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.
“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.