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 81 to 100

  1. Mark Savage

    The thing that the clueless bosses of CFM- or rather their paymasters at GCap and now Global- failed to recognise is that it’s not the music mix alone that made Classic FM a success. It was the scheduling, and the presenters. Muck around with one element, and you upset a few. Tackle both, and you’ve got a recipe for trouble which seems to have been borne out by the latest RAJAR figures which show a drop in Classic FM’s audience.
    I’m sure whatever hour the station had decided to have a two hour show devoted to jazz, it would not have been popular with listeners, but midnight was the worst slot of all- and also the most pointless. BBC Radio 3 often has/had a jazz programme on in that slot, while BBC Radio 2 now carries its jazz output later on a Monday night than formerly, particularly since the death of dear old Humph. And isn’t Jazz Record Requests still running on Radio 3?
    Classic FM has confounded the gainsayers with a format since 1992 which has proved an extra-ordinary success, so much so that it has been franchised or copied by many stations overseas, e.g in Holland. It works because it presents classical music in an accessible way- and surely the fact that the station has released many albums on its own label proves that there is a ready market for this. So why not just tinker with the bricks and mortar of the schedule, but remove the ‘pointing- i.e. disappoint- as well so that the whole fabric of the station is damaged?
    The same formula will not work for jazz, it would seem, or at least not if the previous performance of “commercial” jazz stations is anything to go by. Jazz by its very nature has a certain quality elitism about it- not really a mainstream musical product, even if many jazz artists are very well known indeed. Yet I would be the last to deny those that enjoy it their own radio station, if it will work.
    It’s a pity that jazzFM, unlike Classic FM, is not this time on a frequency available to all throughout the country- but maybe it could be, soon. Or even on national DAB, now that Channel 4 has pulled out of its radio plans but a national multiplex remains unoccupied. But any jazz station will need to make money under commercial owners- it’s not a charity. Could it be that the real reason midnight jazz was dropped was simply that it was not bringing in sufficient listeners?
    Far more people, particularly in these stressful times, I’m sure, want to listen to comforting, soothing, maybe even romantic, classical music in the small hours, not demanding, involving, loud jazz which is perhaps better seen than heard. You can’t “doze” to it in the same way.
    And that was Mark Griffiths’ great skill. He was by no means a soporific broadcaster- anything but. In a 24/7 culture and with CFM listened to by people all over the world via the web, maybe a “night time” voice was considered less important by CFM bosses than of old, but I’m afraid no matter how hard he tries, Nick Bailey will never match him. He’s like a badly-cut jigsaw piece slotted into the overnight hours, whereas Mark was the aural equivalent of Ovaltine and helped me through many a restless night, particularly following bereavements.
    I’m pleased for Mark that he’s found gainful employment with China Radio International. Probably being something of an adventurer and traveller, moving to Beijing was less of a wrench for him than it was for the listeners that CFM bosses ignored in such a cavalier fashion. In this of all years, maybe it was a shrewd career move of Mark to take to China Drive rather than the Classic Sleepover, but he is still much missed. And sounding very different indeed on CRI, by the way- I wouldn’t have recognised him had I not been told that’s where he’s gone.
    Yet dare we hope he may yet return, as Henry Kelly and Paul Gambaccini have to CFM after rather unceremonious exits? We can but hope

  2. Philip Platts

    Einaudi boring, Jan? Did I say that? Oh well, now you come to mention it….

  3. Peter

    I wonder how many of those who hate jazz but love CFM’s classical muzak output realise how many famous classical musicians have been involved or have a second career in jazz. There are many examples. André Previn, former principal conductor of the LSO and LA Philharmonic is a well known jazz pianist. Boris Berezovsky, one of the greatest classical pianists around also has a jazz trio. Nigel Kennedy plays more jazz than classical violin these days. Leonard Bernstein wrote music for both genres, and there are a host of similar famous examples. The vast majority of jazz musicians appreciate classical music and indeed were classically trained. The point is it’s all music and both types of genre are an art form which require considerable skill.

    CFM is not a classical music station. It’s become a light music station, which is not the same thing nor is it how it started out out. It’s played music by Paul McCartney, Mike Oldfield and Radiohead let alone a lot of film music, much of it tedious (to me), for quite a few years without complaint. And since it does that, then why not include some jazz?

    Peter

  4. Nancy

    Peter

    Whilst sympathising with where you’re coming from and actually agreeing with you that some of the music CFM play is questionable – it is in essence a station that airs music of a classical theme. I don’t especially like the music of Paul McCartney or Mike Oldfield but they are composing music of a classical type. Jazz is a completely different genre. I don’t agree with you that it’s become a light music station, it may well play light classical music but that’s different IMO. I’m actually not quite sure what you mean by “light music”. I had an idea of how many classical musicians are involved also in jazz but you have enlightened me further. However, I’m not sure how this has anything to do with what is played on CFM.

    All the best.

    Nancy

  5. Jan

    Nancy is right. Whatever other music classical musicians may play has nothing to do with whether or not classical music should somehow be combined with jazz (or anything else for that matter). I know of Previn’s heavy involvement with jazz, and that’s his choice; but it does not and should not affect how classical music itself is presented. It’s no secret that Kennedy enjoys jazz, but that does not influence my opinion of how he plays classical music.

    A lot of people like several different genres of music. I do myself, but would not dream of imposing my ‘other’ favourites onto fellow classical music lovers. If I want to listen to music other than classical, I will tune in to the relevant music station or play a CD. Simple as that. I would not campaign for a dedicated music station to change its image to suit me.

    I cannot see how Classic FM can be described as a ‘light music station’. Playing full length symphonies, sacred music, opera? Not my idea of a ‘light music station’! Has this stuff been played regularly on Radio 2 (a ‘light music station’)?

    In fact I happen not to like McCartney’s later music, though I believe many regard it as ‘classical’; a label that Gerschwin and Bernstein have been given, though I feel that neither are truly ‘classical’ music composers. However, in the interests of completeness I suppose they can be included to represent one extreme of what is a very large spectrum of music within a single genre. Under this title so can film music be played. If nothing else it does demonstrate how much more inferior this type of music is to (what I regard as) ‘real’ classical music!

    But as I mentioned in a previous posting, why should jazz lovers expect special treatment for their pet love? If CFM is a so-called ‘light music station’, then why not include other music genres? Where do you draw the line? If you would dilute CFM to the level of a true ‘light music station’ then it will disappear. It is the classical music lovers who have made the station what it is (or was, before the intrusion of jazz). What part of that is difficult to understand? So why on earth would anyone suppose that they will relish or even condone the destruction of what they once had, and remain loyal? And if the classical music listeners no longer listen, does anyone really think that the support of jazz lovers will be enough?

    On another topic, I wish someone would realise that Myleene Klass has had enough exposure. You cannot turn the TV or radio on, or pick up a paper or magazine without listening to/seeing her. It’s time she left CFM.

    Maybe I’m having a grumpy morning ……

    Jan.

  6. Sarah

    Well, I turned the radio earlier this evening not having listened to ClassicFM for a few weeks as I’ve been away and was delighted to hear classical music continuing at midnight rather than Classic FM Jazz.

    I do agree with many of the comments on this page. Classic FM did us all a great disservice. I’ve been listening to Classic FM since it first started and its recent incarnation has been the worst. Not only do we have presenters like Margherita Taylor who has a voice made for silent movies, but we also have other presenters who seem utterly uneducated about classical music and unable to pronounce the names of composers or titles of music correctly.

    The transfer to recorded rather than live broadcasting does nothing but distance the listener as there is no possibility of interaction.

    Let’s hope that the replacement of Classic FM Jazz with Midnight Classics is the start of better things.

    Sarah

  7. Steve

    It’s interesting that although some are firmly entrenched in the “jazz on Classic FM over my dead body” mould, others aren’t. By way of an observation, a couple of nights ago I switched on and CFM was playing the Warsaw Concerto – not a piece with which I’m familiar apart from the Ted Heath band’s version from the 1950s. I wonder how many other classical pieces have been “borrowed” by jazz or big bands and whether there would be the basis of an interesting programme for followers of both styles? I understand that Glenn Miller’s “Anvil Chorus” was based on a classical piece (but there my knowledge ends), likewise Les Brown’s “Bizet Has His Day”, the popular song “Moon Love” played by all and sundry in the 1940s and no doubt numerous others.
    Best wishes to followers of both musical genres,
    Steve

  8. Graeme

    Good morning. I’ve come across this correspondence after performing a Google search to find out what became of the jazz slot, which was my only listening time on CFM. I don’t want to debate the rights and wrongs of whether jazz should have a place on the station, but what concerns me is that the programme disappeared with (as far as I knew) no warning. This seemed to show a total lack of regard for listeners by the station’s controller(s) and if I were a listener to CFM’s regular classical output I should be constantly worried that my favourite programme/presenter might be unceremoniously despatched in a similar way. Perhaps I’m only reiterating some of the previous comments where correspondents bemoan the departure of particular presenters or programmes, though not being a regular listener I cannot comment on how this was done.

    Several weeks before the closure of theJazz, messages were regularly played to tell listeners where to go to follow their music – indeed this continued long after theJazz had ceased broadcasting programmes.

    With best wishes,

    Graeme

  9. Jonathan

    @Steve: there was a series, “When Classical meets Jazz” around the time theJazz launched. It seemed to concentrate on the classical side, however, which was a pity as I’d like to have heard jazz pieces based on classical music. The Warsaw Concerto is film music which itself only dates from 1941 and is played quite frequently on Classic FM – probably too often for some people!

  10. Jonathan

    @Graeme: you are quite right, there was no warning that the jazz programme was going to be scrapped. They now advertise “Midnight Classics” by making a big deal that it’s 100% classical, but there’s no reference to the fact that it replaced a jazz programme. I don’t particularly like “Midnight Classics” as it’s a weak, pre-recorded format. I also feel sorry for the jazz presenters who are just the latest to be messed around.

  11. Nancy

    Hi Graeme

    The midnight Jazz programme was a recent addition to CFM. I can understand your dismay but similarly this dismay was felt by regular listeners when the jazz was introduced in the place of classical music along with a host of other changes which were rushed through with very little notice. I guess what I’m trying to say is that regular listeners have been disappointed just as much as new listeners who came on board just for the jazz. The management need to act to re-establish peoples’ faith in their ability to oversee what used to be an excellent station. I think maybe they are starting to do that but who knows 🙂

  12. Philip Platts

    Graeme

    Welcome to the realities of Classic FM. Programmes – and presenters – get dispatched without warning to the listeners, and sometimes without warning to the presenters themselves! Ask Henry Kelly, who left his morning slot one Friday some years ago and apparantly discovered over the weekend that he’d find his chair uncomfortable to sit in on Monday morning as there’d be a fellow called Simon Bates already in it.

    You can of course ask CFM why things happen. If you email Myleene Klass for instance you may find her email on the website doesn’t work. So you can call the station and they’ll give you another email address for her. That won’t work either. So you can write to her – and she won’t reply. I only wanted to tell her – as she’s a fan of Jacqueline du Pre’s Elgar recording – that there’s another couple of versions she may not be aware of, but after a while you wonder why you bothered!

    This is the magical world of our favourite (more or less only) classical radio station.

    Regards. Phil.

  13. Steve

    Jonathan,
    I think it’s coming back. Was Warsaw Concerto from a film called “Dangerous Moonlight”? I imagine that a quick web search will answer that for me. It’s a nice piece regardless of its provenance and whether played by Ted Heath or someone more orchestral. I recall my father telling me that in his youth (which would have been 1941-ish) it would sometimes be referred to as the “Walsall Concerto” in an attempt to raise a quick smile.
    Steve

  14. Sanders

    As I mentioned in my contribution of September 8th, the jazz formerly played after midnight recently on Classicfm was not really jazz and that is why jazz radio stations fail. Until the numpties who run radio stations understand that, then so called jazz stations will continue to fail. Jazzfm will fail again because they continue to broadcast an awful lot of music which is to my mind NOT jazz. Previous contributors have mentioned Andre Previn and Nigel Kennedy playing jazz. Previn was a fine jazz musician and Kennedy is a fine violinist who can’t play jazz. Why is that? It is because Kennedy does not understand “swing”. And if you have to ask, then you will not understand what it means. I love both real classical music and real jazz music. Bi for now.

  15. Philip Platts

    I am certainly not wishing to be controversial and fully accept the right of all contributors to have their say, but one thing occurs to me after reading Sanders’ message which follows a week of inactivity on the site. Jazz has now gone from Classic FM, and has been gone for quite a few weeks. Given that this is a site about Classic FM, is the subject of jazz now therefore largely redundant?

    I ask that because it seems to me the classical music fans have a lot of issues of their own still to be resolved. As a classical music station Classic FM is still falling short of expectations. The jazz thing has been a diversion but is now apparantly a thing of the past.

    Best wishes to all. Phil

  16. Jan

    I sincerely hope that Phil is right and that jazz on CFM *is* a thing of the past. But I’m not sure. They had an aberration once, and it could happen again. That’s the trouble: they have managed to raise doubts in their listeners’ minds that in fact they don’t think things through and certainly don’t take into account the wishes of their audience. They have made no attempt to reverse any of the disastrous decisions concerning their rearrangement of the schedules. At the very least, they should run a vote – referendum, if you like – along the lines of the numerous other online and postal votes they do, asking their listeners what they think of the new-style CFM. A reasonable time would be the end of this year, when we have all had a chance to get used to the new shows and presenters, and can give an informed opinion. If the majority come out in favour of the current set-up then fine, the rest of us will have to grin and bear it. But I would rather CFM actually lives up to how it likes to think of itself, i.e. ‘listening’ to people, and make an effort to find out how its machinations have affected their audience.

    Moving on to something I find distinctly irritating, Jane Jones is driving me nuts. I wish I had a pound for every time she says ‘good morning’ on her breakfast show. Yes, I know listeners are probably joining her all the time as they get up and switch on the radio, but there are also some (poor things!) who are listening much or all of the way through. The occasional ‘good morning’ every 15 minutes or so would be enough, surely? She doesn’t need to say it EVERY time she speaks. Better still, Jane, don’t speak at all!

    I apologize in advance to anyone who actually likes Ms Jones. I am sure she is a lovely person, indeed, I feel convinced of it; but I find her a terrible radio presenter!

    Now that I am listening to the radio after midnight again and have actually heard Helen Mayhew, is it just me or is she quite good?

    Jan.

  17. Philip Platts

    I agree about Helen Mayhew. I think she keeps it in mind that she is there to support the music and not the other way round, and it is a nice show. I have this terrible premonition that I’m actually starting to like CFM again. I know I risk being banned from contributing to this site but I personally have no problem with Simon Bates ( interesting that he is supposed to be so unpopular yet the criticism on this site is rarely directed at him ).

    So why do I personally think there are still matters to be resolved for the classical music fans?

    I too don’t like Jane as a presenter. I think she sounds insincere and first thing in the morning is when you really don’t want a presenter who irritates. Nobody can sincerely have a giggle in their voice that much. I know she probably comes in at some unearthly hour out of the dark and pouring rain and she has to rise above whatever mood she might be in, but a little less jollity would still do the job.

    I also agree with earlier comments that the better presenters have been shunted to lesser slots. Perhaps we could dispense with the two “celebs” on Sunday morning – neither of whom to my knowledge is either a trained radio presenter or any authority on classical music – and bring the Nick Bailey’s of this world out of their exiled slots just to present a no frills show on a calm Sunday morning.

    The film music bit is a problem, as CFM are clearly trying to cultivate younger listeners, and all you need to do is listen to School Run to realise that’s what the young listeners are requesting.

    However, the removal of the jazz has been a positive step. Perhaps if CFM won’t do a referendum as Jan suggests they might at least read back through past submissions to this site. It would educate them!

  18. Jan

    Phil, I’m glad you agree with me on Helen Mayhew. And – I wasn’t aware that Simon Bates is unpopular, is that really so? He is popular with me, at any rate. I don’t get to hear him much these days, though. When he had the morning slot from 7 am I used to enjoy listening to him as I drove to work but then they pushed the start of his programme back an hour and hey! I got Ms Jones instead. Not much of an exchange from my point of view.

    I would listen to Nick Bailey at any time, but if I were to be very selfish, I would want him to stay doing the overnight presentation (unless CFM got Mark Griffiths back) because I could not bear to have to listen to some of the other presenters. I would cheerfully wave goodbye to Myleene Klass, Jane Jones, Katie Derham (mumbler extraordinaire), Anne-Marie Minhall, those chaps Lawrence and Alex on Sunday morning, and – controversial, this – Jamie Crick. His breathless, non-stop chatter gets wearying after a while. I did admire him when he laboured through 12 hours of requests on their charity show, as irritatingly chirpy at the end as at the beginning, but then on one of his shows he went and spoilt it all (for me!) by saying something derogatory about Mozart. Now, everyone is entitled to their opinions, but I think radio presenters ought to be quite careful about what they say on air. It is extremely unprofessional, not to say unwise, to alienate (however unintentionally) part of your regular audience. I don’t actually think he is very knowledgeable about the music anyway.

    Some of the film music is quite good, and I like listening to it, but they do play far too much of it. I would have thought that the one programme a week (presented by Simon Bates) would have been enough exposure for it.

    And please, please, I wish someone somewhere would protect me from the efforts of Philip Glass, Arvo Part, Michael Nyman and Ludovico Einaudi! 😉

    Jan.

  19. Metz

    I have only just seen these postings but couldnt agree more and just had to contribute. Bring back the old classicfm schedule!

    Nataly wheen on weekend afternoons was amazing, and i definitely agree that john brunning is a far better presenter for smooth classics at 7 than taylor. nick bailey was my afternoon wallow during relaxing classics at 2. It seems to me the schedule has been ‘streamlined’ to save costs and i think it is a disgrace!

  20. Jan

    Glad that you have joined us all, Metz! But what I want to know is, what has happened to Nick Bailey? We have been treated to (at least) two weeks of Nicola Bonn during the nights, and this morning she stated that she would be back on Sunday. Is Nick on a long holiday? Come back, Nick!

    Jan.

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