Ooh, Scala Radio

Good on Bauer Media announcing the impending arrival of the UK’s third ‘classical music’ radio station – Scala Radio – yesterday early evening.

At various points overnight when I’ve woken up to go to the bathroom, I’ve pondered about the announcement with uncharacteristic excitement and not a hint of cynicism.

And I’m not being sarcastic, either.

Scala Radio. It’s not a bad name. Not shiny. Eclectic. Like those independent pubs set up in former post offices. All mismatched cutlery and old steel tube office chairs with taught woven backs.

Why invest so much effort to start up a third classical music station? Does the UK need another classical music radio station? I thought radio listener figures were dwindling anyway. Can the industry sustain another station?

Looked at from another perspective, all Scala Radio really represents is the reassignment of bandwidth from one music genre to another, complete with the marketing costs necessary to raise awareness about it.

It would be all too easy to see this through rose-tinted public service specs, but the reality is that like Classic FM’s owners Global, Scala Radio is part of a commercial media organisation in direct competition with Global. And since the BPI’s announcement about an increase in streams for classical music last week, the industry as a whole sees an opportunity. A market worth investing in.

There is then the possibility of Scala Radio illustrating a canny strategic move to exploit a perceived rise in mainstream popularity of ‘classical music’ and raise advertising revenue.

It seems like a bold move to take. Classic FM’s dominance is, as far as I can see, unassailable, in no small part down to its considerable digital strategy which is much-loved amongst the audience it tirelessly serves (or should that be relentlessly pursues?)

Maybe it’s not just about making a dent on the audience share in a bid to please shareholders. Maybe it’s also about driving streaming requests and giving the mainstream labels ‘classical’ properties more exposure. I’m not sure. The figures seem so low as to be inconsequential.

Whatever the strategy, that classical is even being seen as a viable enough genre to support a fledgling brand, says something about how perspectives have changed. My assumption is that the playlist will be pretty similar to Classic FM’s so it probably won’t divert my attention from my preference for discovery and curation via streaming services.

I’m interested too in the possibility of ‘entertainment’ and classical music. I don’t think Classic FM does this in an especially authentic way – or at least not in a way that makes me able to listen to it any longer than an hour or so. There is then an opportunity to create the as yet unattainable: an engaging combination of classical music and speech that doesn’t sound awkwardly knowing.

In this regard, Simon Mayo’s billing makes that possibility a little more likely. That Mark Kermode joins the line up too only reinforces that point. I don’t believe Kermode would do something he thought was potentially a bit shit, for example.

And whilst the sight of one member of the presenter line-up pictured above throws me into an uncontrollable rage, I do think the reappearance of Goldie and what Bauer says he’ll be contributing to the output is an interesting proposition.

I am intrigued and .. though I hate the use of the word … excited by what Scala sounds like when it arrives on 4th March.

One thought to “Ooh, Scala Radio”

  1. Hmm – I have to say I am very dubious about this and it smacks of simply following the cash rather than any real attempt to build a new listenership. Personally, I find Classic FM horribly dumbed-down, stuffed full of adverts and lacking knowledgable, serious musicians (with a few exceptions) of the stature of Suzy Klein, Tom Service, Sarah Walker, Elizabeth Alker, Sara Mohr-Pietsch, Lopa Kothari, et al who are my daily “friends” on R3, but each-to-their own.

    The problem with this format (and with self-selected streaming services) is that it simply re-inforces your listening prejudices – one of the glories for me of listening to Radio 3 is that you are almost certain to come across a genre or style of music in one day which you have never heard before. The excellent “Unclassified” recently at series 2 was a case in-point. It’s like food – if you’ve never tried it before and it is never offered, how do you know if you like it or not.

    What I’d REALLY like to see is an altogether new, non-formulaic, add-free entrant to the UK radio market – my own preference would be for something modelled along the lines of RFI Musique with its eclectic “world” output which I think is thoroughly under-served at present.

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