Darren Henley on 20 years of Classic FM
This month sees the 20th anniversary of the launch of Global Radio’s national classical music station, Classic FM. Managing Director Darren Henley looks back for Radio Today.
With a flick of a switch at six o’clock in the morning on 7th September 1992, Classic FM introduced classical music into the lives of millions of people, many of whom would otherwise quite possibly never have encountered the genre.
From those earliest days of broadcasting, we have always believed that classical music can and should be a part of everyone’s lives – no matter who they are or where they come from. We remain as true to that ideal today as we did when we first switched on our transmitters.
It seems hard to believe that two whole decades have passed since that moment when Nick Bailey introduced Handel’s Zadok the Priest and the broadcasting landscape in the UK was changed forever. In 1992, there were plenty of sceptics out there, who couldn’t quite see how a radio station that played classical music in a populist style – and that broadcast adverts to pay its way – could possibly survive more than a few months.
Twenty years on, Classic FM is the most successful classical music radio station in the world, delivering classical music of the highest quality to a broad-based mass-market audience. With 5.5 million listeners, more people in Britain listen to classical music each and every week through Classic FM than through any other broadcast medium. As part of Global Radio, the UK’s premier commercial radio company, Classic FM is an example of a great British success story, which perfectly blends culture and commerce for the greater good.
The quality and integrity of the music that we play is absolutely central to everything that we do. Over the past two decades, Classic FM has been a huge supporter of the classical record industry. Not only is our Full Works label with Decca the most successful of its kind, but the station was the first to broadcast a classical chart; the first to allow listeners to phone in to request their favourite classical music; and the first to treat film soundtracks as a serious part of the classical repertoire. And many, many young classical performers owe their first radio airplay to the station. We have also been the main media partner of the Classic BRIT Awards from their first show back at the turn of the new millennium.
Our commitment to encouraging people up and down the country to enjoy live classical music in the concert hall remains as strong as ever. In the orchestral world, we have developed deep relationships with orchestras the length and breadth of the country, including the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Northern Sinfonia, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the Orchestra of Opera North, the Philharmonia Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra. There is nothing quite so thrilling as seeing the whites of the eyes of a group of talented musicians performing the world’s greatest music just a few metres in front of you.
That desire to enthusiastically share our passion for the music we play is another of the core tenets of Classic FM. When we first began broadcasting, we discovered that some potential listeners found the whole classical world rather daunting. So, we made it our mission to blast open the doors of classical music, which at the time, some parts of the artistic elite seemed to believe should remain locked and barred to new listeners. Instead, we vowed to make the genre accessible to all comers. Today, we’re still coming up with new ways of demystifying the subject. Our latest book Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Classical Music…But Were Too Afraid To Ask has spent no fewer than eight weeks in the Sunday Times bestsellers list.
Inevitably, the rise of the internet has meant that we have needed to reassess how listeners engage with classical music online. One of the many benefits for us in being part of Global Radio has been the substantial investment in developing Classic FM’s presence online.
Just a few weeks ago, we launched a completely new website for Classic FM, built and designed from scratch in-house by Global Radio’s Interactive Digital team. Our aim is simple: to create the world’s number one classical music destination, packed full of in-depth features, interviews and reviews, all enhanced by great new audio-visual elements.
Global’s developers have also been hard at work creating a completely new suite of iPhone, iPad and Ipod Touch apps, with a fresh look, as well as brand new streaming technology. So now, as well as being able to hear the radio, our listeners can see beautiful visuals and the latest news and pictures linking directly to what’s playing on air at any given time.
Two decades ago we reinvented how people across the UK enjoyed and discovered classical music on the radio. Now, we’re doing the same thing digitally. The future for classical music – on radio and online – has never looked brighter.
Read more about Classic FM’s 20th in this week’s eRADIO.