones, unlike many who have left comments.
    I wish ClassicFM would turn its clock back to the years around about 2004 or so, when all the presenters were in the right places. This would be one of the most welcome u-turns in history.
    I also wish that listeners could vote off adverts which they don’t like and have them replaced with decent ones. Some of the ‘creature discomforts’ ads were quite dire.
    Why or why did the people who run ClassicFM trying to fix something that wasn’t broke?
    As Jan (16th June) put it, Bring back the classic ClassicFM!! It’s in your best interests to listen to the listeners!!

  19. Jonathan

    Did anyone else hear “Midnight Classics” last night in place of Classic FM Jazz? They’d advertised it during the day. It was still presented by Tim Lihoreau. At the end, he said the program would be back tomorrow. I wonder if it’ll be every day, and if it’s permanent. The website still says Classic FM Jazz! Perhaps they didn’t have very good audiences for jazz; well, we could have told them that before it started!

  20. Robert

    What a shame midnight classics is being introduced. I for one listen to both classical and jazz, as well as many other forms of music.

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