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.

249 responses to “Not impressed by new Classic FM schedule”

Showing comments 181 to 200

  1. Jan

    I remember Mark Forrest mentioning a couple of years back that the votes were weighted according to the position of the choice. He said at that time that he himself had not realised that this was done.

    Hooray! The Lark has been knocked off his perch! Sorry to all those who may have voted for it, and I do think it’s a very clever piece of music, but it’s had a good run of 4 years on top, and it is time for a change. I don’t know why John Suchet (why can’t I warm to him?) made such a song and dance about announcing the winner – it was obvious a couple of days ago that Rachmaninov had won, as the CFM website unwisely showed a picture of the new Classic FM magazine, and Rachmaninov was blazoned across the cover.

    I’m pleased that Rachmaninov has reclaimed the place (or rather that VW hasn’t!), but I do hope that he doesn’t stay there year after year. I want to see The Great Rebel there at least once, I don’t care whether it’s with symphony no 6 or the piano concerto no 5, or something else, but he deserves a stint on top. And Mozart is perennially popular, most of his stuff rose in the chart, and to deny him a year or two at number one is simply unrepresentative of his widespread appeal.

    But both Mozart and Beethoven suffer from the fact that they have so much that makes it into the chart, it splits their vote. To a certain extent this affects others like Tchaikovsky and maybe even Bach. I think it remarkable that Mozart made it to number one in 2006, a tribute to the power of his anniversary year and the celebrations that went on.

    However, a truly wonderful weekend of fabulous music.


  2. Joyce P

    Amused by your last two posts, Josh, but any comment I would make on CFM’s Hall of Fame would contain the word ballyhoo.

  3. Katherine

    Hello everyone,
    I just found this wonderful blog after googling “Margherita Taylor annoying”. Is there anything that can be done – a petition, a demonstration? I find her throaty voice unbearable. She has enormous difficulties pronouncing the names of the composers. Unbearable.

  4. Robert Cutts

    What is required is for Global Radio (who, I understand, own the station) to be persuaded that Miss Taylor does more harm to the Classic FM than good. The only reason my wife and I put up with her is that we don’t get on with Late Junction on Radio 3. Just recently we switched over at 11.00pm to find that Nick Bailey was doing the late evening session. What joy! We got a decent selection of music interspersed with informed comment. OK, he said that one of the pieces was “wonderful” but, when he used Margherita Taylor’s favourite word, you actually believed him. And that was mainly because he only used it once. Doesn’t Miss Taylor know that the overuse of superlatives only devalues the currency? Clearly not. Still we get a constant stream of wonderfuls, stunnings, gorgeouses and the like. The sad fact is that she hasn’t much else worth while to say. Sadly it turned out that Nick’s evening appearance was a one off. He was standing in for Myleene Klass, I believe.

    I don’t think the station knows what an asset Nick is. They seem to think he’s a sort of relic from the past. A fuddy-duddy who needs to be shunted off to the early hours. How wrong they are! If they rate Miss Taylor above Nick, there’s no hope.

    Incidentally, Jonathan, wouldn’t it be better to put the most recent comments at the top?

  5. Josh

    I heartily agree with Robert that Nick is an asset. I’ve enjoyed his voice since around 2003 now, although not so much in these days of Global Radio. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Nick and Margherita swapped places? and if Margherita then swapped places with Mark Griffiths (who, I believe, is now in China)?

    In my opinion, Smooth Classics has too limited a repertoire. Also, works by the more famous composers should be in the majority. As it is, some really gloomy creations get played over and over again. They fill you with despair and suck the soul out of you – or at least that’s what it feels like. The second movement of Bruch’s Symphony No.3 I find especially depressing. Smooth doesn’t mean suicidal!

    Apart from that, David Mellor usually has an interesting selection for his CD show. I don’t know why, but I’m almost always impressed by the music Anne-Marie (or whoever chooses for her) chooses for her show; perhaps we have similar tastes. Missing Simon Bates, though, nice as John Suchet is.

  6. Robert Cutts

    On Tuesday evening (5 July 2011) just after 11.00pm we made our usual switch from Late Junction to Smooth Classics presided over by the marvellous Margherita Taylor. We were quite pleased to be able to hear most of Faurés Pavane. Then, as Fauré faded gently away, we steeled ourselves for the expected “ah . . . wonderful” – but instead she just whispered the title and credits: “Fauré’s Pavane on Smooth Classics and our partner orchestra in the northwest of England, the wonderful Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Libor Pesek.”. Then with hardly a pause, but just a little louder, came the words: “Now from Fauré to Beethoven, that composer he had so much in common with.” After that, the strains of the 4th Bagatelle followed without further ado.

    You may be wondering, like we were, what the gentle, lyrical, essentially French Fauré had in common with the rumbustious, Teutonic Beethoven. Investigation was needed. First I used CFM’s listen again facility. That was a bit difficult because it turned out that Tuesday’s smoothies were on Wednesday’s listen again – but that’s CFM for you! Finally having found the programme, I wound forward to the introduction to the Fauré and heard Ms Taylor cooing these words: “Now I have a delicious slice of Beethoven for you in a moment and, before Beethoven, a composer who, like Beethoven, struggled with hearing in his later life and who, just as Beethoven did, wrote his final few pieces without being able to hear a note.”

    So that’s what it was – they were both deaf! But there the similarity ends. Beethoven’s ear problems started with tinnitus in 1906 when he was only 26. And his hearing progressively deteriorated until, by the age of 35, he was totally deaf. But what he wrote during the subsequent years was a great deal more than just “his final few pieces”. And he kept on writing copiously until his death aged 56 in 1827. Gabriel Fauré’s case was quite different. His troubles didn’t start until his mid 60s while he was serving as a highly successful teacher at the Paris Conservatoire, and, managing to keep the fact secret, he continued teaching until his early 70s. Only during the last few years of his long life did he become totally deaf. He died aged 79 in 1924.

    I suppose there’s one significant similarity between the two composers. Beethoven is known for his final string quartets. And Fauré wrote a string quartet during his final two years. But it was his only one and it was very different from Beethoven’s. You can listen to the 2nd movement on You Tube.

  7. David

    Good point, although I struggled to pass the line “the marvellous Margherita Taylor”!

    She may be many things, but marvellous is not among them.

  8. Katherine

    I would really love it if, as suggested by Josh, Nick and Margherita could swap places. It is a real pity to have to wait until 2 am to hear Nick’s show, which I find really good company. Why is it so late?

  9. Barbara Kerr

    I’ve just been skipping through some of the coments posted over the last three years and I’m surprised at how many people share my opinion that Margherita Taylor has a irritating voice. David Mellor’s manner of delivery also has me reaching for the ‘off’ button. I still miss Natalie Wheen and, of course, the wonderful Simon Bates, a man with wide ranging knowledge and a way of presenting directly to YOU, reminiscent of the late Ray Moore and other, sadly missed, true professionals. John Brunning also has an excellent presentation manner. Thank Goodness the ‘girlie’ presenters seem to have had their day but could someone arrange a training course for Ann-Marie Minhall who continually gabbles and drops her voice at the end of every sentence?

    Lots of negative comments there but I stick with Classic fm because I can’t stand the fatuous comments by the ‘Julians and Adrians’ on Radio 3.

    Does anyone from Classic fm read these comments and is any notice EVER taken of the comments?

  10. Mika

    Why don´t Classic FM dump Margherita Taylor? Why are the other presenters harping on “you must listen to M. T at 22.00 and more of the faaaantaaastic laid back music?” Baha!

    Please, take care of the “old guard”! ~ Mika ~

  11. Mika

    What has happened to Classic FM´s “Most Wanted”? You can´t vote any more, no pieces, no explanation……any one that has heard/read anything?

    ~ Mika ~ a long-time listener

  12. Richard Lucas

    Hello Mica – I asked the same question; our voting for most wanted was a high spot at home as we dicussed choices and then listened for the result. According to someone called Sam Jackson at the station “As of this week, we have rested this particular strand of our programming; from time to time, all radio stations’ schedules evolve and develop, with new programmes launching and other programmes taking a break, and this is one such occasion”.

    Based on previous experience the station isn’t likely to take too much notice of us but I will be putting a comment on the FaceBook page today to see how many are concerned about this unnannounced and never consulted on change.

  13. Mika

    Thank you, Richard, I´ll look for your comment and put in my 2 cents!
    I don´t get why CFM don´t leave a notice on their homepage? It would be easy to do but nooooo ….. =(

    They talk about evolving the station, but to what? To a pop-station with a few classical pieces played as requests? Will they play more film-music? Jazz? Pop? Heavy Metal? Rap? Why not write about the upcoming changes to the station on the homepage? Very strange………..

    I sincerely hope they don´t booth out D Mellor, N Bailey or J Brunning in their development.

    Go back to the station as it was before (mrs Hazlett) march 2008 , give M Taylor, J Suchet and most of the weekend-presenters the booth and take back Mark Griffith, Lisa Duncombe, Henry Kelly, and Nathalie Wheen.

    Yeah, I know I´m a bitch…. but a girl can dream. ~ Mika ~

  14. Mika

    Nathalie Wheen is coming back to Classic FM in the beginning of 2012. Yeah!!! Sundays at 21.00 Great Performers….She is so knowledgeable and has a fantastic radio-voice, so good to listen to. She is my favourite!

    Thank you men and women at Classic FM that decide who goes on air. ~Mika ~

  15. Jonathan

    Details of the new weekend schedule here:

    I’m glad they are reintroducing a Saturday night film music programme, although poignantly the first person to present such a show on Classic FM was Ken Russell, whose death was announced this morning.

  16. Jan

    Alan Titchmarsh? Are they joking? Why do Classic FM have to hoover up the cast-offs from television? There was a time when it was nearly impossible to switch on the TV without seeing Mr Titchmarsh’s face and, worse, listen to that Voice. Now the Voice is the thing to be inflicted on us. Well, not on me, actually. I won’t be listening.

    I wonder what Mark Forrest thinks about it all. First he loses the morning slot to newcomer John ‘Mr Tries Too Hard’ Suchet and now his chart show is being shunted off to the back of beyond.

    Take no notice of me. I’m just grumpy, it’s Sunday night. And I only found out about this appalling piece of scheduling today. Come on, CFM, cheer me up for once. Announce that Ms Taylor is off to pastures new elsewhere and that you have invited Mark Griffiths back to take her place.

    Yes, all right. I am living in a parallel universe if I expect anything so sane to happen.

  17. Josh

    Happy New Year, everyone!
    Just wanted to comment on the new jingles. I like them. The Smooth Classics one sounds similar to the one they had for Smooth Classics at Seven with John Brunning years ago, dunno if anyone remembers. Wish they’d go the whole hog and bring back said Smooth Classics at Seven with John Brunning.

    I agree with what Mika and Jonathan said back in November: I’m glad they’re bringing back a Saturday night film music programme and Natalie Wheen.

  18. Jonathan

    Yes, they appear to have reverted to the old David Arnold jingle and all its variations. I didn’t mind the new jingle – it was much in the same spirit as the old ones, and infinitely better than the “three bongs” abomination it replaced, but hearing the original jingles again reminds me just how good they were.

    I haven’t seen any publicity about this, but I’m assuming it’s because it’s their 20th anniversary year. The Smooth Classics theme is the one they started using towards the end of 2001. I wish they’d go back to using Faure’s Agnus Dei as the theme, though.

  19. Tony Church

    I have listened to Classic FM from day one and consider it to be one of the best of the commercial radio stations, with none of the inane chat between the music tracks, or ego-trip phone-ins from members of the public.
    I do, however have to take issue with the lady called Margherita Taylor. Her pattern of speech is supremely irritating – I refer, of course, to her habit of dropping her voice at the end of a sentence. Does she always talk like that? It is a maddening affectation, and I can only assume that she must have been coached by Jeremy Clarkson who is an arch exponent of this style of delivery.
    And while I appreciate that advertising is the lifeblood of commercial radio stations, I have to draw the line at Joanna Lumleys breathy presentation of the merits of the latest bunch of ambulance chasing parasites.
    Both of these ladies have accomplished something that hitherto I would have not even considered.
    I turn them off!!

  20. Jan

    What is happening? I am a subscriber to the Classic FM monthly magazine, and I have this morning received a letter from them stating that the magazine is ceasing publication from next month. Does anyone know why? I have been aware for the long time that CFm magazine and Gramophone are sister publications, but I have always thought the content of CFM magazine much more lively and interesting, and actually quite different from Gramophone. Also I don’t much care for Gramophone’s new format.

    I am very surprised and sorry at the loss of the CFM magazine. Surely Classic FM are not in financial trouble?

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