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 121 to 140

  1. Jan

    The new Classic FM programming is now on CFM’s website. Am I missing something, or is Natalie Wheen no longer mentioned on the schedule?

    Jan.

  2. David

    Oh no. Jane Jones is on the full works concert. It finishes too early, and it is followed by Marguarita Taylor. This is a schedule from hell.

    I went through a roller coaster of emotion when this was announced. Firtly Jane Jones no longer on at breakfast. Hurrah! But then she’s taking over my favourite programme. Nooo.

  3. Jonathan

    Anyone have any other thoughts on the schedule after the first two days? I haven’t heard Jane Jones for a long time, not since the days of Lunchtime Requests and the Classic Concerto. I seem to remember I quite liked her style of presenting back then, but perhaps my tastes change. She’s going to take some getting used to anyway. It seems she’s presenting the Full Words live, though, which could be a plus if there’s some audience interaction as in Nick’s days.

    Incidentally, since Jan’s message last week, visitors from GCap have viewed my site frequently. In the absence of an official Classic FM forum, it’s always worth writing your opinions here as you never know who’s reading!

  4. Josh

    To: GCap

    In case you haven’t grasped the message already, axe Margherita Taylor!
    That is all.

  5. David

    And Jane Jones too. Please.

  6. Jan

    I have mixed feelings about Jane Jones. On the one hand, apart from Ms Taylor, she takes the shortest route to irritating me ; on the other, she plays music that (mostly) I would choose, and her comments about the music generally coincide with mine. I can understand why she may appeal to people, and if she would only excise some of her more annoying habits, I could cheerfully listen to her for an hour or two, which is something I could never do with Ms Taylor. My midnight appointment with CFM has ceased – Ms Taylor’s intonation of voice is just too exasperating.

    And to reply to Jonathan, I think that overall the change of scheduling is to be welcomed (with the above exceptions). I would much, much rather that Nick Bailey retained his extra hour overnight – but then that has everything to do with Margherita Taylor, and if – say – John Brunning were still in that slot then I would not be that worried.

    The only small complaint I have is this: the Breakfast show. Now, I like Mark Forrest and used to listen to him on Drivetime and then the Afternoon show. So at first I was pleased that he wasn’t moving to an area of the day when I wouldn’t be able to listen. I drive to work between about 7-7.20 am, and during that period Jane Jones usually managed to get a couple of Baroque and Classical era pieces of music in and as my favourite music was written c.1700-1820, I was well pleased. But over the last few days Mark has been playing late Romantic and (what I call) modern stuff – Grieg, Brahms, Sibelius this morning, Copland and Shostakovich yesterday, Butterworth and Berlioz another time. There’s nothing wrong with this music, of course, and I do like to listen to it sometimes, but I miss my ‘fix’ of Baroque/Classical just before going into work.

    I think I’m nit-picking here though. It’s not a huge problem by any means. I am only too grateful that Margherita has been shifted out of the 6-9 slot and especially from the weekends.

    But has anyone heard what has happened to Natalie Wheen? Why are these disappearances never explained? And when, oh when, are they going to bring back Mark Griffiths?

    Jan.

  7. Annie

    This new schedule is a disaster for me. I very much enjoyed Smooth Classics at Six (although I only listened from around 7.30 onwards). It provided a pleasant background to my evening activities, mainly dealing with emails and working on the computer or reading. There wasn’t too much talking which I always find a distraction and the music played was of the kind I enjoy listening to in the background. Now, John Brunning’s programme is virtually over before I can settle down to listen. I find the Full Works to be very hit and miss as far as my taste goes – and Jane Jones talks too much! Smooth Classics offered a good variety of music but with the Full Works, if it is dedicated to a type of music or a composer I’m not keen on, that is two hours listening lost as far as I’m concerned. I miss Smooth Classics but don’t want to be listening to the radio from 10pm – 2 am.

    At least I can go back to listening first thing in the morning now Jane Jones has been moved from that time slot. Her musical tastes and mine don’t coincide so her move to the 8pm – 10pm slot has doubly ruined my evening’s listening.

  8. tom noys

    The upside of the new schedule is the departure of Natalie Wheen.I personally found her posh risque auntie act very annoying and some of her musical choices dull but i agree with Jan,why no explanation when a presenter is leaving?I can’t think of another radio station where this happens.I wish they would get Lisa Duncombe back,she had a refreshing youthful enthusiasm which i think Classic FM needs (although with her looks,she was wasted on radio!).Having listened to the station from the start,i have to say that it seems to have lost its way in recent times,suffering from a ‘if it isn’t broke,we’ll still fix it’mentality.However,the following example proved to me why it’s still a very good thing to have it on air.In exasperation at having Bruchs violin concerto being played for the umpteenth time,i turned over to Radio 3 only to be greeted by some rubbish by John Cage that involved hitting a piano with a stuffed sock or something.Bruch sounded a lot better after that!

    I agree with most of the comments about Margherita Taylor,she would be better suited to voicing self help tapes (you are a strong,wonderful human being…).Why they employ her,i’ve no idea unless some sort of nepotism is at work.I have to confess having a soft spot for Nicola Bonn,i think she is far more worthy of a regular spot than the treacly Ms Taylor.

    And,yes,bring back the excellent Mark Griffiths.

  9. Mikaswed

    What have happened to Natalie Wheen? She is no longer among the presenters, her programs are no longer in the schedule. She WAS the best, I listened to all her programs, it did not matter that it was in the middle of the night…..and no explanation on the website. Anyone how knows?

    I like the summer-schedule better than the old one:
    1) Nick B in the early hours -OH YEAH!- but I miss him though on the evening concert.
    2) Mark Forrester was better at “Drivetime” and “the Afternoon-Show” but GCap could have done MUCH worse.
    3) Simon Bates – yeah!
    4) Jamie Crick – a good radio-voice with more “talk-time”.
    5) John Brunning – THANK YOU GCap for bringing him back to us and on the right time too.
    6) The evening concert – why?. I have a MP3 to listen to.
    7) M.Taylor -I have refused to listen to her and now she starts when I have already gone to bed!

    I stopped listening to most of the weekend-programs in 2008s (did not like the presenters and NO improvement today) but I do listen to John B on Saturday morning and David Mellor Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening.

    I have been listening to C FM sins 1994 and I have always had a high regard for the station but sins the changes in 2008, the station has lost its identity of a sort:
    – More talk – sometime its babble!
    – Shorter pieces of symphonies etc.
    – A narrow range of music with very little variation of time-periods, composers, pieces etc..

    Its a pity that presenters like Natalie Wheen, Henry Kelly, Lesley Garrett, Mark Griffiths, Lisa Duncombe no longer are present at C.FM.

    I really like C.FM´s concept before 2008 – I was a “Classic FM -around the clock-listener” but today its Radio Swiss Classic, BBC Radio 3 and other other stations on the net. ( http://classicalwebcast.com)

  10. Marge

    I’m so glad to find fellow haters of Margherita Taylor — aka (in our house) as Little Miss Day-Glo. I think it’s the false smile in her voice that is the most irritating thing about her.

    I may still have to suffer, but at least I’m not alone!

  11. Duncan

    I cannot bear Margurita’s groans of “oh beautiful” or “wunnderful”
    after each track. It would be much better if she would just keep quiet.

  12. Nancy

    Hurrah, Simon Bates is leaving Classic FM; starting with Smooth Radio in Jan 11. I hope this will encourage them to have a complete rethink. In the last two to three years they have destroyed a once great radio station. I rarely listen these days. A real shame.

  13. Jan

    Well, I for one am sorry to see Simon Bates go, though I know that at least in this forum I am probably in a minority. He has a lovely clear voice and good diction, and I can understand what he is saying all of the time, which is more than you can say for most of the other CFM presenters. His promotion of Beethoven’s music also finds favour with me!

    I see from the newspaper articles that amongst the line-up of presenters there is also ex-CFM Mark Goodier. At least Simon isn’t going to disappear from CFM without comment as Mark Goodier did.

    ‘Smooth Radio’ station plays Radio 2 sort of music, doesn’t it? I have never listened to it, as I don’t think we can get it in my corner of the country.

    On the subject of destroying a radio station, I think that Simon Bates was one of CFM’s few remaining good attributes, and the station will drift downwards still further without him. Just imagine Margherita Taylor or someone like her taking over from Simon….

    Jan.

  14. MikaSwed

    I´m sorry to see Simon Bates leave – there are many other presenters that I gladly would see leave the air; Margherita Taylor, Tim Lihoreau…. I don´t like the weekend-presenters (David Mellor is the shining exception) – they don´t have “radio-voices” or the capacitive to make the shows interesting, they mostly babble = most annoying.

    I hope with all my heart, that Natalie Wheen comes back, I miss her. Anybody that knows what happened to her? Why she had to leave CFM? Where -if- I can listen to her?

    Radio Swiss Classic and Radio Swiss Jazz – both plays wonderful music but I miss CFM:s break for the news and travel. Sad to say but I, more and more, listen to this 2 channels despite the fact that I´m a very long-time CFM-listener.

    I hope CFM (this autumn) can undo a little of the damage they did to the station 3 years ago (new owner? new management?) and restore the station to little of its former glory, so I can be a full-time, around the clock listener again.

    ~Mika~

  15. Jan

    Just seen on the Classic FM website that John Suchet is to take over Simon Bates’s slot on weekday mornings. Funny, I really thought that Mark Forrest would get it.

    Jan.

  16. joyce popplestone

    i don’t know from your comment ,jan, whether or not you wanted mark forrest to get simon bates slot. i wish mark was back at late afternoon. i like his style of presenting. it encourages me to switch on classic fm.

  17. Jan

    Hi Joyce,

    No, I didn’t particularly want Mark to take Simon Bates’s place; I too miss him during the afternoons. It’s just that up to relatively recently it used to be Mark who stood (sat?) in for Simon when the latter took time off. I assumed that Mark liked the slot and would want it. And maybe he did, but couldn’t get it!

    On another topic, over the last few months I have been listening to the Hall of Fame Hour in the mornings on Classic FM. Is it my imagination, or does Simon Bates play something by JS Bach most days? It’s usually one of the Brandenburg concertos. I like Bach in small doses, but I have to admit that on occasion the best thing about an ever-present Bach is when his music stops!

    I’m just being grumpy, I expect….

    😉

    Jan.

  18. Josh

    In relation to Simon Bates playing Bach most days, I think the ‘St Paul’s Suite’ by Gustav Holst has been way over-represented in the afternoone this year, and probably last year as well, if not the year before.
    Has anyone else noticed this?

    Also, I think the outer movements of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No.2 get outplayed by the slow movement by about ten times, although I reckon that they’re as good as the slow movement.

    Finally, I know it’s a bit early, but please listen out for Vaughan Williams’ ‘Fantasia on Christmas Carols’ this December. It’s a perfectly good Chrstimas piece, but it wasn’t played at all last Christmas (I twice went through the whole playlist on the website last December and it wasn’t there).

    And why on earth is ‘The Lark Ascending’ no.1 in the Hall of Fame? I’d rather listen to an ICBM descending.

  19. Jan

    Oh, Josh, I’m so glad that I’m not the only one. I’m talking about ‘The Lark Ascending’ and its position at the top of the Hall of Fame. I am astounded that it has remained there for four years. Are there really that many people out there who think it better than everything else? And by that I mean better even than some of Vaughan Williams’s other work, like ‘Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis’, or ‘Fantasia on Greensleeves’, or the ‘English Folk Song Suite’, never mind the superb work of the (other) major composers. CFM actually don’t seem to play it that much (at least not when I’m listening in) but when it does come on, the radio goes off.

    I have been paying more attention to the Hall of Fame Hour this year and relative to their popularity in the chart itself, the works of the chart’s most popular composers Mozart, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky remain under-represented in terms of being played during that hour (though not necessarily throughout all the broadcasting hours available in the day), but JS Bach, Vivaldi, Grieg, Dvorak and even Albinoni are over-represented. However, it’s funny that I can listen to Vivaldi fairly regularly with continual enjoyment but these Bach-fests that we get occasionally – the BBC did a three-day one over Christmas a few years back, and the Proms this year did a full day of him – just leave me cold. So much of Bach’s work is so clever, with its intertwining patterns and counterpoint and such but there are times when it all gets a bit too much. Maybe he’s just TOO clever, at least for my taste.

    I wonder if the content of the Hall of Fame will change when John Suchet takes over? More Beethoven, perhaps? Does the presenter choose the tracks to play, does anyone know?

    Jan.

  20. Phil Platts

    I read with interest the various comments on Mark Forrest and also HoF. I suppose the beauty of this website is that people have such different opinions but trade them amicably, without the usual blend of illiteracy and venom that seems to plague other such forums! In response to Jan’s point about Mark, the breakfast show is THE prize slot for a presenter, with the peak audience, and it was clear that CFM had been grooming him for years to take that one over once Simon inevitably went. Having achieved that, he was not about to give it up for a later morning slot.

    On HoF, if one tries to apply logic, it will lead to disbelief. So many people who listen to CFM will have virtually no knowledge of classical music at all. That is not meant as a criticism, because whatever else CFM has or hasn’t done, it has introduced many people to the joys of classical music, although I know quite a few people who have it on just for a peaceful background. The point about Lark Ascending I think is that it is a light, popular tune. I agree it shouldn’t be a “chart topper” but what about the appearance of Ludovico Einaudi ( I refuse to drop his first name as though he were Mozart or something)? Let’s remember, to place this lightweight piano player into your top 3, you are effectively saying the selected piece is better than everything ever written by one of Mozart, Beethoven or Bach. And what about Pachalbel’s Canon? Has there ever been a piece like it for repeating the same simple tune for so long? Oh yes, sorry, Ravel’s Bolero!

    My last point is Margherita Taylor. For a long while I thought I mustn’t be listening to her properly, as she failed to inspire in me the same feelings of intense irritation some contributors displayed with her. So I have listened more, and whilst I don’t think she will be the next, say, Nick Bailey, I remain neutral about her. She is OK, and I don’t know why she gets singled out any more than some of the others. But as I said, it’s all about different opinions.

    Best wishes to all. Phil

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