Radio without a host? It’s just not as classy, say listeners

For years, from midnight to 6am, Classic FM has aired a program called All Night Classics. These broadcasts, of which there were hundreds, were pre-recorded, with an announcer introducing and explaining the music. They were reused and repeated — the content was timeless. But now they’re gone — replaced by what’s airing on Classic 2, ABC Classic’s new online channel, which airs short classical tracks performed by Australian artists. Classic 2, which is aimed at a younger audience and was launched in June, has no hosts, and the tracks are not announced. Online listeners can see what track is playing, but radio listeners need to look up the track list online.

The change has been controversial. When it was announced, Classic FM’s Facebook page was flooded with complaints, and now staff at the station have begun to raise their concerns. In a series of emails sent to all ABC Classic staff, and obtained by Crikey, many vent their frustrations at what they see as a retrograde and concerning development. No staff have been made redundant due to the changes (regular All Night Classics host Bob Maynard still works at Classic FM, and many of the other All Night Classics hosts had already left the ABC some time ago, though their voices could still be heard on the recordings). But many fear what they see as a concerning new development. “[A] quarter of our broadcast day now voiceless,” one staff member wrote. “If a quarter of the day can be Classic 2, what’s to stop it being a third, a half, the whole?”

Another said he had no problem with Classic 2 as a music-only service, but he didn’t want to hear it on the national FM radio network:

In my view, this decision to replace presenter-based programming with a juke box is very poor policy because it sets a dangerous precedent. It fundamentally ignores the primary reasons why we have loyal and passionate listeners, and what makes the other 18 hours of Classic FM a drawcard over any other jukebox-based digital-only service — our presenters and programmers who support them. The ability to engage the audience directly and enthusiastically, with immediacy and sincerity is why precisely why radio stations succeed over voice-less services.”

Another said the programming was of a lesser quality to that broadcast during the rest of the day, and added that the lack of  information about what was being heard made it far less useful for listeners:

[W]e aim to be real people presenting real music in a way which is meaningful to our audience and which treats them with respect. It’s what we’re told we should do in our air checks. It’s what we do because it’s good radio, and it’s what we all, as professional broadcasters, do well. Having everything we strive for — and are told to strive for — negated by the simple playing of random tracks with no presentation for 25% of every day is not only wrong, it’s depressing.”

The changes come as the ABC braces for budget cuts, likely to be far larger than initial projections. But ABC Classic FM station manager Richard Buckham told Crikey the changes had nothing to do with cost savings. In fact, he added, two producers in Sydney were employed fine-tuning the Classic 2 stream choices (programmed by a computer according to set parameters). “So you could say more staff hours are being devoted,” he said.

The expert commentary and educational value of a curated program has essentially been replaced with a jukebox … “

Last year, when we were planning Classic 2, we thought it was a good opportunity to renew our overnight programs, and also to promote Classic 2 to Classic FM listeners. These conversations happened way back before the funding changes — before the election, even. That was at all what was behind it.”

ABC Classic listeners are fiercely devoted and rarely welcome change, Buckham says. “There’s always a reaction whenever we change anything”.

About four years ago, we took off a half-hour brass band program and had lots of correspondence. But now, people love what’s replaced it. It’s typical of an audience like ours, which is longstanding and loyal. We appreciate it, but any change can bring a big negative reaction.”

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4 Responses

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  1. I usually listen to ABC Classic, but I often turn to something else. When the presenter is talking twaddle (often happens). Or I don’t like the music played. So I often listen to ABC Classic 2. Or Classic 102 (which is a German Internet station without presenters - I’m currently listening to it and Bruckner’s 9 [I think]). Worse come to worse, I’ll listen to a CD.

    Actually I like Classic 2.

    by wayne robinson on Aug 29, 2014 at 2:02 pm

  2. I prefer having performance details online: they should be fuller than presented on air, one can refresh one’s memory of forgotten details, and one can find out what’s playing if one tunes in during a performance. And as Wayne notes, presenters’ chatter is often tiresome.

    But the online music stations I know play only movements - never the whole work. I find this unsatisfying and eventually immensely annoying.

    by Gavin Moodie on Aug 29, 2014 at 8:50 pm

  3. A very fine alternative is 5mbs99.9fm in Adelaide, or streaming on ( “Live Streaming” on the home page). They have all night classics, hosted with minimal talk, and playing only complete works. Excellent!

    by Peter Bleby on Aug 30, 2014 at 10:53 pm

  4. Thanx Peter.

    by Gavin Moodie on Aug 30, 2014 at 10:54 pm

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