Magazine article The Spectator

Popular Birthday

Magazine article The Spectator

Popular Birthday

Article excerpt

Classic FM has been celebrating its tenth birthday, its first broadcasts starting on 7 September 1992. The station deserves to be congratulated as it has since built a weekly audience of 6.8 million, presenting classical music in a popular and digestible form to people who might have shied away from it on a network such as Radio Three.

It is, of course, not to everyone's taste, including my own, but I am glad it is there. At times, one has to wonder if we're all going to be engulfed by the crassness of popular culture, that pop music and its practitioners will take over all cultural life; it appears to have conquered British television, a new `boy band' even appearing as an item in news programmes on BBC and ITV. Classic FM has skilfully and shrewdly combined the disc-jockey techniques of certain popular music networks with the presentation of melodic excerpts from classical music. It even presents live concerts, mostly in the evenings, which Radio Three also does, of course.

The two, mercifully, are still very different, despite what classical music purists say. Don't misunderstand me when I use the phrase `disc jockey techniques'. The presenters of Classic FM are, for the large part, good broadcasters, rather like those on Radio Two: Henry Kelly, Susannah Simons, Jane Jones, Simon Bates, Natalie Wheen and so on. They tend to speak in proper sentences and are easily understood, though it's strange to me that I should have to state this rather obvious fact about radio. Anyone who's listened to Radio One's early morning presenter Sara Cox, about whom more later, will know why I do.

It is probably closer in presentation and style to Radio Two and rather easy to mock in a light-hearted way. Listening to Henry Kelly one morning recently, his four-hour programme from 7 to 11 was, by necessity, interrupted by advertisements without which Classic FM could not survive: Green Flag motoring assistance, Australian wine, Direct Line insurance and various car manufacturers. His programme is also sponsored by National Savings and Investments, as it's now called. Fair enough; how else is a commercial broadcaster to be funded when it's up against the mighty and everexpanding licence-fee funded BBC?

Classic FM's own trails, though, are a wonder to behold. …

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