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 161 to 180

  1. Mika

    Oh I love Nathalie Wheen´s new program!!!! It´s a pity that it is broadcasted so late..=:(

    I miss her on Saturday and Sunday afternoons…….She is so knowledgeable and has a perfect radio-voice. I would like to hear more of her – why not on weekday-mornings? =:)

    Today the Sundays presenters are so bad, that I have, after 16 years, stopped listening – the shining exception is David Mellor.

    I dread the day John Suchet takes over after Simon B…..why not Nathalie Wheen, Anne-Marie Minehall or Mark Forrest? One more time to tune out from Classic FM.

    I miss the good old days…Mark Griffith was my steady work-night companion…..Mark Forrest “Drive-time”…………Oh Yeah


  2. Joyce P

    Am I the only CFM listener glad the annoying UHOF is over? I found myself less likely to listen during the last few days. I’m not a miserable person—honestly!

  3. Kath. B

    I have stopped listening to Classic F.M. First of all they sacked Mark Griffiths without any notice to him, then they started dumping other decent presenters in favour of presenters like Katie Derham and Simon Bates. These two presenters are absolute garbage and in Katie Derham’s case, she has made so many errors when she presented her programme, that it was obvious she knew nothing about classical music, nor was she interested in the music. If she was she would have done some research.

    Simon Bates is no better, his style of programme is all about film music. In my opinion, this type of music doesn’t belong on Classic F.M.

    Mark Griffiths was one of the best presenters Classic F.M. ever had. I used to listen to him when I worked nights. I was disgusted when I found out how he was sacked without warning. He presented his programme and at the end of it, he was told that his services were no longer required. He had never put a foot wrong, Classic F.M. had just decided that his face didn’t fit.

    Mark is now working for a Chinese radio station and presents a programme called Music Memories it’s an excellent programme and can be heard through the listen again facility. The Chinese radio station’s gain is Classic F.M’s loss.

  4. Jan

    Kath B. says:
    in Katie Derham’s case, she has made so many errors when she presented her programme, that it was obvious she knew nothing about classical music, nor was she interested in the music.

    Jan says:
    I agree with this comment. Once I heard Ms Derham apparently waxing lyrical about the circumstances surrounding the writing of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto. It amused me immensely to hear Ms Derham assert confidently when speaking of the composer’s lover that ‘SHE had been greatly loved’.

    Does Ms Derham do no research at all? Or maybe she relies on the flawed work of others, and checks nothing?

    Moving on, what does everyone think of the Ultimate Hall of Fame?

    A highly enjoyable weekend. But I was disappointed and not a little annoyed when the top five were reserved for John Suchet’s new show – and on a working day when not everyone could listen in live.

    I’m afraid I wrote to them accordingly!

    Happy New Year everyone. 🙂


  5. Philip Platts

    I was a little puzzled by the recent post – have I missed something? So far as I can see, searching the CFM website, Katie Derham is not a current presenter. Has she been doing something over the Christmas/New Year period? I certainly haven’t heard her in a very long time. But I feel compelled to defend Simon Bates. He managed to present the breakfast show and then the morning programme quite successfully for many years and previous contributors to this site have been reasonably complimentary, or at least not too critical. He played no more film music than any other presenter during his prime time shows (though of course he did have a separate programme dedicated to film music). In any case he has gone now so it’s academic.

    Happy New Year to all. Phil

  6. Kath. B

    Happy New Year to you Jan, and thank you for your new year wishes. I’m glad someone else is of the same opinion as me regarding Katie Durhem. I didn’t hear the Ultimate Hall of Fame programme although I did used to vote for the Hall of Fame programme that was on over the Easter period.

    Hi Phil and Happy New Year to you.

    As I said in my previous post I no longer listen to Classic F.M. but the last time I did listen to it, Katie Durhem and Simon Bates were both presenters and Simon Bates was presenting a programme about film music. I didn’t hear his morning programme because I was in bed after working my night shift. Simon Bates was the only presenter I knew that had a programme dedicated to film music and I did say that it was only my opinion that the film music he played, did not belong on Classic F.M. I think it was radio one. I do admit that some presenters played music that was from films or television programmes Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto from Brief Encounter was frequently played, although Rachmaninov didn’t compose the music for the film.

    I love John Barry, but I don’t think his music which was often played by Simon Bates, comes under the catagory of classical music. In fairness to Simon Bates, I did like him when he was a presenter on Radio One.

    After I made my previous post, I listened to Mark Griffiths programme, on Beijing radio, using the listen again facility, he was about to play a piece of classical music and he gave information about the composer, which was what he used to do when he presented his Classic F.M programme.

  7. Joyce P

    I think perhaps I was a bit harsh about John Suchet in an earlier posting. I still think he is a strange choice to fill the Simon Bates slot. I admit I only hear him for a short time in the car, but I think he does at least research the music he plays (unlike the aforementioned Ms Derham).

    On the subject of the “Hall of Fame”, sorry Jan, I have not changed my mind, although I realize an awful of people seem to enjoy it.

  8. Brian W

    My wife and I have been avid Classic FM listeners since time immemorial! We are sorry John Suchet, but your DJ skills aren’t a patch on those of Simon Bates. You may have a great knowledge of the music but you come across as patronising and trying to be too nice. I’m afraid that at 9:00 the radio is switched from Classic FM to Smooth.

  9. Josh

    I know it’s a bit late in the day, but here are my thoughts on the UHOF. I think the main aims of Classic FM in putting this together was:
    1) to provide fanfare for the big signing, John Suchet, who counted down the Top 5.
    2) to defuse some of the resentment over the Lark. Now, come Easter, should that fowl piece top the charts again, the presenters can point to the UHOF in apology.
    Two birds (one of them a lark) with one stone!

    It’s just bizarre how that piece could ever be No.1. It’s hardly a crowd-pleaser. There should be an investigation into voter fraud. The conspiracy theorist within me thinks that some English nationalist Russophobe somehow fiddled the votes after the death of Alexander Litvinenko and replaced a Russian piece with an English piece at No.1, just for a lark. (Litvinenko died Nov 2006; the Lark’s been topping the HOF since 2007. Coincidence? I think not.)

  10. Jan

    Josh, I loved your post. LOL.

    Far be it for me to criticise Vaughan Williams – some of his work is quite good really (faint praise, I know!) – but no, I don’t understand Lark’s continuing success either. It passes me by, but then so does the subtlety of Delius….

    I could just accept Tallis being there; but hey! with the might of Mozart and Beethoven and, to a lesser extent, Tchaikovsky and Bach (with Elgar still further down the corridor), hammering at the door I can’t see how Lark could have survived without some nefarious doings somewhere!

    Unfortunately I am not a great fan of twentieth century music in general, though I do like some of it; but Lark definitely isn’t amongst that number. I was so glad to see that it was lower in the UHoF.

    How Beethoven could never ever have been voted number one in the yearly HoF, or could have three entries in the top ten and not one of them placed first is quite beyond me. Is there a conspiracy against the Great Rebel? 😉

    I have just emerged from listening to the glorious Mozart season on Radio 3. The BBC does this sort of thing so well. I was able to hear many pieces of music hitherto unknown to me. I know CFM’s primary purpose is to introduce people to ‘popular’ classical music, but every now and then I think they should take a leaf out of R3’s book and devote the airwaves for (say) one or two days to the music of one of the great composers. Then perhaps they could explore the lesser-known but in many cases equally good work that is around.


  11. Drew_Mac

    What an amazing find this blog is! Is this the only place on the internet where we can voice criticism of CFM? Does anyone listen?

    I came here looking for somewhere to have a moan about John Suchet – a male version of that Jane ‘Miss-Always-so-Artificially-Cheerful’ Jones. Where can we get respite from these soporifors and listen to genuine people playing our favourite music?

    With some notable exceptions (Nick Bailey especially! CFM is becoming a boring sleep inducing station – Everso-smooth music played by everso-smooth presenters, the bland playing the bland…….!

    Anyway, now I have a decent Internet radio I’m off to surf the airwaves and see if I can find something better!

  12. Robert Cutts

    My wife and I are avid R3 listeners but she doesn’t like Jazz much and neither of us likes World Music. Therefore we tend to listen to CFM on Saturday afternoons and after 11.15pm. That means Anne-Marie Minhall and David Mellor on Saturdays and, usually, the dreaded Margherita Taylor at night. Minhall is a nonentity. I can’t even recall what she sounds like. Mellor has some good stuff and is reasonably well informed. But why or why does he put on that mannered voice? He doesn’t seem to talk like that elsewhere. That leaves the gorgeous, wonderful, stunning, oooooh! (softly and gently descending) Miss Taylor. Last night, on introducing the Siegfried Idyll, she told us that it was beautiful music that Wagner wrote for his son! We must all have heard the story of how it got composed dozens of times – but clearly she hasn’t. If you’re reading this Miss Taylor, it wasn’t written for his son but for his wife after she had given birth to said son.
    In conclusion, to help Miss Taylor, we perhaps we should dream up some more adjectives to add to her rather limited list – words like breathtaking, fabulous, fantastic and superb might do. Of course this is all to help cover up the fact that she doesn’t actually know anything much about the stuff she’s presenting.

  13. Simon Lowrie

    Well said, Mr Cutts. I suggest a million of us gather in the streets of Cairo to demand Ms Taylor’s overthrow – not that this would cut any ice whatever with CFM management, of course. She is good for me in a way though – the only aerobic exercise I get in the course of the day is racing to the radio come 10 o’clock to turn her off, before being subjected to even a single smooth synthetic product of her smooth synthetic voicebox.

    Btw, since January 1st, all presenters have been told to up their ‘here on Classic FM’ quotient from merrely saying it six times an hour minimum, to a compulsory saying of it with every breath they take. Who else has noticed this?

  14. Jan

    Oh yes. It’s enough to drive anyone over to Radio 3. Surely they know that the majority of their listeners have actually chosen CFM and are therefore aware that they are tuned to that station? I can understand the occasional mention of ‘Classic FM’ every 30 or 40 minutes in case a listener has just landed from Mars and is confused over the thousands of classical music stations broadcasting ;-), but it is increasingly irritating to have the name repeated over and over again mindlessly. It’s more repetitive than the adverts, and that’s saying something.

    On the subject of Ms Taylor, I am still moderately optimistic that she will be dropped in due course. Surely her contract must be up some time soon?

    However, I heard this morning on John Suchet’s show that the latest Classic FM Live show is to be staged at the Royal Albert Hall on 16 March. Mr Suchet was very enthusiastic about it, adding that the presenters of the show will be himself and Ms Taylor.

    Wow! The Dream Team…..



  15. Robert Cutts

    Bring back Late Night Lisa. All is forgiven!

  16. Mika

    What has happened to Classic FM? Who has damage the station?

    They have enormous libraries and treasures of classic music, hundreds of years of composed and embalm music, many artist, orchestras, instruments and soloists……What do they use? A very small and narrow repertoire, a few soloists and solo-instrument, narrow genres and some composers. How did this happen? Why did the management do this?

    The weekend presenters are horrible, so I stopped listening.

    I´m missing the old CFM (from 4 years ago, before mrs Hazlett)
    What has happened to the old producers and program-makers.
    Why no show that presents new music, excavates music that have been buried and forgotten for many years and music of all genre that are not so very well known.

    It is so sad that a the only radio station with a pure classic music-profile don´t use the goldmine that lay out before them.


  17. Robert Cutts

    I’m afraid it all comes down to money, Mika. They need to plug the popular stuff to get the widest possible audience for their adverts. So it’s smooth this and smooth that and relax, relax, relax.
    Incidentally, last night we had the Rine-ish Symphony from everyone’s favorite presenter! And, unless my ears are deceiving me, she recently introduced a work by Max Bruckner!

  18. Josh

    Well done everyone who voted for Rachmaninov. Now we can focus on the AV campaign. Did you know the Lark would still be at number one under AV? Lol, sorry, I’ll try to keep politics out of future comments.
    I’d kind of given up hope, but what a pleasant surprise!!!
    While I’m here, does anyone else laugh in disbelief whenever they hear the Northern Rock ad on Classic FM? The sheer insolence of it! I would sooner vote for the Lark than move my money to Northern Rock.

  19. Jonathan

    Who knows what system they use to count the Hall of Fame votes? We already have to make three choices, but are they counted equally, or is first choice weighted more? No statistics on voting are ever released. They could make it all up as far as we know!

  20. Josh

    Jonathan, I agree that the system should be more transparent and the stats released. I think your first vote is given 3 points, your second 2 points, your third 1 point. I think this is what I remember from the voting form when the voting was on a few months ago.
    Sorry, I was only joking around with the AV bit. I was just trying to mimick the ‘Gordon Brown would still be PM under AV’ message put forth by the ‘Yes’ campaign. I didn’t mean to imply that the Hall of Fame was run under AV.

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