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 221 to 240

  1. Jan

    Robert, I entirely agree. I’m not sure that David will find many supporters for his point of view on this forum. Perhaps there is a Margherita Taylor fan club out there somewhere in cyberspace where he could join like-minded Taylor followers…..

    As for me, I simply don’t listen to her. She drives me up the wall. Each week I look at the radio listings to discover whether she has been dumped yet, at which point I will resume my late night listening to Classic FM!

  2. Another David

    David can only be Miss Taylor or her agent. I have never heard anyone say a good thing about her performance on “smooth classics”. I yearn for the day we get a normal person on that slot.

  3. Jan

    Have I accidentally slipped into a parallel universe? Two soundtracks from video games in the top five of the CFM Hall of Fame?

    Is this what passes for “classical music” these days?

    Somebody wake me up please, I’m having a nightmare.

  4. Jonathan

    This post was my take on it last year. This year it seems to be even more extreme. I wouldn’t mind Classic FM including a few symphonic pieces from games in their schedule as they do with film music, but these campaigns urging people to vote for particular pieces when those people might never listen to Classic FM nor have any interest in classical music just spoils the chart for all the other listeners. As it was, I hardly listened to the countdown this year, and I doubt I’ll listen at all next year. With social media so prevalent, they either need to tighten the criteria, or else give the Hall of Fame a rest. To be honest, it’s becoming a bit past its sell-by-date anyway.

  5. Jan

    Jonathan, thanks for posting that link. I’ve read your thoughts and I completely agree with them. You hit the nail on the head with your comment that those being encouraged to vote for certain “celebrity” pieces are voters being “bussed in”, as it were. These people haven’t considered the alternatives and thus they don’t have a reasonable range of music to choose from. Hitherto I was under the mistaken impression that the so-called “Hall of Fame” was just that: a place where the most well-known and consequently the best and most popular pieces of music were identified. The ones that had stood the test of time. It doesn’t necessarily have to preclude new pieces of music, the ones that Classic FM (or other classical music radio stations) play regularly, though I would expect these pieces to enter at a relatively low position and either gradually gain support through the years or (more likely) fall out again after a couple of appearances.

    I do not expect some video game music to be regarded as somehow “more popular” than Beethoven’s 5th piano concerto or Mozart’s clarinet concerto. The idea is just ludicrous. As you rightly point out, Jonathan, the “Hall of Fame” is not a pop chart. It was supposed to be to be a testing of the nation’s classical music tastes. It’s stopped being that. If Classic FM or groups of others are actively campaigning for hitherto unknown pieces of music to be shot straight to the top of the chart then the “Hall of Fame” loses both its meaning and its importance. We’re at the stage now where we don’t really know which is the most popular pieces of classical music because the numbers have been distorted by the inclusion of this (probably) ephemeral video game music so, like Jonathan, I believe we’ve reached the stage where it’s time to abandon the “Hall of Fame” because it is fast becoming a laughing-stock.

    I, too, didn’t listen much to the countdown. I would say that I heard at most about a couple of hours of it whereas in previous years I have had a radio on in every room so that as I worked through the day I wouldn’t miss a single track. It used to be a wonderful experience, having wall-to-wall, superb classical music, many pieces I loved to listen to, some pieces I had half-forgotten, and others that were slowly becoming favourites. I shall not be listening at all next year, it will be a non-event for me. I do think that CFM has lost the plot. And I’m very sad about it.

  6. Mike

    Fascinating posts here – just found this site. Couple of random thoughts: I’m amazed year after year at the HoF, not so much because of the relative rankings of pieces, but the things that get missed out – like Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony amongst many others. I wonder how many votes it takes to get something like that into the lower reaches of the chart??

    The other thing I wonder about with CFM is who chooses which recording to play. I didn’t hear too much of the chart this year, but the disappointment of the weekend for me was the recording of Strauss’s Four Last Songs – beautiful playing from the CBSO but hardly the greatest of sopranos! A few weeks ago Jane Jones played Beethoven 9 – but the longest, most painful recording I’ve ever heard (conducted by Karl Bohm). Was almost as bad as the recording they played in the HoF chart last year (and that was BAD!).

    If only CFM could get a presenter who could give intelligent commentary on recordings like Andrew McGregor on R3 (no prizes for guessing who I listen to on Saturday mornings). I know David Mellor sometimes gives interesting insight into his music, but his….. very strange… pauses… in the middle of…. sentences drive me nuts.

    Final thought – can all CFM presenters note that the higher of two entries is indeed the higher, not the highest! I’ll get off my soapbox now 🙂

  7. Robert Cutts

    With the advent of video-game music in its schedule, CFM is no longer exclusively classic – even in the broadest sense. And it hasn’t been exclusively frequency modulated for quite a time. Thus “Classic FM” has become a misnomer. So what should it be called then? Answers on a postcard.

  8. Jan

    Hi Mike, glad you found us! As you probably know already, Prokofiev’s “Classical Symphony” has been in the HoF chart before, 2011 was the last time I believe, but definitely over the past few years the content of the chart has been changing dramatically. Personally, I can’t understand why Chopin doesn’t get much of a look-in, and it’s absolutely criminal that Haydn and Mendelssohn only ever get a handful of entries each.

    Perhaps the HoF could be split for the future: we could have a chart of contemporary “classics” where all the video music and some of the stuff written by people like Long, Hawes and Lord could go and then we could have a traditional classical music chart where the single criterion is that the composer must have been deceased for, say, at least 10 years. That would cut out a lot of the what I would term the “modern music”. However, if such music persisted in the popular psyche, so to speak, then obviously in due course it would become eligible to be voted into the traditional chart and I would be pleased to see it there, whether I liked the piece or not, because it had proved its endurance capability.

    That would release many more chart positions for the more deserving, truly “classical” pieces. We might even see a re-entry of Prokofiev’s “Classical Symphony” then!

  9. Jenny Gladman

    Why oh why has the delightful Jamie Crick been dropped? He is so much better than some of the other presenters and always a joy to listen to. Afternoons will not be the same again – a definite ‘turnoff’ shame on you FM!

  10. Jonathan Rawle

    I wonder if he chose to leave after 20 years with the station, or if he was pushed. I haven’t been able to find any information so far. I have to say I don’t like the move towards celebrity presenters, it seems at the expense of the long-serving Classic FM presenters who might not be big names outside the station, but are loved by long-standing listeners.

  11. Jonathan Rawle

    Jamie Crick says he’s “sad [Classic FM] made a last minute change to the plan to renew my contract.” Here are his replies to disappointed listeners’ tweets:

    So it seems they are back to their old tricks. I don’t want familiar voices lost, replaced with vacuous celebrities who mean nothing to me. Who will be next? John Brunning, Jane Jones or Nick Bailey?

  12. Jonathan Rawle

    Jamie is joining Jazz FM from Monday:

  13. Felicoty

    Hi there.

    Does anyone know why Margherita Taylor is always absent? Ive tried searching but cant find a reason. For some reason it really bugs me!


  14. Robert Cutts

    I don’t listen to the station any more so I wouldn’t know. However, if she really has done a bunk, should that not be a cause for general rejoicing?

  15. Jan

    Sadly, I do not think we could be that lucky. A couple of times recently she has filled in for John Brunning in his early evening slot (as I know to my cost, because it has resulted in a touch of the “off” button on my radio) so I guess she may not then have been present for her usual late evening show.

    On a different but vaguely related subject, does anyone know why John Suchet is not currently presenting his morning show on a Thursday and Friday?

  16. Eileen Godfrey

    what is happening to cm!!! First you get rid of decent presenters AND AS FOR THE ADVERTS THEY ARE AWLFUL!!!!! the long silences no one talking no music no wonder people are not listerning anymore. AND WE DONT ALL WORK MON TO FRI!!!!!!! its so annoying to hear cm going on about it being FRIDAY!!!

  17. Le Happy Brexiteer

    Hurrah! The Lark has been de-perched!

  18. Jonathan Rawle

    But will it be Rach 2 or the 1812 Overture?

  19. Le Happy Brexiteer

    Either way, I’m surprised that a Russian piece will be No.1, given the recent shenanigans . . . but that probably came too late in the voting season. I like the 1812, but my favourite is Rach 2, so here’s hoping . . .

    (Glad also that no video game music made the Top 10, less brigading this year, it seems)

  20. Jan

    I was stunned to find out that it was the 1812, not because it was Tchaikovsky (I think him a superb composer) but because this piece is not, to me, one of his best, not even in the top five of his best. I feel the same applies to ‘Lark’; Vaughan Williams composed much, much better pieces. For what it’s worth, I believe Rach 2 should be at number one. In my opinion, it is the best piano concerto ever written, and I speak as a massive fan of the work of Mozart and Beethoven.

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