When Classic FM’s Managing Editor, Sam Jackson, receives Gramophone’s special Anniversary Award (given to mark the 40th anniversary of the Gramophone Classical Music Awards) at the ceremony on September 13, the station will have just marked a special anniversary of its own: 25 years of national broadcasting in the UK (as one of only three independent national radio stations). It launched on September 7, 1992, and has become, in that quarter century, one of the most significant broadcasters in this country, with a weekly reach of 5.8 million listeners, 1.2 million of whom are under 35. Classic FM has become the world’s biggest classical music brand on Facebook, with videos there watched by around 17 million people every month. Two thirds of those who ‘like’ Classic FM on Facebook are also under 35 and it shares more of its audience with Radio 1 than Radio 3, again showing its significant role in developing younger audiences for classical music. Whatever their age, though, more people listen to classical music on Classic FM than via any other broadcast medium.
It would be foolish to argue that Classic FM and Gramophone are a natural fit – our broadcast ‘mirror image’ is clearly BBC Radio 3 – but it would be equally foolish to underestimate Classic FM’s role in the musical life of this country. Supporting live music-making is not a requirement of a national radio station but Classic FM backs up its role as a national broadcaster by engaging with live music up and down the country. It maintains strong partnerships with orchestras across the nation and regularly promotes concerts, a powerful way of developing closer ties with its audiences. It works tirelessly with all of its partners to make classical music accessible to as broad an audience as possible.
Where Classic FM comes closest to ‘our world’ is in its championing of recordings and its unwavering support for the classical record industry (at a time when classical music is finding it harder and harder to secure those column inches from arts editors with no interest in the genre). Giving new releases the oxygen of publicity is vital to ensure that recorded music maintains visibility in an increasingly information-packed world. While it would be easy to portray Classic FM and Radio 3 as being separated by a yawning gulf, there are numerous artists and recordings that fit quite comfortably into the outputs of both networks. Classic FM plays an important role in promoting today’s artists in an increasingly indifferent world.
Add in 24 hour-a-day broadcasting, seven days a week, and you have the destination of choice for a substantial number of people. And the station’s cleverly chosen line-up of presenters has added to one of the broadcasting success stories of recent times. We wish Classic FM well for its next 25 years.
Photo: Classic FM presenter John Suchet