This page is about a British national commercial radio station called Classic FM. I'll be praising it - to an extent - and also quite heavily criticising it.
I usually listen to Classic FM. Well, I say listen, but that implies sitting actively paying attention to it. More correctly, Classic FM is usually on. I have a pair of Sonos One speakers in the kitchen, set as a stereo pair, and a pair of Sonos Threes at my desk, again set as a stereo pair, and both pairs are a group, so all speakers play the same thing. I'm very choosy and picky with"pop" music, so I rarely play pop stations, and talk stations just irritate me. So, in general, there's classical music burbling away in the background most of the time.
Classic FM has been around for something like 10 years. It's a comparative rarity for two reasone - one, it's about the only truly national commercial station, and two, it's one of only two classical music stations in the UK, the other being Radio Three, from the BBC. I'm not fond of R3, for a number of reasons, so I stick with Classic FM.
So, what's good about it?
Well, primarily, it plays classical music (though this should be read in conjunction with one of the 'bad abouts', below). I like classical music, and have done for years. That's not to say I don't like other styles of music, because I do, and many of them. But for most home-based radio work I'll choose classical please. It doesn't play massively lengthy unintelligible symphonies by composers very few of us have heard of, but sticks with the old standards, your Bach, Beethoven, Vivaldi, your Mozart, and if you have only a passing interest in classical you'll recognise a lot of the station's output, if not by name, then certainly by melody.
Most of its presenters are good, chatty, friendly down-to-earth likeable sorts of people. One of my favourites does the breakfast show, so I hear him on my way to the office. Another one, a lady, does the 1pm show, which I hear when I'm occasionally working at home. They roll in the odd familiar name to sweeten the pot, mainly at weekends, including a well-known gardening chap.
I'm struggling here to wheel in anything else that's specifically good about the station to be honest, so the above is a rather short list, so let's step forward to ......
So, what's bad about it?
This will be a much longer list....
I'm absolutely certain it's mostly pay-for-play. Either record labels or perhaps the performers themselves stump up a few bob to have their work played on the station. Not just new releases, no, constantly. The name of one particular German orchestra pops up time and time again, as does that of a certain pianist. There's a particular favourite piece of mine, Bach's Brandenburg Concerto number 5. Wikipedia says "The concerto is well suited throughout to showing off the qualities of a fine harpsichord and the virtuosity of its player, but especially in the lengthy solo cadenza to the first movement". In other words, an orchestral concerto which includes a long, and very lovely, harpsichord solo. As a popular piece of music it's on the station quite often. Yet, never once have I heard it there with harpsichord. Every single time I've heard it the harpsichord has been replaced by piano, and every time, the piano is played by the same damned woman. Every time. The piano, I'm sure you'll agree, is no substitute for harpshichord in a piece which was specifically written for harpsichord! May I also be permitted to offer my opinion that the piano version is really not very good or very nice at all. Our lady pianist seems to be hell-bent on thrashing her keyboard to within an inch of its life, and she appears to have little control of her timing, as we hear when listening to the solo wandering up and down the speed readings. I'll wager a good sum of money that this is pay-for-play.
Advertising. Of course, it's a commercial radio station, so we must expect advertisements. But if the station has been on quietly in the background for getting on for 8 hours, you're beginning to get mighty sick of the repetition. It seems like that at any one time the station carries maybe a dozen different adverts, and reels them out one after the other. I really do think that, for the sake of its listeners' sanity the station should take on a greater portfolio, and perhaps of some better quality advertising works.
At the time of writing, February 2016, some of the delights we're suffering:
- Some wretched and grossly irritating adverts from a dental implants bunch. These grotesque people advertise on Classic FM constantly, sometimes what seems like 6 or 8 times a day, and have done for months. Looking them up, I see their premises are in Wimpole Street in London, second only to the famed Harley Street for classy and pricy medical matters. So these people advertise constantly, have Wimpole Street premises. Listen, you're not going to get economy-class dental implants from these jokers! They use their own "customers" to voice their ads, including one guy who, judging by his accent and general demeanour, would never be able to afford the bloody things in a lifetime of saving, and a really sly-sounding old duffer whom you could easily picture sitting stroking a white cat and saying "Ah, Mr Bond, we meet again" as he fires up the laser gun. At least they've got rid of that awful Irish woman, you remember, the one that sounded like she was stifling a yawn and who had, and I quote, "sticky-out teeth". God help us.
- Some godawful Welsh creature who does voice-overs for an ocean cruise company. Apart from the Welsh bit - unfortunate, but we'll gloss over that - it's the script that is so detestable that it's actually pathetically funny. For example, something along the lines of "Day 3, we arrive ...blah blah... and Montenegro lays before us. If only I could spell it." Guys, whoever is responsible for this should be lined up and shot. 'Lays' is just plain bad grammar; try 'lies'. And excuse me, what could possibly be so difficult about the spelling of Montenegro??? It could well be the most easily spelt foreign place name on the planet! Having to listen to this tripe, plus its stable mate, in which the Welsh guy speaks of being so amazed by some sight that he nearly dropped his breakfast sausage, is worse than dentistry sans anaesthesia. Who gives a bugger about a banger? But if I was on a fancy (I use the word advisedly) cruise I'd hope for a little more than a sausage for breakfast. But really, Welsh? Good grief.
And in breaking news - an extraordinary development: only yesterday (Leap Day, 29 Feb 2016) I heard the wretched Montenegro advertisement YET again. But I almost fell off my chair and dropped my breakfast sausage when I heard that Montenegro now apparently lies before us. Clearly, I must not have been the only one to complain (and I recently spotted that Jan Leeming mentioned it in her blog) about laying! So the halfwitted grammarless dolts have dragged the unbearable Welsh bloke back in and had him re-record the voiceover. About bloody time, that's all I can say - my email complaint was a number of months ago, and was entirely ignored. But come on writers, do please also attend to the Montenegro spelling difficulty too, because claiming he was unable to spell it is just totally insulting to we listeners of this tripe.
I sent an email to Jan Leeming at the address given on her website, saying, yay, it looked like we had won! She didn't reply of course, what could I expect from a, and I use the word advisedly, "celebrity"?
Then, just when you thought you'd heard the last of one particular campaign, not having heard it for weeks ... it's back! This time it's some tired old American actor pretending to represent a home insurance company, who thinks that a landlord is some sort of wise guy. Why? Explain. Many of us are landlords and I think we're quite ordinary.
I suppose I should now add the utterly meaningless and mind-numbingly repetitive balls which seems to conclude every single bloody advert:
Terms and Conditions Apply
What mindless crap is that! What the hell can it possibly mean???
Enough of advertising. Let's look at the content of the station. In 'what's good', above, I spoke of the likeable presenters. But, on the other hand, there's one, a woman, who is, thankfully, only on duty once a week, who has THE most boring voice you'll ever hear, and who is very obviously reading out every single word from a pre-prepared script. Absolutely toneless in her delivery, her programme is a very definite 'let's listen to Pink or Alanis or somebody for a while'.
Then there's the Sunday afternoon 'chart show'. Chart, yes you heard. This is the classical Top 20. It's even on at about the same time I, as a youngster, used to listen to the proper Top 20. So, the classical Top 20. This is obviously based on the numbers of Vivaldi and Mozart 45's bought down at the local record shop on a Saturday morning, by spotty youths and their girlfriends, right? During the countdown from 20 to "this week's number one!" the presenter is dropping hints and playfully teasing us about whether so-and-so will still be at number one this week!! (That would presumably depend on how much folding money so-and-so handed over?).
Then, at a time when, after a busy Saturday, it would be quite pleasant to stick the radio on, about 5pm, during the kitchen-potter. Music from the Movies, 5pm, Saturday. Please forgive me, but the Star Wars theme, or the bit where Harrison Ford jumps off something, is NOT classical music, just irritating music, which always seems to have some halfwit with a tin whistle sliding up the scale and hitting the top notes (have you noticed?).
So there you go, my opinion of Classic FM. Irritating and really rather annoying though it is, I'll probably keep listening, well, hearing it, to be more accurate, in the hopes that the Welsh twit falls overboard while trying to retrieve his bloody sausage.
Final words - they do a decent news bulletin, their traffic news is usually pretty accurate, and their weather forecasts are accurate enough. Oh, and that female who advertises their dating service (their what??? Unbelievable.) really does have a lovely voice, though of course, terms and conditions apply.
And I'll leave you with one final question to ponder - classical music pieces can be anything from 2 minutes to well over a quarter of an hour. Isn't it uncanny that, after several pieces of music, some dentistry, and a couple of ocean cruises, the news always starts within a minute of its appointed time? Ah, the glory of the computer! Maybe it's not just Mrs Boring who reads from a script eh? See the Telegraph article I've reproduced at the bottom of the page.
Strangely and coincidentally, the following article appeared in The Daily Telegraph just a couple of days after I wrote the above. I do hope the nice people at The Telegraph won't mind me reproducing it here.
Terms and Conditions Apply
Being absolutely sick to the back teeth of the ridiculous Welsh person who can't spell Montenegro and the sad and tired old American actor pretending to represent an insurance company, I spent a day with BBC Radio Three. I followed this with a couple of early evening pre-dinner listens. No. I hate it. They play far too much choral stuff, the sort of stuff where one of the men in the group sings falsetto and probably has a limp wrist. Add to this the "special guest" spot, in which some strange Northern poet chap (poetry? What the hell is THAT?) pretended to love and appreciate a really very very strange string quartet piece, in which all four instruments simply slide up and down the scale, and was supposed to represent something to do with 9/11. He said you could imagine those aeroplanes coming in to smack into a Twin Tower. What utter crap. So I'm not going to be bothering with Three again thanks, far too simperingly pretentious for my liking. And thus, I guess if I want to listen to classical music it's Classic FM and the dental implants. On the other hand, I did find what I think is a South African classical station on the Sonos internet radio station list which might be ok. We shall see..........