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Television & Modern Life

Categories: MusicTelevision

Its daily schedule resembles that of a popular commercial station. It fits in with an ‘average’ daily routine with ‘Classic FM’s Easier Breakfast’, ‘Lunchtime Requests’ and ‘Drive Time’. It could be argued that this replicates the idea that radio is a medium that can be enjoyed whilst doing something else, rather than television that demands more of your attention. The station attempts to make the programmes more popular by using ‘famous’ presenters for example ‘Henry Kelly’ and ‘David Mellor’. Classic FM also frequently promotes their ‘Hall of Fame’ (as already mentioned) with weekly ‘Hall of Fame’ concerts.

The feel is very much interactive, as if the listener is ‘special’ and ‘valued’. The fact that they can call in and request and dedicate their favourite song is one of the ways in which this is achieved. The fact that the station also promotes ‘classical’ music creates the impression that the audience is getting ‘high art’ – a ‘cultural’ experience. But what has happened to twentieth century music – why aren’t the more obscure pieces broadcast? The answer is: It wouldn’t appeal to the audience.

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Schoenberg and other such composers are rarely played, as their music just doesn’t adhere to Classic FM’s commercialism.

It is impossible to end without mentioning the work of the philosopher T.W. Adorno. His ideas are central to radio music and this argument. Adorno argues that radio music fundamentally damages the way we listen to music. He heralds from the Frankfurt school of sociology – which focuses on aesthetics in music; based on social criticism.

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Classic FM, within the work of Adorno, would represent in the most condensed form, the type of radio music he described.

Classic FM is exploitative and commercial. Essentially, money making is more important than the actual music itself. Classical music is, Adorno argues, supposed to be heard and enjoyed live; consequently, the radio is an inappropriate medium for such music. However, due to the cost of going to a concert hall today, it could be argued that many people are unable to experience classical music in any other way. Radio 3 may have more freedom in how and what it broadcasts, due to the license fee, but both stations are giving people the opportunity to hear music they might not otherwise be able to.

However, Classic FM are taking Classical Music, cutting it up, packaging it with a star and putting a price tag on it (available in their own CD shop of course). This mass-produced item is then played over the airways as ‘classical’ music. The most significant impact on Radio 3 was that that they thought as a station they had to compete with Classic FM in order top survive. By making the presentation more cosy and informal, and diluting the content of programmes, so that argument runs, (it is hoped) that the audience that theoretically has deserted Radio 3 for the commercial station will come running back. (Clements in The Guardian 1998)

Radio 3 have sought to become more commercial in their programming. The weekday drive-time shows – On Air on weekday mornings from 6am to 9am followed by Peter Hobday’s Masterworks until 10.30, is now prolonged by the Artist of the Week, in which Joan Bakewell mixes interviews with a famous performer or conductor with short musical extracts. Brian Kay presents a Sunday morning show, that would be more at home on Classic FM. It is evident that at peak times, Radio 3 have tried to attract a wider audience, by broadcasting more popular, ‘softer’ material – with famous hosts. However, delving deeper into their scheduling it is clear that much of the old Radio 3 is still in existence.

If you look harder at the Radio 3 schedules peak beneath all the packaging and listener-friendly interfaces, a good deal of its special character has been preserved – there are still programmes that are provocative and challenging, that neither patronise nor condescend, and offer repertoire and performances that would be very hard to hear, even at a time when more music than ever is available on CD (Clements in The Guardian 1998)

Undoubtedly Classic FM has affected Radio 3. But it is infact from Radio 2 that Classic FM have gained more of their listeners. Radio 3 offers a unique fusion of music and information. They broadcast concerts that would be difficult, even impossible to attend – bringing something to their audience that is special. They support the principles that Reith originally laid as the foundation of the BBC. The changes in their programming can of course be attributed in part to Classic FM, but I would argue that there are wider cultural reasons, in the form of increasing commercialism and competitiveness.

It is difficult to fairly compare Radio 3 and Classic FM as their objectives, target audience and overall aims are very different. The radio itself is having to compete with so many other mediums that its very future is in the balance. The BBC remains an entity on its own. It still has the autonomy of the licence fee to enable minority stations such as Radio 3 to exist. The commercial stations have to constantly battle with issues of finance and profit, thus their airplay, scheduling and style is so contrasting.

As for Classic FM, it undoubtedly has positive aspects, in terms of the wide audience it attracts listening to ‘classical’ music for perhaps the first time. However, it is interested first and foremost in making money and its broadcasting is slanted accordingly. Music and the Radio Essay 1: Did ‘the world’s most beautiful music’ strike a mortal blow to ‘the cultural fabric of the nation’? Discuss the impact of Classic FM on Radio 3.


Scannell, P (1990) ‘Public Service Broadcasting: The History of a Concept’in Understanding Television ed. A Goodwin and G. Whannel

London: Routledge

Scannell, P (1996) ‘Radio, Television & Modern Life’

London: Blackwell Publishers

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Television & Modern Life. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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