Classic FM loses half a million listeners

Classic FM loses half a million listeners

News

norman lebrecht

August 04, 2022

Classical entrepreneur David Taylor analyses the latest Rajar figures for UK broadcasting:

Classic FM’s audience has hit a record low, falling under 5 million listeners for the first time with over half a million people switching off since the start of the pandemic, according to new figures released by RAJAR (Radio Join Audience Research).

Maybe they just dropped off.

BBC Radio 3 also dropped slightly, hanging in at 2.02 million, ready for the next big drop.

Comments

  • Rob Keeley says:

    When you have YouTube and its virtually infinite choice of music (and performances) – without all the inane chatter, the pollyanna-ish presenters (‘isn’t it all wonderful?”), fake chumminess, not to mention woke agenda of Radio 3, it’s a bit of a no-brainer for serious listeners.

    • Ya what says:

      Agreed. Time to axe the both of them – absolutely useless these days.

      Can’t stand the fake chumminess of the proms presenters either. Just shut up and let us listen to the music!

      • Nick2 says:

        In general presenters of classical music are poor to miserable. The stations seem to give anyone with just an average interest in music the job. Yet being a good presenter is far from an easy job. It has to give basic information about a piece of music as well as something about it that will spark an interest – short and sweet and to the point, not frippery and cheap jokes.

        But don’t expect the programme controllers to do anything about it. On a separate subject, I love watching badminton and have been appalled for years at the BBC’s website coverage. It is always massively out of date unless English players are involved – usually months but one is already two years old! It hardly ever covers the important tournaments including the world championships when the men’s champions have included in recent years by a Dane, a Singaporean, a Japanese and a Chinese. It even had an item exclusively about swimming up on the badminton page for weeks. I wrote four times, including once to the Director General. I was informed each time that while my comments were always circulated to heads of departments, the BBC saw no problem with the content of its site. That clearly was a lie. Why else would that swimming item remain up on the site for many weeks after my complaint? The oldest post remains today as it was many months ago – 20 March 2020? So much for a BBC NEWS website.

    • Jackie Dench says:

      Couldn’t agree more – the inane patter is patronising and sends me rushing to the OFF button. Have written to the BBC several times but, of course, a waste of time. Who are the idiots taking decisions on BBC Radio 3 these days. I gave up on Classic FM years ago because of its smarmy presentation and preference for lollypops. There once existed a website ‘Friends of BBC Radio Three’ but tbey have given up in despair. O for presenters who speak in what was (is?) known as BBC English and who speak to us with respect……

      • Hornbill says:

        If you go to Twitter you can always post comments there. They do read those. Of course if you’re offensive they might block you, but why be offensive? Polite usually works better.
        @BBCRadio3.

      • John G. Deacon says:

        Indeed, one can no longer tolerate the style of gushing gibberish on Classic FM and the appalling pseudo-seductive voice of the female station announcer. Nobody reads out the name of an orchestra or describes a piece of music in such a patronising style – as if we are all so very ignorant and lucky to be spoken to. And does anyone check how many times some pieces are repeated over and over in the same week? I stick largely with BBC R3 …. except when they indulge in the minimalist drivel which obliges me to rush to open the window (Glass, Adams & Reich especially) so as to reduce the onset of musically induced claustrophia !

    • Florence says:

      I listen for the music, not the presenters, although I’m not keen on some of them on either channel!

    • John Franklin says:

      I find the choice of classical performances on YouTube very limited (although I use it quite a lot, particularly for choir practice material). Also whereas YouTube algorithms push one towards more of the same R3 is much more mind broadening. I’m really enjoying experiencing the wonderful range of female composers who got so little air time in the 1980s when I started my classical music journey.

    • Mairéad says:

      Can you give us an example of R3’s ‘woke’ agenda, Rob? Honest question….different people have different definitions of this well-used word.

      • Maria says:

        Yes, a word banded around amd mostly meaningless when it comes to Radio 3. John Humphreys ex Radio 4 now on Classic FM is hardly woke, just awake!

    • Donna Pasquale says:

      Oh precious you and your snowflake views on Radio 3. I’m guessing anything not by dead white men is a struggle to listen too.

    • Richie B says:

      You got it just right. Pollyann-ish…6th form girls trying to masquerade as intellectual women.

  • Gary Freer says:

    Start by reinstating Ian Skelly to the morning slot.

  • Derek H says:

    ClassicFM has never played many of the larger works and some major composers were never included.

    Now, “The Full Works” evening program has been dropped and replaced by another 2 hours of ‘relaxing classics, easy listening’ so it is more boring than ever.

    They have lost their way and are focused on all of the wrong issues. ClassicFM is misguided and will become irrelevant to classical music. It is very rare indeed that I listen to it now.

  • Tony Sanderson says:

    ClassicFM also has a rival in Scala Radio, who interviewed Daniel Barenboim recently.

    Netflix are also losing subscribers. Now that people can go out again, the Covid boost to subscriptions, viewing and listening figures are bound to fall away.

  • Patrick says:

    Is it possible Classical music will just dry up and blow away to the dusty pages of history? Would be a terrible shame, but there are many indicators showing this is happening.

    • Hornbill says:

      Have you been to any of the Proms? I ignore the woke stuff but the classical performances that I have been to this year have been very well attended – in spite of SD’s prophecy of doom a couple of weeks ago.

  • Ellie says:

    I like AA in the mornings on Classic FM – I work from home so it’s a bit like meaningless office small talk. It’s a very (too) narrow playlist – but because of this I find it doesn’t engage the brain like unfamiliar / ‘harder listening’ does and is good to work to as background noise. It’s the adverts that drive me totally bananas and make me switch off though. They come on louder than the programmes and really disrupt everything.

    • Jumbo says:

      Sorry to say AA drives me bananas! So much so that I don’t listen in the mornings now .

    • Stoker says:

      With 5million listeners one would think that the advertisers would design their intrusions to be in line with the music being played and the interests of listeners. As it is, many of them make one vow never to buy the product!

    • MaggieL says:

      I agree with you, this is how I feel about it too. However, I would add that it also drives me insane to hear the presenters constantly say “this, is Classic fm” !

  • George Lobley says:

    Class8c FM has gone downhill. Too much bland music as in Smooth Classics which is on too often and has now replaces the evening concert. Trite rubbish and no competition for tbe meatier Radio 3. There are so many composers not featured on Classic FM.

  • Mark Mortimer says:

    I liked Classic FM from the start & think it serves a purpose- if you can forgive the inane advertising & (as others have observed) there’s absolutely no difference between their presenters & the current chummy Radio 3 ones with regional accents constantly reminding us what a great performance we’ve just heard (apart from those relegated to ‘Through the Night’ who send you to sleep with their nice old fashioned BBC- privately educated delivery). I remember Harrison Birtwistle remarked to us music students at the time ‘Classic FM just shits out music all day’. Not far off the mark- but if its got a good tune & you’re not in the mood for Stockhausen & The Darmstadt School at the end of the day- its perfect. But there’s only so much you can hear of Rachmaninov Second Piano concerto, Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty Waltz & Andrea Bocelli- Time to Say Goodbye to that one.

  • esfir ross says:

    I love my KDFC classical music station. I keep my FM radio in the kitchen and always listen when driving for decades. Every Tuesday at 8 p.m. concerts of San Francisco symphony, Saturday morning-Met opera, weekday at 9 a.m.-Mozart music. All this make my days. I advise people to get FM radio. Many’re not aware of this treasures.

  • Margaret Koscielny says:

    The best Classical Music radio is in Germany.
    America killed most of the serious ones back in the 90s.
    It’s YouTube, except the audio is so terrible.

    • John says:

      C I V I L I S A T I O N. IS. PRECIOUS

    • George Horvath says:

      Agreed. Classical radio in the states, what’s left of it, especially in New York City, has been reduced to pitifully mindless background noise and sleep inducing commentary. The only good broadcasts remaining mostly come out of Europe.

    • Jim C. says:

      There’s also some good ones in Turkey. Pretty sophisticated playlists.

    • Cecily says:

      If you happen to own, or have access to an “Apple Pro” ipad you will notice a real resonant difference to the quality of the Utube videos (-in case this is of help)

  • Helen says:

    I can’t listen to Classic FM because I hate the adverts. Since the pandemic began I have listened everyday to radio 3. I love it. I didn’t understand why though they removed Ian Skelly from the morning slot. Some presenters are a bit annoying, but that is par for the course and a matter of individual preference.

    • James Renard says:

      Agree totally, the adverts can be particularly banal especially the ones for second hand cars. Irreverlant to most classical music fans.

  • Tancredi says:

    Not surprised. I flee silly chatter on R3 and remote control to Classic, then Classic because of incessant use of a smarmy voice intoning ‘Smooth classics’, and ‘Relax’, or ‘wind down’. It never used to be this idiotic.

  • Adrian says:

    I gave up on classic fm years ago. I was getting so annoyed to being told to relax all the time. I switched to radio 3 and never looked back. Sean Rafferty bring the best presenter and interviewer I have heard.

  • Chuck says:

    Radio station WFMT in Chicago is well worth “tuning into” on the web:

    https://www.wfmt.com

    The “Through the Night with Peter Van De Graaff” (Monday–Sunday, 12:00 am–6:00 am, Central U.S. time) is sublime.

  • Iris Heibeck says:

    We listened to Classic fm for years but mainly on the weekends, with COVID this changed as I worked from home and first we had it on every day for hours. But soon we noticed that the same works were being played. So I have to agree that the playlist is too narrow and one gets fed up listening to the same over and over again.
    I found as well that they dropped a lot of more in depth programmes over the years. And some of the information on the composers is incorrect which annoys me to say the least

  • Duncan says:

    One of the issues facing the radio stations is how to draw in more listeners. Too much seriousness in the approach might put off potential listeners while presenters who are too chatty will put off the serious music fans. You cant win on this one. The music choices have similar problems: too serious/heavy or too popular and repetitive. In spite of its faults Radio 3 still has huge appeal for me.

  • G. Evans says:

    I have always doubted ClassicFm. They are a joke. For people who apparently ‘know’ classical music their professionalism is suspect. I have noted pronunciations of Marissa Robles which is not as written but Robless, Miriam Margoyles, as in gargoyles, Semiramide, pronounced Semi Ramide, which implies that, somewhere, there is a Detached Ramide. Three examples among many. I have often suspected sloppy organisation. So often one notices a piece of music, played in the morning which was played last thing on the previous evening as if the presenter had simply picked up last evening’s running order.
    The same pieces of music are played over and over. It is a complete surprise that these pieces turn up at the top of the annual Easterfest of the top 300.

  • Gillian Baine says:

    What’s the saying? ‘Get woke, go broke’! Say no more.

  • Nicola Barranger says:

    It’s the ghastly Hall of Fame that gets me. Who gives a monkeys? Probably the advertisers, but I often wonder how many voters email in? 100? No not that many surely. And then trying to boost the figures by employing household names isn’t working either. I think I’d better stop before I get the Grumpy Old Woman Award.

  • CarlD says:

    I only listen to Classic FM late at night while smoking a stogie before bedtime. That means it’s usually Bill Overton, whom I find pretty pleasant in his presentation. Don’t like the woman on Friday overnights much at all though.

  • Miv Tucker says:

    I guess there’s only so many times you can listen to Ravel’s Bolero.
    And long ago, one tuned in to R3 to listen to the programmes. Then, when Nicholas Kenyon became controller it switched to being presenter/celebrity led, which might just have been ok if most of them weren’t all such mediocrities.

  • David Mills says:

    Classic FM suffers from to many repeats of the same pieces every week and sometimes daily. They seem to have decided on a very small play list of well known popular Classic music

  • Eileen Jackson says:

    Classic FM has lost listeners because they play far too many repeats. There’s a wealth of music out there and I’m heartily sick of The Planets etc. etc. Also the adverts are a pain but can’t do anything about that.

  • Elwyn Walker says:

    Used to be an ardent Radio 3 listener. Now, too many young presenters with a tenuous grasp of English. I now use Internet radio – much more satisfying (stations from USA to Australia)

    • Hornbill says:

      Any particular suggestions, please?

      • classicalconnect says:

        Wfmt.com, for example. Not as good as it was, say, 10 years ago but still OK. A couple days ago they broadcast a complete Mahler 3 with Haitink and the CSO, all 1h 40m of it.

      • Ektenia says:

        There’s an Android app called, appropriately, Classical Radio. Huge selection of stations from all over the world, available free at Google Play Store.

  • Classic fm listener says:

    Classic FM problem is, yes, repeated annoying adverts, narrow selection (and not enough film scores either – according to them Morricone, John williams, and john barry only wrote 2 scores each!) – but the worst of all for me is their embarrassing breathtakingly left-wing anti-government brainwashing news. In 4 items, 3 would be relentlessly slagging off Boris and 4th would be a brief mention of Putin’s troops killing thousands. I think keir starmer’s office censors their news items. But it makes the channel almost unlistenable.

  • Geraldine Watson says:

    Totally agree with the comments here. ClassicFM seems to have become a graveyard for retired TV presenters. I find John Humphreys utterly patronising and inane. I hate the advertising and the way they will only ever play one movement from any piece. Sadly ClassicFM has also joined the “woke” brigade as they have a programme showcasing only black composers presented by Chi Chi Nwonoku. Why not embrace all composers that don’t often get heard, from any and all backgrounds. ClassicFM has deteriorated since they were taken over by Global.

  • Rik Miller says:

    I always listened to classic fm because it played classical music. Turn it on now and you can hear anything from the star wars theme to et. I love both these pieces of music but its not classical music imo. Also please get rid of your 9 am presenter. A. Armstrong.Talk about over exposed.

  • CB says:

    They have severely declined. Movie title music! Computer game music? Really.

  • Ian Lawrence says:

    Classic FM has become a retirement home for former news presenters and anyone with a ‘name’ who can read an autocue – introducing the same old playlist again and again, punctuated by insightful comments about how ‘relaxing’ the music is or some mindless bit of gossip about a composer: “Brahms could be a bit grumpy”. The only show worth listening to was presented by David Mellor, who – although not a professional musician – is obviously a lifelong enthusiast who can compare different recordings of the same work with a good deal of knowledge and authority. But Mr Mellor is the exception to the normal bland output.
    Particularly irksome is the ‘Classic FM Hall of Fame’ – a tedious annual ‘competition’ where listeners are meant to vote on which of the pieces in the same old playlist is their favourite this time. Why not write the names of these chunks of easy listening on cards, shuffle the deck and see which one ends up on top? It would be just as interesting. Alternatively they could start an annual competition for young composers to submit a new, short piece of orchestral music – thus giving listeners something new to listen to and to vote on, at the same time nurturing some new talent and expanding the repertoire. But ideas like this would take a bit of imagination. I reckon they would prefer to stay in their easy listening museum.

  • Janet Taplin says:

    I agree with many of the comments and have said the same to Classic FM
    They play the same pieces over and over again – often in one day , Dvorak 9th, The Lark Ascending, Bolero, Spiegel im Spiegel.
    Come on lets get something new on air
    There are millions of pieces and yet they ignore all but the few they have in their “CD box of the day’. How many hours of Hall of Fame and Smooth Classics does anyone need there are over 8 hours of the former each week and 35 hours of SMOOTH CLASSICS. They should rename themselves Smooth Classics FM – boring. What was wrong with the full works concert.
    Surely someone can come up with a better variety of music. They obviously struggle to fill the 9 – 10 slot on Sunday evening and we get Revision hour – when most students are probably at a club, Chi Chis something or other, and for goodness sake Video Game Music. No serious classical music listener will enjoy this. Use the 3 hours (or an extension) to do an opera evening – not everyones taste but better than Video Music
    They need to wipe the slate clean, find a brand new set of presenters who understand Classical Music and start again from scratch – why do we need a doctor presenting classical music?.
    Some of the presenters know little about the subject even having the inability to pronounce names correctly

    • David G says:

      Dr means little. I am a doctor of philosophy but in chemistry! I think I could do a decent job of presenting as I did A-level music post retirement from my university lecturing post!

  • Rita Mathsen says:

    I used to listen to ClassicFM on Alexa and now it’s not available any longer! I am very disappointed!

  • Rob says:

    I remember when Classic FM started in September 1992 and Rob Cowan was playing whole movements of Rattle’s new CBSO Mahler 7 recording on a Saturday mornings .

  • Jim says:

    Hmm…troubled times…
    I think Classic FM are obviously greatly affected by streaming services. Radio 3 is more of a curated service, offering a bit more than easy listening background music. Good to see it is less affected and the audience has dropped very little.

  • Tony Sanderson says:

    Today’s UK Daily Telegraph reports a large drop in subscribers for both Netflix and Amazon Prime and as I stated previously, this seems to be part of a wider pattern now that lockdown restrictions have eased.

  • Newsum says:

    Classic FM main problem the presenters . particularly the 09:00 show the voice rising and falling makes you feel seasick .the contrived jollity loves the sound of his own voice ,the worst presenter since Kelley !!

  • Ella Liebenberg says:

    Luckily you do not live in South Africa….
    But for FMR , Classic FM is our only option. I love it and enjoy this 1st world option.
    Keep up the good work!

    • Helena Bester says:

      Same here. Find Classic FM a little more varied than FMR and both easy to listen to when not at home. I can imagine some presenters can be much at times but the music always wins.

  • John Dietmann says:

    Why bother with UK terrestrial classical radio? DAB has degraded and the stations are either pompous or rubbish. Through my stereo high fi system and 2 Roberts Internet radio portables I stream hi-res classical Internet radio stations from around Europe & the world.
    Also I stream classical music cd’s from a hi res streaming service in France. My gear is all British: Cambridge Audio, Rega Brio, and B&W speakers. My cd collection is all on a sold state hard drive. I do not own a cd player or turntable. Sold them years ago.

  • Robert McQueen says:

    Most radio stations per say have lost listeners. Mainly due to good old fashioned competition. Yes, the Internet and you tube will be in the mix. But, at least the stations are still considered important to their listeners to lake them relevant.
    A little tip for you. If you go to ‘Akademia Filmu i Telewizji ‘, on you tube. You will here the talented youth of Poland in all their brilliance. Worth a serious look music wise for any musician, however talented.

  • Colin Brown says:

    Agree on Classic FM, but Radio Three presenters are real musicians who know their stuff. We just need their bosses to stop getting them to do the inane chatty stuff.

    • christopher storey says:

      Colin Brown : you are rather stretching a pont there : the only R3 presenter that I can think of with any relevant qualification is Sarah Walker, who has a Doctorate in Music and is an accomplished pianist

  • M loombe says:

    Mr armstrong’s voice drives me mad and do they have to tell us it’s classic fm after every record it’s good if you suffer from dementia

  • Roger Blundell says:

    Classic FM, boring and predictable.

  • CarlD says:

    Gotta say, my favorite classical music station is Symphony Hall from satcaster SiriusXM.

  • Bob Grant says:

    ClassicFM makes me appreciate Radio3 all the more. I welcome a little chumminess, and dry humour, but not too much gaming music.

  • Gaynor Fuller says:

    Just have an André Rieu channel !

  • Peter Keen says:

    The reason Classic fm listening has dropped off is because most people these days prefer a loud noise. It isn’t that they really prefer a noise over music; it’s just that’s the current fashion. In earlier days the fashion was beauty, elegance and sublime sounds. Now it’s considered the “in thing” to desire a racket.
    It’s important that Classic fm does not respond to this whim but continues to deliver proper music for those who love it.
    Also, lunchtime listening is somewhat spoiled by the preference for those who ring in asking for “something”. I prefer the requests for a particular piece of music that has a relevance to the person rather than just “something”.
    Also, remember that people listening want beautiful music. Keep waffle and adverts to a minimum.
    Regards,
    Peter Keen

  • Graham Elliott says:

    Perhaps all the talking provides a worthwhile service to those who want the music but also need the sense of human contact. My preference is for music played with nothing in between. That service is not offered by the BBC

  • Allison says:

    I turn off when John humpries comes on, that guy is too right wing for me

  • Davidson says:

    For me, the only on-air classical host that is truly worth listening to is Nimet Habachy on WQXR. She loves the music, is smart, and has a gorgeous soothing voice. She should have been named host for the Metropolitan Radio broadcasts instead of the two who got the job.

  • James says:

    It always gets me when the announcer tells me to relax .

  • Mike I. says:

    You haven’t been listening to WFMT Chicago: 98.7 FM; the best classical music station anywhere, and loved by millions, world wide.

  • ALLAN FULLER says:

    Just like the declining numbers in Orchestral performances ( both audiences and folded organizations) they have done this to themselves. Many comments herein nail the reasons for the decline. Suffice to say most are right and speak to the overarching pretentiousness factor. Play the GD music please and cut the nonsense.

  • Jack says:

    My local station has, at least since the beginning of the pandemic, been handing out the lowest grade of stuff on its airwaves. I don’t want to hear another Pachelbel Canon, Copland Fanfare for the Common Man, anything by Gershwin, and the pap coming from John Rutter and his ilk. All nice stuff but a steady diet? It’s why I stopped listening. And then I discovered many BETTER stations streaming on the Internet.

    My station does an excellent job curating nighttime programming (midnight to 6am or so) with some really unusual choices of repertoire. I only wish they would trust their listeners more during the daytime.

  • MOST READ TODAY: