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 61 to 80

  1. Jonathan

    Robert: you must be in the minority as Classic FM’s decision will undoubtedly have been made on audience figures. I feel sorry for Tim Lihoreau and Helen Mayhew (“one of the UK’s best known jazz broadcasters”, according to the website) as they are simply the latest presenters to be messed about by GCap.

  2. Peter

    I’m with Robert about dropping the jazz at midnight. Ironically it was the only programme that I bothered to listen to now on CFM, and I speak as a classical music fan. So it’s back to ‘Vivaldi’s 4 Seaons’, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ theme, Eine Kleine Nach Music and anything by Karl Jenkins, played every few minutes instead. Well I won’t bother to listen at all now.

    The decision to drop jazz clearly has nothing to do with ratings, as few people listen in the early hours anyway.

  3. Steve

    Very disappointed to have lost Classic FM Jazz with no warning. Though I’m primarily a jazz enthusiast, this nightly programme got me listening to classics either side of it and at other times, as CFM was among my stored stations. Not any longer, though….

  4. Mark Savage

    I heard Midnight Classics last night for the first time, and was a little surprised at the sudden departure of the jazz programme, though I had never been a fan of it. There may be a place for Jazz on Classic FM, but midnight was not the right time for it. Midnight Classics is no substitute for Mark Griffiths- where is he now?- but at least it’s a more restful and relaxing misture for the small hours when some of us light sleepers are dozing.
    I think however the real reason the programme has been dropped is to do with Jazz FM being re-launched next Monday, 6th October. I suspect it’s got something to do with various contractual complications related to the former incarnations of JazzFM and theJazz.
    Maybe at least this change is a sign of hope that GCap will still come to their senses, though I fear there’s no way they will bring Mark Griffiths back. As it is, I hope such a good presenter has found gainful employment elsewhere- he deserves to.

  5. Lionel

    Steve (above) makes a very good point. For me it works the opposite way and I have found that jazz is not the frightening thing I used to think it to be. But now I have been inspired to listen to it the slot has sadly gone. That late night couple of hours is surely more the natural domain of the jazz boys (is it still OK to call them “cats”?) than classical afficionados, so why not let them have their slot and encourage a little cross-pollenation of music types?

  6. Andy

    Really miss Natalie Wheen on weekend afternoons. I don’t have time to listen in the evenings. December weekends with Natalie playing some seasonal music interspersed with a great classical mix really helped build the atmosphere leading up to Christmas. Always felt she had a glass of mulled wine in the studio with her!

  7. Josh

    I for one am delighted that they have removed the jazz slot. Now if they would complete the u-turn and get rid of Margherita and move everyone back to their rightful places.

  8. Jan Smith

    Wow! Classic FM has surprised us all again! Gone is Jazz! Three cheers and a knighthood for whoever persuaded them to do that! Sorry about all the exclamation marks but I am truly, really delighted and a glut of exclamation marks appears to be in order.

    I disagree with Lionel over his suggestion that perhaps the two hours after midnight is ‘the natural domain’ of jazz lovers; I don’t think people can be pigeon-holed so easily, and their listening habits predicted. Personally speaking, I listen to more classical music at night than at any other time. I work full-time and rarely get a chance during the day, and the weekends are always dominated by family stuff, so those precious dark hours are bliss for me when I can turn on the radio and hear classical music.

    However, all is not lost for you jazzers. Tune in to Jazz FM and have your music all the time. It is in your best interest to make the most of the relaunch, and you can do yourselves a favour – and us too – by making Jazz FM a runaway success.

    I’m with Josh in hoping that Ms Taylor will be ushered to the door and I do think that the movement of programmes at the weekend was unforgivable. I used to listen to David Mellor’s new CD show (he has strange staccato delivery, but I appreciated his very honest opinions) but now I can’t, and I do know that Natalie Wheen’s new time-slot has been deplored by many of her listeners.

    Mark Griffiths now broadcasts on China Radio International. I don’t know about the details of his contract, but I rather suspect that if it were at all possible he would be back at Classic FM like a shot. Although I love Nick Bailey, I would prefer to see Mark back at his ‘normal’ time, and Nick given back the Evening Concert. The title ‘Full Works’ is pretty tacky, and John Brunning – though clear and concise – is rather too impersonal for my taste. Nick’s warmth (an attribute of Mark also) added immeasurably to the show.

    Having said all that, we have had a step in the right direction with the reinstatement of classical music after midnight, so let us classical music lovers rejoice…..

    Jan.

  9. Nancy

    Jan

    So very well put. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that things continue to improve.

    Nancy

  10. Philip Platts

    I too agree totally with Jan’s comments.

    For the first time I can remember, I did feel sorry for Classic FM’s producers when there was a mini wave of support for the jazz programme on this website (or rather, dismay at its disappearance). It proves you can’t please all the people all the time. Although I respect the views of these correspondents, I must say that the removal of the jazz was more a problem for the jazz lovers to sort out rather than the classical music fans having to put up with jazz on a station that was supposed to have been set up to play classical music (in fact CFM used to plug themselves as the only 24 hour a day classical music station). Anyway the jazz lovers, as Jan points out, will now be much happier as they have their own station back (wonder what their listeners would say if they stuck a classical music programme in there!)

    Nevertheless there’s still much to be done before Classic FM gets anywhere near the standard they attained some years ago. And I agree that Mark Griffiths coming back would be one step in the right direction.

    Phil

  11. sylvia ross

    Peter, I cannot agree that CFM is all Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Four Seasons, Pirates of the Caribbean and Karl Jenkins (all of which I like anyway). I have heard stuff on CFM which I would never even know about. For example they`ve been playing quite a lot lately of Czech composer Dusek`s piano music – it`s sublime. I`ve also heard Von Bronsart, and just now I heard on Smooth Classcs at Six – Haydn`s Symphony 49, Ist movement – divine. They play a lot of Schubert`s chamber music – I`d never heard of Death and the Maiden until recently. The Albinoni oboe concerto`s are getting quite an airing – they`re delightful!

  12. Peter

    I know nothing about Dusek. What I do know is that there are some excellent famous composers, eg, Sibelius, where they just tend to play the same piece over and over, – Karelia Suite 3rd movement. Whatever happened to his 2nd Symphony? When did that ever get an airing on CFM. It made the top 150 Hall of Fame, or his Swan of Tuelona? When did Mozart’s Requiem last get played, Bach’s Toccata & Fugue D minor, etc? There are countless other examples. Playing lots of film score music repetitively instead, much of it very mediocre, at the expense of the classical works, is no substitute for the real thing. Personally I’d much rather listen to jazz anytime.

  13. Philip Platts

    Referring to Peter’s email, my own favourite piece is Tchaikovsky’s magnificent Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, and there are many others who put that in their top 3, as evidenced by its appearance year after year in their Hall of Fame (which I accept is nonsensical e.g. Pirates of the Caribbean being higher up than Mozart etc) However, the R&J Fantasy almost never gets played because it’s about 20 minutes long and can’t be split into movements, and they can’t get it into their scheduling very easily.

    I now automatically recoil when I hear those ads advertising the benefits of advertising on radio, with that idiot interviewing perfectly sane heads of businesses and putting a pun into every question. Ughhh. Does anyone at all find those funny?

    Phil

  14. sylvia ross

    Bach`s Toccata and Fugue is due to be played next Tuesday (14) on the Full works concert. I agree with you about The Swan of Tuonela, but I`ve certainly heard part of Sibeius`s Symphony no 2 recently, and Nick Bailey played the lovely Ballade from the Karelia suite recently. But I`ve never once heard the towering Tapiola played on CFM! I also agree with you there is far too much film music played – I don`t consider this classical. You should not dismiss Dusek just bcause you`ve not heard of him – he`s well worth a listen. As for the ads I hate them all, but unfortunately as with all commercial radio stations, they are a neccessary evil!

  15. Jan

    How odd. Peter wonders when Mozart’s Requiem was last played on Classic FM, and yet it seems to me that whenever Mozart has any kind of substantial presence on an evening concert (or the newly-named ‘Full Works’) they always play the Requiem. Indeed, it is down to be played next week when during the so-called ‘Great Composers’ month they are dedicating a show to Mozart. I find it astonishing that it gets played so much, bearing in mind that some of it isn’t his anyway.

    They do play Sibelius’s symphonies also; a movement from one of them was aired earlier this week. I daresay that when he gets his slot on the ‘Full Works’ this month he will have one or two symphonies played. But I think it is right that CFM concentrates on the more popular works: these pieces of music are popular for a good reason, i.e. they are the ‘masterpieces’ and are more likely than others to attract new listeners. Once a listener is hooked, then he or she will probably explore further on their own. I did.

    I agree with Sylvia that CFM does play a lot of music by people relatively unknown. For example, back in the early days when I first started listening all I knew about were the big names, and that was all I wanted to hear. But I am eternally grateful that CFM introduced me to Hummel, whom I now love, to the work of John Field and John Garth, and to the lesser-known pieces by composers like Bizet (I found out that he did write something other than Carmen) and they even persuaded me to like Shostakovich and Borodin!

    Admittedly I think they play far too many film scores, and it is rare indeed – as Philip points out – to get a piece of music of any length (outside the ‘Full Works’). Many of my favourites are too long for frequent playing, e.g. the first movement of Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto, the first of his violin concerto, the Choral Fantasy, the first of Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto no 1. Mozart gets played so often not only because he consistently gets voted the listeners’ favourite, but because the segments of his work tend to be shorter. (And what gems they are!)

    As for the adverts – well! Perhaps they would not irritate so much if there was more of a variety of them. And I do wish they wouldn’t plug ‘Smooth Classics at Six’ so much or indeed use their self-adverts to sandwich together two pieces of music. Not all of us have access to a DAB radio all the time: it is nice to be told the identity of what has just been played if you turn the radio on halfway through. Having to wait for that information while yet more music is played is unacceptable. (Especially if the next piece is something you don’t like!)

    But the classics are back at midnight, and I’m still smiling.

    Jan.

  16. Lionel

    With regard to Jan Smith’s comment about the return of Jazz FM, unfortunately this isn’t available on DAB in the South West of England, only via the Internet which my modem doesn’t support and even if it did I’d have to go and sit in the office to listen!
    Shame that Shostokovich, Borodin, Sibelius and Co. couldn’t be given a breather of a couple of hours to keep homeless jazz fans happy and perhaps get people like Steve above having CFM stored on their radios.

  17. Jan

    I’m sorry to hear that Lionel can’t get Jazz FM in the south. Until that station widens its broadcasting area then perhaps Lionel can find something on Radio 3? Jazz does not belong on Classic FM, as CFM has obviously found out. The point Philip made is valid: how would jazz lovers feel if a radio station that has devoted itself solely to jazz for 15 years suddenly gave over more than 8 percent of its broadcasting time to classical music (or any other genre) without the consultation of its listeners? I doubt that jazz lovers would be too thrilled. The two hours after midnight is just the time when I can listen to CFM; if someone asked me which time I could do without then I would say the middle of the day. But unfortunately there would be other classical music lovers who would howl with protest. This type of hybrid broadcasting just will not work with a music station ostensibly dedicated to a music genre and who is desperate to retain its slice of that genre’s radio listening audience.

    BTW:
    I have been listening to Mark Forrest recently when I drive home from work. Is it just that I have missed it at 16:10-16:20, or has the so-called ‘Kid’s Call’ been dropped? And where, oh where, has Nicola Bonn gone?

    Jan.

  18. Ken

    Guys (and Girls) – surely this jazz issue isn’t all black and white? Why can’t Classic FM be PRIMARILY a classix station but with a nod to other music? Radio 2 is MAINLY easy listening but does let the noisy pop artists have a share of the pot, which I’m happy to live with. May be a few letters to Classic FM might make them think again? Besides which if your listening to Classic FM on DAB is it still ‘FM’ (frequency modulation)? Shouldnt it be Classic DE (digitally encoded)?
    Never forget “Bird Lives!” Jazz fans will know what I mean. Everyone else, look it up.
    With best wishes whatever your musical likes,
    Ken

  19. Philip Platts

    Oooh, now I do think Ken’s posting will get some response!!

    The point about Radio 2 is that it doesn’t profess to be anything that it isn’t; it’s not called Easy Listening FM or similar, so you expect what it plays as part of the overall content. But Classic FM (and even if it does drop the FM it’s still Classic) suggests to us that it’s a classical music station (and as I pointed out in an earlier submission that’s what they used to boast about) and as such it is not a jazz station. But it’s each to his or her own – when the jazz was on, the classical fans were largely unhappy, but now the jazz has gone it’s the jazz fans who are unhappy.

    As I fall into the former category, I am biased, but I can’t help feeling that the disappearance of the jazz – or the inability to receive transmissions from jazz stations – is a problem the jazz fans need to resolve for themselves. It’s not the classical music fans’ problem. We’re still battling with our own issues, such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Star Wars, not to mention that dreadful Ludovico Einaudi. Sorry Einaudi fans, I will lay low in case of return fire, but at least it might open a new topic!!

    Regards to all.

  20. Jan

    Yes, Philip. Way, way back I remember feeling concerned when I heard Classic FM plugging its so-called ‘sister’ station TheJazz which was about to be launched (was it January 2007?). Even then I was worried that somehow jazz would impact on the classical music station. How furious I was, therefore, when TheJazz nosedived and not only were CFM listeners subjected to two hours of jazz, but we also had the likes of Ms Taylor foisted onto us, and CFM stalwarts such as Mark Griffiths – who had been working for the station for something like 14 years – just removed from the broadcasting schedule. It was insensitive, ill-conceived, and it totally misjudged the likely reaction of CFM listeners.

    I accept that jazz has many fans, of course it has. So does hip-hop, blues, rock and any number of other genres. Does this mean they all have to be given representation on Classic FM? Why single jazz out to be particularly deserving?

    The fact remains that many classical music lovers just want to listen to classical music. I feel sorry for jazz lovers who don’t have their own dedicated jazz radio station but, as Philip points out, that’s their problem and should not in any way result in a reduction in the amount of classical music that CFM listeners can have available to them. After all, it’s classical music lovers who built CFM up to have whatever success they have had, and they are the ones whose wishes should be considered first. Otherwise – and CFM have probably seen this begin to happen – they will drift away in droves. And in the end there won’t be a Classic FM at all – for classical music lovers or jazz lovers alike.

    Philip – surely you’re not insinuating that Einaudi is boring? (Ooops! Did I really write that?) 🙂

    Jan.

    PS. On Nick Bailey’s programme this morning (must have been about 4.45 am) I heard that he is going off again to the West Indies for a few weeks on a cruise. And guess who is to replace him temporarily? The lovely Nicola Bonn….

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