How Radio 3 and Classic FM perform in RAJAR Q3 2018

For those that don’t know, RAJAR is the way in which radio listening is measured and reported on. Data is released on a quarterly basis.

There’s a lot of analysis about it by people who are very good at what they do. I can’t claim to provide forensic analysis in this post – instead I’ve pointed to those industry commentators.

But I thought it might be interesting to hone in on Classic FM’s and Radio 3’s performance, how each broadcaster has referred to their station’s performance, and reflect on my own listening experience in comparison.

What the BBC says

The BBC leads on 5 Live Sports Extra and 6 Music as their strong performing brands. Radio 3’s audience is below 6 Music’s

BBC Radio 3’s audience was 1.93 million (from 1.91m last quarter and 1.96m last year) and its share was 1.2% (1.1% last quarter and 1.1% last year).

BBC Media Centre, Thursday 25 October 2018

They’re also emphasising ‘BBC Podcasts’ which I think I’m right in saying includes any radio content which can be downloaded for post-broadcast catch-up (rather than only specifically produced podcasts). That hints at the direction of travel (flagged in a previous post of mine about BBC Sounds).

What Global Radio says

Global loves big figures. It’s not a bad figure either. It looks good. It sounds solid. And there’s a nice implicit comparison with the kind of figures we hear a lot about in relation to television. So, even though’s no useful comparison for the average punter, it’s a figure that reinforces Classic’s ongoing success. 

What the commentators say 

I read Adam Bowie’s post and Matt Deegan’s blog. Respected industry chaps who regularly post about radio and stuff. 

Adam Bowie

Radio 3 got its Proms bump with reach up 1.4% to 1.9m (down 1.5% on the year). Hours were well up this quarter – up 10.3% on the quarter and up 13.7% on the year. I hate to disappoint Radio 3 listeners, but the jump looks a little too good to me, so expect some “correction” next quarter.

Adam Bowie, Thursday 25 October 2018

Matt Deegan

Matt has an interesting breakdown on London listeners during the summer months. The gap between Classic and Radio 3 is stark. The proximity of Classic to other commercial brands is impressive. In Manchester Radio 3 doesn’t feature on the list at all. 

In his overview, Matt highlights a perspective on digital listening I hadn’t appreciated before now about the rise in popularity of smart speakers (eg Amazon Echo) amongst users listening journeys. That reminds of the point I was flagging post-CMIC2018 about how broadcasters and record companies are now competing as distribution platforms.

From a classical music perspective, making the core content more easily findable/retrievable to fans or connoisseurs like me presents itself as a priority; any editorial context put around that content or related storytelling needs a strong recognisable and searchable brand name.

Matt’s post also flags the limitations of the RAJARs accounting method – recall – and how its challenged by specific metrics obtainable from streams and downloads in comparison. Makes the BBC’s emphasis on podcasts appear like an attempt to lead the industry towards a more useful method of measuring success. Maybe. 

My thoughts and listening experience

I’m hardly representative – but its interesting to reflect on my own listening experience against these figures. 

My radio listening has dropped considerably in the past 8 months. I rarely switch on in the mornings. I often get annoyed when I’m listening to speech.

A caveat applies here I think: I still wonder whether there’s a hangover present from being a BBC-staffer recognising things I don’t especially like and opting for near-wholesale avoidance as a self-preservation strategy in a new freelance and brand-agnostic life. 

Of those things I do listen to – World at One, PM (despite Eddie Mair’s departure), The Archers, Any Questions, and more 5 Live than Radio 3.

Over the summer I listened to the BBC Proms on-demand more than I did live. My listening has dramatically dropped off post-Proms. I suspect this is more to do with discovering the appeal of unmediated classical music recordings and live streams, me gaining in confidence exploring the subject on my own, and reconnecting with the joy of self-discovery. 

Importantly, I’ve moved away from Radio 3 since I’ve noticed a change in on-air presentation style. This isn’t me falling into the bracket of people who decry the dumbing down of the airwaves by the way. Rather in my case,  I’m not warming to some styles of delivery. Some of the newer voices indirectly (and probably unwittingly) present more of themselves rather than mediating, facilitating or contextualising in the way I used to seek Radio 3 out for a few years ago. 

The stats and the commentary remind me that Classic and Radio 3 aren’t competing as they’re appealing to different audiences with different content.

It also makes me think that Radio 3 is reasonably robust meaning it has a surprising amount of editorial freedom to tweak schedules and introduce change compared to a few years ago.

The data also serves to remind me that the world I choose to write about really isn’t that big at all. 

Review: John Suchet’s Classic FM Book – ‘Tchaikovsky: The Man Revealed’

I was sent a review copy of John Suchet’s latest Tchaikovsky book – Tchaikovsky: The Man Revealed – a few weeks back, originally to coincide with the release of the book. Technically I should have written this before its release. But, what with one thing or another Suchet’s latest composer biog has taken a bit of time to get around to writing about.

I identified personally-held assumptions about the book when I retrieved it from the bubble-wrap envelope – largely because of the prominence of Classic FM’s branding. In that way, the product in my hand holds a mirror up to my own pre-conceptions about who the target audience is for the book, long before I’ve even started reading it.

I share that view because even though I’m an advocate of Classic FM (largely because of the shit that flies around whenever the snobs and the detractors start wading into the argument about all that’s wrong with classical music today), my assumption was that Suchet’s book wouldn’t tell me anything and that whatever it tried to would probably be a little patronising. 

Fact is, I was wrong.

First, because I realised that Suchet’s book was telling me loads of stuff I wasn’t aware of. It also reminded me how much I appreciate having my Musicologist’s Gland tickled from time to time even though I’m sure even John S would concur when I say that the book is the lightest of musicological studies.

It’s an entertaining read. Absorbing. It transports me to another world. It tells a story without clobbering me over the head with academic analysis. It offers a handy overview I didn’t realise I didn’t already have. It also provides a much-needed haven from the usual starting points I run to when digging out information about composers.

This will give the impression that I regard everything Suchet has written as the gospel truth. I don’t. It can’t be. Tchaikovsky histories is problematic by virtue of there endless problematic sources underpinning those histories. But it’s a pleasure to read and gets you into the world of Tchaikovsky, feels good under the fingers and – to the credit of master content-marketers Classic FM – makes me want to explore some of the other books in the series. 

‘Tchaikovsky: The Man Revealed’ by John Suchet is available on Amazon priced at £15.77 hardback, or £10.00 on Kindle. 

About that Mylene Klass/Classic FM/Classic Brits thing

A few words about the Mylene Klass / Classic Brits / Classic FM bollocks this week.

1. Classic Brits is fine. It’s about as much an awards show as BBC Music awards is or was (I’m not sure whether the BBC are bringing it back this year – I hope not). Awards show are basically industry wonks getting extended advertising to raise revenue streams. I don’t like the content – it’s not intended for me- so I won’t watch it. Equally I don’t really give a fuck about it.

2. Criticism of Classic Brits and its content is reverse snobbery. That’s not on. Classical music experts should be better than deriding other genres or trying to get a programme that increases the reach of those genres stopped. There are countless individuals in the music industry who derive income from playing genres you’re making a judgment call on. That’s one of the ugly sides of the classical music world I struggle to be at ease with.

3. The interview with Myleen Klass in which she referred to ‘orchestra snobs’ could be interpreted in a variety of different ways. Some in the orchestral sector see it as a direct attack on them as members of orchestras. It could just as easily be a statement about classical music/orchestra purists. The point is not really about whose being criticised as much as the way in which tribes are created when the comments are made and then subsequently used to fit agendas. In this post-truth we need to be alert to it occurring and who’s skewing things.

4. Klass’ comments about opera and tuxedos were massively cack-handed. The interview itself didn’t really make any sense. It sounded a bit garbled. And yet someone still managed to get a newsline out of it, which everyone bit on and then promptly went wild about. That could be just as much an illustration of someone out with rusty knives to get at Myleene or Classic FM.

5. If the comment about opera wasn’t cack-handed, then Myleene was deliberately trolling the rest of the classical music world. If that’s the case then somebody briefed her to do that. I hope to God it wasn’t anyone at Classic FM. I can’t imagine it was. That said, the interview was published on the CFM website and then tweeted by CFM management. Odd given they sponsor the Association of British Orchestras and support the London Symphony Orchestra (and various other UK orchestras).

6. People reacted with fury on Twitter – I saw vitriol, condescension, and anger. The root of that emotional response is perfectly understandable, but the tone of the argument did end up making what Myleene said appear like a bit of truism. When I challenged four people about that (two publically and two privately) the reaction was a little muted. Two suggested that the way the conversation has morphed into a laugh about tuxedos and ball gowns was evidence of the right way of dealing with it. Disappointingly this only serves to illustrates how tribes within the music industry have become entrenched, and within one of those tribes cliques have emerged. Laughing at one another could be seen as thinly veiled sneering – also a bad thing.

7. Classical music isn’t elitist. Nor is the UK clientele elitist. But there are snobs everywhere – those who make judgments about you based on the amount of academic study you’ve completed, or those who decide whether you’re a serious fan or not according to what composers you listen to (there are other examples of snobbery). Classical music doesn’t exist in a bubble – it is music. We forget that. Cliques form around shared beliefs. It is cliques that threaten classical music, not the genre itself nor lack of audience engagement.

8. This point goes wider than the Myleene Wotnot, to include some recent interactions I’ve had online. My expectations are high from performers and I think, I’m all honesty, I have set them too high without realising. I seek to advocate and celebrate to popularise the genre that has been a lifelong friend. But I’m less inclined when discussions are hostile or dismissive in the public arena. In those moments I feel as though my intent is either being overlooked or ignored in favour of a personal agenda projected onto a discussion. I’m committing to reminding myself of what others (good) intent is at every stage in a heated discussion. I hope the noisy shouty people will try and do the same.

9. People complain about the death of music journalism. Yet I see there being an increase in the amount of discussion going on about the genre. That is a good thing. Just the other day I said to a friend that I can’t imagine writing for anyone else but Thoroughly Good. The moment I write for money I’d have to pause before expressing a potentially strong opinion. Sustaining discussions and commentary on blogs helps keep the relationship between writer and artist healthy, and the resulting content authentic.

10. Classic Brits is in June sometime on ITV. I won’t be watching. So you’ll need to find the broadcast details yourself. Oh, and you there, Classic FM. Don’t let this happen again. I expected a whole lot more frankly. Do it again and I’m writing to your parents.

Nice work, Global

I always recall fundraiser days being a cue for inexorable feeling of fear and dread. It wasn’t that I didn’t see charitable endeavours like Children in Need as important.

Of course they were. They remain so too. But there was always a feeling of desperation about such days. As though anything was allowed to happen on a charity fundraiser day – because the focus was the money, not the quality.

Commercial broadcaster Global (home to Classic FM) had its charity fundraiser today – Make Some Noise. A sufficiently broad call to arms to make even the least musical individual feel included.

Today’s unexpected treat was seeing Jennifer Pike play solo in Global’s Leicester Square reception (above) live on Facebook.

Classic FM are rapidly securing themselves as the brand at ease with ad-hoc live streams that convey a bit of an engaging amount of spirit. They seem to crop up in all sorts of places doing the same thing. Today was a shining example.

At the time of writing Global have raised an impressive £3.5million.

And the truth is, seeing all the pictures of people clubbing together to do silly things for a fundraising effort, makes me go all dewy-eyed recalling the night I unexpectedly got the chance to pap Steve Strange. Note. He was quite drunk.

25 years of Classic FM

Classic FM celebrates 25 years on-air this week.

I remember tuning in to listen to the station on the first day it broadcast – 7 September 1992. My birthday. The day I was doing a long shift on my holiday job at nearby Centre Parcs in Elveden. (I was a kitchen porter, if you’re interested in the detail.)

There was a sense of excitement about the launch of a new radio station, similar to the buzz when Channel 4 started ten years before. A moment in broadcasting history.

I don’t remember ever listening to Radio 3 before Classic FM started. Orchestral music was a big part of my life thanks to County Youth Orchestra and my university studies, but that hadn’t translated into dedicated Radio 3 listening. I didn’t start listening to Radio 3 in earnest for another 13 years.

Approachable, undemanding, and glossy

Classic FM started as it meant to go on: approachable, undemanding, and glossy.

We didn’t strike up an especially strong relationship. Listening to commercial radio – Classic was the first national commercial radio station – seemed like another world with different rules, the equivalent of a long-lost aunt turning up to a family reunion in an outfit that looked entirely out of place.

As a new listener, I wanted to form as tight a bond with Classic FM as I had done with Radio 1 during the summer of ’87, when I’d ended up listening to the station religiously throughout the day from Simon Mayo at breakfast until I’d heard the end of Newsbeat at 6pm.

But, Classic failed to win me over. It wasn’t an instant friend. It seemed to dart around everywhere. It sounded shiny. It overlooked the sense of occasion I had thrilled at whenever I played in a concert. It all seemed a bit brutal and throwaway. Reading presenter Petroc Trelawney’s recollections of Classic’s first station manager Michael Bhukt’s direction regarding how to back announce works on-air, perhaps my reaction as a listener wasn’t entirely surprising.

I wasn’t entirely sure whether it was worth investing in as a listener. Should I make more of an effort or just abandon it?

More radio stations means more exposure for classical music

When I was working with the English Symphony Orchestra in 1995, then the value of Classic FM became more apparent.

Janet Ritterman’s Arts Council of England National Review of Orchestral Provision acted as a primer for anyone joining orchestral management in 1995. It became clearer to me then reading it just how broadcasting and recorded music was vital in the classical music ecosystem. The addition of Classic FM in 1992 had clearly provided a much-needed outlet for a wider range of recorded music.

More radio stations playing more classical music meant the classical music ecosystem was supported. Playing music that didn’t make too many demands on the listener made it possible for that ecosystem to exist. Listeners wanted to listen. Advertisers wanted to advertise. Performers wanted exposure. Everyone’s a winner.

Those that snipe need to stop

I will always be a big advocate of Classic FM. I admire the way it knows exactly what it is, and that it’s messaging to the wider industry is resolutely unambiguous. In being present on the scene, it’s opened up a genre to a much-wider audience.

The challenge it faces is the same as the challenge it faced when it launched: those that snipe at it compare it to Radio 3 making the implicit assumption that Classic should be the gateway to cultural enlightenment, and berating it because it rarely is.

It’s an unfair and unrealistic assumption.

Ivan Hewitt wrote about the station in the Telegraph on 28 August:

“For many classical music lovers, the success of Classic FM is a sign that we’ve lost our cultural bearings. We’re no longer sure what classical music is, so millions of listeners can accept the rag-bag of classical lollipops, film scores and video games that Classic |that, it peddles the idea that classical music is good only for making you feel relaxed. It’s a retreat, a rest home of the soul, when the hard living of the day is done.

What really rubs salt in the wound, is that a much better alternative lies at hand, a mere twiddle of the tuning dial away. That alternative is a magnificent state‑funded classical music broadcaster, in the shape of BBC Radio 3.” 

The quote appears harsh, but Hewitt’s piece goes on to present a reasonably balanced view, giving a platform to the entrepreneurial Station Manager Sam Jackson, and his former boss and now Arts Council Chief Exec Darren Henley. They clarify the point that most misunderstand. Classic FM isn’t in competition with Radio 3 – both stations are going after entirely different audiences who listen for different reasons. Classic is far more closely aligned to Radio 2.

More importantly, Classic FM tells its listeners how they’re going to feel when they hear a piece of music. That means there’s a guarantee on the listening investment, even if that is at the expense of discovering our own individual and often complex emotional reactions to a work of art.

A powerful brand

Recognise too the power of the Classic FM brand.

The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra will be playing the station’s 25th anniversary concert on Thursday this week. After that the station is partnering with the orchestra in a series of Friday concerts later in the year.

Seeing the Classic FM branding next to a concert listing gives a potential ticket buyer an easy way of determining whether the event is for them. Ticket selling is made easier with that branding – more powerful than any concert synopsis.

In digital terms too, I’ve always been impressed with Classic FM.

Knowing what you are makes creating content to support that vision a whole lot easier than trying to be something it knows it’s not. Radio 3 has done the latter on-air frequently (though less so now), and is still partial to doing so online. When Classic FM tries to do the same it never really feels quite so awkward.

Now for the honest bit

Full transparency though. I don’t listen to Classic FM that much. I did a few years back – mornings mostly, when I was interested in understanding the different ways classical music was ‘sold’ to different audience groups. I listened again yesterday and had a similar experience listening as I did when I first listened to it 25 years ago. I recognise that its not really for me. I need to form some kind of relationship with a radio station, and I’m not entirely sure we’ll ever be a lasting partnership.

But the important thing is, that’s OK. The fact it’s celebrating its 25th birthday proves it’s doing something right for its 5.8 million listeners.

So, happy birthday Classic FM. There’s room here for everyone. And, I forgive you for the shonky job interview experience I had. Still, the tour was nice, and I do rather like that rooftop garden you’ve got.

Classic FM’s 25th Birthday Concert with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra is live from the Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool on Thursday 7 September, 7.30pm