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Julia Lester: ABC Classic FM’s problems stem from the ABC

Graham Strahle
| September 28, 2015

High staff losses and heavy funding cuts at ABC Classic FM are the blame of the ABC itself, not the Federal Government. Julia Lester said this shortly before retiring from the station’s airwaves on 24 September. She mentioned that in the last financial year alone, Classic FM suffered a 25 per cent loss of staff and a 17 per cent cut in funding, whereas the ABC’s budget as a whole dropped by nearly 10 per cent.

Broadcaster hit out at the ABC on the eve of retiring from ABC Classic FM

Broadcaster hit out at the ABC on the eve of retiring from ABC Classic FM

“It was the ABC’s choice to deliver the cuts to Classic FM the way that it happened, not the Federal Government’s,” said Lester. “I think it’s an expression of a lack of interest in classical music by the ABC.” The Classic Drive presenter added, “It’s a huge kick in the guts to Classic FM music,” and said, “I personally think it’s the ABC’s duty in our charter to support music and music-making, and in a genuine way.”

Next to leave the 39 year-old station will be fellow veteran broadcaster Marian Arnold in October. She retires after a 34-year career in broadcasting.

Meanwhile, ABC Classic FM manager Richard Buckham has said the impact from imposed cuts were kept to a minimum and that there were “very few alterations to the station’s schedule in 2015”.

What the future holds for ABC Classic FM nevertheless remains seriously in question given the low priority that the ABC evidently attaches to the station.

Overseas, some commentators have been warning of a “tipping point” being faced by classical music on terrestrial radio. However, recent research in the US by the Station Resource Group and a group of classical stations has found that “Listenership has increased on a national basis over the past three years”, and that “audience trends for 31 stations from spring 2012 through spring 2015 and found positive indicators of the health and viability of the classical format”.

Streaming services are yet to get it right with classical music, argues Anastasia Tsioulcas, an associate producer for NPR Music. She says problems over incomplete or erroneous metadata make classical music “hard to enjoy on streaming services”.

It might be a miscalculation for the ABC to believe, as it appears to do, that classical music listening is headed towards streaming services.


  1. James McCarthy

    This gutlessness on the part of ABC managment, if true, will be nothing short of disasterous for classical music. Of course, there have been many at the ABC who would like to fashion Classic FM in the vulgar mould of Britain’s Classic FM. Pop driven rubbish. Add to that the ABC’s appalling obsession with sport, is another nail in the coffin of quality broadcasting.


  2. Paul Cutlan

    I’ve been listening to Classic FM on and off for almost the whole time of its existence, first from Tasmania and now in Sydney. The popularity and respect for presenters like Julia and Marian, their knowledge and passion cannot be bought or manufactured. Their enthusiasm and support for the highest standards of music making in many different genres in Australia and overseas is so valuable. I also have listened to a bit of BBC Classic FM and it doesn’t come close to the quality of what is produced here. This came as quite a surprise. It is so sad to see how much has been stripped from Classic FM – I will never listen to an unmanned overnight program, whereas I once would tune in on long drives back from concerts when there were presenters. The loss of new music up late and jazztrack may not concern many, but in reality we’re talking about the gradual silencing and ignoring of a whole vibrant community of artists who are working extremely hard to enrich the cultural landscape of this country and its reputation overseas. ABC Classic FM is one of the only national platforms to diffuse a whole art form and it is unforgivable that the programs that supported them are now extinct.

  3. Jane

    It’s very sad to see one of the best classical music stations in the world gradually fading out.
    When I lived in the USA for two decades it was such a relief to return to Australia and relish in the quality of the programming and outstanding presentation. To see the value of Classic FM gurgle down the plughole is heartbreaking.

    1. Jan Croggon

      Hear hear!!
      It’s a tragedy. We have something special here.
      Don’t lose it, ABC, and please don’t let us down – we are more than football coverage. Whatever would we do without Classic FM?
      Best wishes to beautiful Marian.

  4. robyn purcell

    What!!!! i have just read that it is the ABC who are making cuts and drastic changes to Classic FM.
    i could not exist without ClassicFM – it is part of my waking day and onwards!! – i think ABCs management should look at itself and for those who are interested in red tape and promotion and NOT Cultural interests, then they should get a job in the Bank!!!

    what wonderful, dedicated people are those, working for little wages, all i can say, is WELL DONE, Classic FM staff.

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