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 201 to 220

  1. Jonathan

    Thanks for this info, Jan. I hadn’t heard about this as, unsurprisingly, they haven’t been advertising the fact the magazine is closing on the station. I found this article about the closure:

  2. Robert Cutts

    They should have closed down Ms Taylor!

  3. Jan

    That was a very interesting article, Jonathan; thanks for giving the link. I agree with John Evans when he said in the article that “there are going to be a lot of disaffected, disenfranchised readers out there”. Has CFM really thought this through? Not only do they (apparently) make this seemingly arbitrary decision just before Christmas – great Christmas present for the four permanent staff of the magazine – but simply to stop publication of a popular magazine, with no explanation other than being the end of a contract term, is astonishing. CFM want us to listen to them – when will they start listening to us?

  4. Robert Cutts

    The people at CFM are poor communicators, Jan. They take note of market surveys, but that’s about it. If they make a mistake, or play the wrong thing, they rarely admit it (with the honorable exception of Nick Bailey). I don’t suppose many of them go to this site. They certainly don’t respond to the comments on it. Some of us on this site have been complaining about Margherita Taylor for years. But she goes on and on and on . . .
    And, on a related matter, I hope people who’ve taken out subscriptions to the Classic FM Magazine will get their money back.

  5. Mika

    I renewed my subscription to CFM Magazine in December 2011 and NOT one word about going bonkers! One perky female telephoned me in late November about the magazine; what did I like/dislike, what and who did I want to read about/see, the format, the printing colours and so on BUT not one word about going out of print! Why? Talk about swift decisions! Grrrrr!

    Natalie Wheen, my all time favourite. I love her shows but I would have put them on Saturday afternoons, not evenings.

    Margherita Taylor was gone from the air for a while and I thought “Thank God, Classic FM has listen to us!” but no such luck, she is back…… she and John Suchet are presenters at CFM Live…..why?…why discourage people from going?
    M.T´s Smooth Classic” is a disaster and should be cancelled altogether. Why she is on the radio waves is for me a mystery; if she was on a pop-channel as an assistant presenter with a lot of background clatter and many mixed voices, maybe she would be tolerable but as a single voice on a classical music channel where many foreign word are used…..what a disaster she is and to put her on the “smooth classic”-show was and is a real tragedy.

    I´m a long-time listener and I´m sad to say “it was better yore”! ~Granny Mika~

  6. David

    For some reason, Classic FM seem to regard Margherita Taylor a ‘star’. I had hoped we were rid of her during the last few weeks, but no such luck.

  7. Jonathan

    I keep hearing adverts for this month’s Classic FM magazine. Is it still going to cease publication? There’s no mention of it being the final issue, so it seems a bit strange to advertise it in this way.

  8. Mika

    What has happened to Classic FM´s Windows Media Player stream, it has been broken for more than a week now and on the stream is named “unavailable” so whats up?

  9. Jonathan

    Today I added a new post about recent changes to the Classic FM streams.

    By the way, if anyone is listening to the Hall of Fame today and is frustrated by the design of the official website, take a look at Stephen Thompson’s site. He has details of every chart since it started, as well as this year’s, updated as it is announced.

  10. Josh

    Thanks, Jonathan, for Stephen Thompson’s website! It’s very clear.

  11. Mika

    Another “Old timer” and fantastic radio voice is gone from Classic FM, Mark Forrest has “moved on” according to CFM website……Oh I´m going to miss him! He has a perfect radio-voice, he has been knowledgeable, funny, witty, ironic and when needed, been sombre and soft spoken. He has always been wonderful to listen to. I´m sad and sorry to see him leave… Be happy, Mark!

    What is the station-management doing over there? Why push all the very good presenter out an replace them with dim-wits? Why are they destroying the station? Why do they not talk about their changes in advance? Why no warning? Why no notice? They only ARE from one day to another. Why on earth take away “Most Wanted”?

    I heard the start of the station and have listen continually sins 1994 and I´ll say loudly and firmly : I don´t like what you are doing to Classic FM and I think you´re failing the stations listener! ~ Granny Mika ~

  12. Jan

    This is terrible news. If it is Mark’s choice to go, then I am not really surprised. First the powers-that-be at CFM ditch the Magazine programme that Mark used to host on Friday evening; then they give Simon Bates’s slot to newcomer John Suchet after Mark had sat in for him during his holidays; then they cut Mark’s Saturday morning countdown chart from 3 hours to 2; then they move the chart show from Saturday morning to somewhere in the evening so that they can accommodate Alan Titchmarsh.

    Who can blame Mark Forrest if finally he has had enough?

    Along with Nick Bailey, Mark was my favourite broadcaster on CFM. I enjoyed his taste in music and I found him a genial and very accessible presenter.

    To be honest, I don’t listen much to CFM these days. They don’t listen to us and our preferences, so why should we listen to them?

  13. Jan

    Does anyone happen to know where Mark Forrest has gone? Is he broadcasting somewhere else now?

  14. Joyce

    I rarely listen to Classic fm these days, Jan, but I was still sad to hear that Mark is no longer a presenter. Have you any more information about him?

  15. Annette

    Hello Joyce. Just picked up the latest “Down Your Way” magazine. It has a very informed article about Mark Forrest’s past and present life. The Stop Press says … broadcasting on BBC Radio York and further afield on national stations Smooth Radio and London’s Magic. Hope this helps.

  16. Jan

    Hi Joyce,
    Just picked up your message – only three months later! Don’t know what happened there. Anyway, I have no idea where Mark has gone, but Annette’s information is very interesting. I think I will try and do some research. Actually, I really miss Mark Forrest. Along with Nick Bailey, he was my favourite presenter.

    And Annette, thanks very much for posting the news on Mark’s whereabouts.

  17. Joyce

    Thanks to both Annette and Jan for your replies. I like to keep an eye on this page even if it’s only out of nostalgia. I usually listen to Radio 3 nowadays.

  18. Mika

    Many Thanks to Anette and Jan! I miss Mark F, Natalie W, Simon B…. I have, after many years as a CFM -listener, more or less abandon the station. I listen to Nick Bailey´s weekdays morning show 2 am – 6 am and David Mellor´s weekend shows otherwise it´s BBC Radio 3, BR Bayern 4 Klassik and Radio Swiss Classic nowadays. ~Granny Mika

  19. David

    I cannot believe what I am reading. You people must be tone deaf. Margherita Taylor has one of the most relaxing, silky smooth voices I’ve ever heard. Thank the non-existent god that I take what the majority say with a pinch of salt.

  20. Robert Cutts

    I read David’s comment out to my wife and she burst out laughing! It’s not so much Ms Taylor’s voice – although that’s creepy enough – it’s that what she says is banal, repetitive and uninformative. In her case it’s more a question of saccharine than salt – and it comes in spades rather than pinches!

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