Review: Scala Radio’s First Day

Scala has a warm feel with some strong presenters, gentle fun and some engaging musical choices. Notwithstanding some playlist tweaks, they’re a more palatable listen than Classic FM and a good deal more with it than Radio 3 is with its latest schedule changes 

What Scala achieved on its first day (that Classic FM never really has) is that I’ve been able to listen to to the station all day.

That’s partly because I’ve wanted to test it (and me).

I know it’s not targeting the likes of me, but if I could enjoy listening to it for an extended period of time then that would say something: it must be doing something right.

It’s warm. It’s honest. It’s carefully .. oh so carefully .. curated too.

Nothing has been left to chance. And from the off that carefulness did pay off. The juxtaposition of classical pops with instrumental pop seemed to work, even if some of the pre-recorded hyperbole about classical music’s part in the history of the UK jarred. 

An uncomfortable conversation ensued between Simon Mayo and late-night presenter William Orbit as Scala’s owners Bauer sought to re-define classical music as anything (effectively) that had an orchestral instrument in it.

There was also a painful howler (or was it a gentle poke?) when Mayo read out composer Mike Batt’s email to the station, praising Scala as the egalitarian response to classical music’s snobs and cliques (an email in which he was effectively pitching his own compositions for playout). One wonders why Scala hadn’t sought his oeuvre out already.

Similarly, playing Einaudi within 33 minutes of the station’s start did much to make the challenge I’d set myself at the start of the day something not worth pursuing. I hear little joy in Einaudi’s music. What we heard today – his latest release – was ponderous. Rick Wakeman too. I remain unpersuaded.

Deft production saw a home-educated kid phone in his request to Simon Mayo close lunch time.. But this, like the genuinely warm chit chat and enthusiastic feedback from the audience was overshadowed by one glaring reality for me: an advert for ‘the world’s most beloved tenor Andrea Bocelli’ and his various arena gigs. I’m not the target audience, I had to remind myself.

What the station does underline however is that people like me are in the minority. That the majority of people are prepared to give classical music (and their definition of the genre) a go is what is more important here than keeping the likes me of me happy.

Scala has adopted a softly-softly approach without being apologetic. The fact that presenter Sam Hughes was happy to read out one listener’s email saying how they were ‘just happy you didn’t talk about relaxing music’ was enough for me to know that Bauer are reasonably knowing about what they were offering.

Mark Forrest at drivetime is well pitched. He has that gentle warm end-of-the-day thing going on that makes the end of the day less of a reason to feel guilty and more something to feel warm and cosy about. One or two moments of hyperbole and mindless inaccuracies, but still I was hooked. Why?

Because there aren’t that many adverts. I assumed I’d hear endless adverts. I assumed that the adverts would wrest me from what I was listening to to make the whole thing a rather sordid experience.

So I’ve spent very nearly the day listening to Scala. There are some good things about it too. It has defied my expectations. Stylistically, its less annoying than Classic, with some strong voices, and some sound scheduling choices. Sure, there are things about it that made me shout at the radio, but the difference is that they’re trying their best and I’m not really paying for them. So they offer an alternative. And I think they might just offer a reasonably solid and entertaining introduction to the genre.

Someone’s paying attention. Clearly.

Picture credit: Brett Spencer

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