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Renewed Uncertainty Over ABC Classic FM’s Future

Grigoryan Brothers in ABC Classic FM live broadcast from the NGV. Image Credit:: Twitter (via Alice Keath)
Graham Strahle
| June 6, 2018

ABC Classic FM could be facing “severe cuts” or even closure as part of sweeping changes that are being considered by the national broadcaster. Radio Today reports that the station “is understood to be on the chopping block, or to face severe cuts” following the $84.7m funding freeze imposed on the ABC in the May Federal budget. A merger between Radio National and ABC News Radio is another of the cost saving measures “actively being discussed”, it says.

Radio Info writes that “what is being discussed could bring about the most radical changes for the corporation in decades”.

So it seems ABC Classic FM faces yet further turmoil just weeks into Toby Chadd’s tenure as the station’s new Content Manager.

All looks fine for the time being. An informant has told Music Australia that Chadd recently emailed ABC Classic FM staff assuring them that the ABC has not proposed closing the station. However, this still leaves open the possibility that the station might be faced with a further round of staff cuts, or even that it might turn into a streaming only service.

A year ago fears arose that Classic FM might be taken off the (expensive) FM band and exist as a digital-only webcasting service.

More serious would be if as a streaming radio service it did away with (expensive) live content and shifted entirely to automated playlists and pre-recorded voicing. Classic FM briefly tried this idea in 2016 for its Overnight program by switching across to the Classic 2 streaming service from midnight to 6am, before relenting due to listener complaints.

Great radio depends on live content. This means having on-air presenters and, for classical music, a healthy diet of direct concert broadcasts. Both of these ingredients set radio apart from the packaged offerings of music streaming services.

This is how the BBC’s Director of Radio and Music, Bob Shennan, sees it. Speaking recently to the UK Radio Academy, he said:

“In a world of almost endless choice, the role of the taste-maker is key. In a world of global impacts, only Radio still genuinely commits to promoting the new. More than half the music [BBC popular music station] Radio 1 plays in daytime is from new artists. Half the repertoire is UK based. And Radio 1 has scale too. Ten million weekly listeners, including a third of all 15-24 year- olds.”

Radio’s defining ability, suggests Shennan, is that of serving as a launchpad for new artists and covering live events; and doing both together makes for “a powerful formula” that underpins all music radio. The BBC Proms is but one example: broadcast live each year on classical station Radio 3, he describes this as “the world’s greatest festival of classical music, with over 90 concerts every summer and as many years under its belt as any BBC event”.

Read Shennan’s speech here.

One hopes that the ABC’s management can show similar wisdom and confer a strong future on Classic FM.

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