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Classic FM is one of the United Kingdommarker's three Independent National Radio stations, broadcasting classical music in a popular and accessible style.


Classic FM broadcasts nationally on FM and digital radio and is available internationally by streaming audio over the Internet.As well as playing older music, the station plays several modern film scores.

Its presenters include Nick Bailey, Simon Bates, John Brunning, Henry Kelly, Katie Derham, Lesley Garrett, Myleene Klass, Mark Forrest, Margherita Taylor, David Mellor, Natalie Wheen, Helen Mayhew, Nicola Bonn, Matthew Stiff, Jane Jones, Anne-Marie Minhall, Howard Goodall, Alex James, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, Tim Lihoreau, Mark Forrest and Jamie Crick. Past presenters include Stephen Fry, Richard Baker, Margaret Howard, Stefan Buczacki, Petroc Trelawny, Paul Gambaccini, Mike Read, Mark Griffiths, Aled Jones, Lisa Duncombe, Nicholas Tresilian and Rob Cowan.

Classic FM is known for its annual "Hall of Fame", comprising the 300 most popular pieces voted for by the listeners. The Number 1 spot was occupied consistently for many years by Max Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1. However, more recently Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 and Mozart's Clarinet Concerto have taken first place. In 2007, 2008 and 2009, the top spot on the Hall of Fame was "The Lark Ascending" by Ralph Vaughan Williams.


The idea for a national, commercial FM network devoted to classical music originated with the management at GWR group, an entrepreneurial group of UK commercial radio stations. It had been operating a trial programme on its AM frequencies in Wiltshiremarker and Bristolmarker, testing audience reaction to a regular drive-time programme of popular classical music. It proved very successful and the company's CEO, Ralph Bernard, and programme director, Michael Bukht, drew up the plans for a national station.

Meanwhile Brian Brolly, formerly the CEO of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Group, had a similar idea in 1990. After failing to raise sufficient funds for the project Brolly's consortium was approached by GWR Group and the two merged. The UK Government had decided to award several new national radio licenses and invited tenders. Brolly had brought the idea to Rick Senat, the long-serving head of business affairs in London for Warner Brothers and current owner of Hammer Films. Initially rejected by Warner Brothers, Senat showed the project to the President of Time Warner International Broadcasting, Tom McGrath, himself a former classical musician and conductor. Time Warner agreed to back the project but was prohibited under then current UK law from owning more than a 25% interest.

GWR created a business plan which was supported by its major shareholder, DMGT publishers of the Daily Mail. An internal dispute over ownership of the licence was resolved and the consortium was completed after Time Warner agreed to back GWR's plans for the station. As time was running out to raise the £6m needed to launch the station, the GWR investment team spent two days presenting to and finally persuading private investor Sir Peter Michael to back the plan with a 30% investment. The founding shareholder group that launched Classic FM was GWR (17%), DMGT (5%), several other smaller shareholders and the two largest shareholders, Sir Peter Michael and Time Warner.

The Radio Authority had granted an exemption so that Time Warner could hold more than 25% provided a UK citizen/corporation was larger in the shareholding group. The station rejected the "BBC Radio 3" style of presentation and took as its model New Yorkmarker's WNYCmarker and WGMS in Washington, D.C.marker, with their more populist mix of talk, light classical music, new artists and crossover classical records.

During the station's test transmissions between July and September 1992, Classic FM broadcast a continuous soundtrack of birds singing and other countryside sounds. The "birdsong" test transmissions became a famous landmark of British radio and attracted many newspaper articles and comment prior to the station's launch, including one live comment during BBC Radio 4's Test Match Special when commentator Brian Johnston referred to listening to the birdsong, much to the fury of BBC management who were fearful of Classic FM's impending launch.

The birdsong recording was made in the Wiltshire garden of the station's chief engineer who is also credited with the idea of using the soundtrack as test material rather than playing back to back music which would otherwise have been expected. Consequently, the sound and style of the station remained a complete mystery to listeners, critics and rivals alike until it launched at 6am on 7 September 1992. This birdsong recording could later be heard on the temporary DAB station "Birdsong", which replaced Oneword when it closed down.

Today Global Radio, the UK's largest radio station ownership group, owns the station. Classic FM moved to its current studio location, the 2nd floor of 30 Leicester Square in March 2006. The first programme to be broadcast live from there was Mark Griffiths' programme on Sunday, 26 March.

(Source: Radio & Records, Billboard magazine, The Times)


At the heart of Classic FM's identity from the start was its playlist of popular classics. At launch it was compiled over the first few years by Robin Ray who over a period of time brought 50,000 items of music into the playlist, and personally awarded each a star rating assessing its popular appeal. These ratings proved remarkably accurate when subsequently tested by audience research. They immediately marked the station out from Radio 3, which tended to broadcast less popular works. However, the influence of Classic FM, it has been claimed, in popularising classical music (which has long been seen as possessing a declining market) has had an effect on the music choices of other radio stations, including BBC Radio 3.

Classic FM accepted an idea by Quentin Howard (who, at the time, was Programme Director of GWR and acting Chief Engineer of Classic FM) to use a computerised playlist system rather than producer-selected music for each show. Selector software developed by RCS Inc in the United Statesmarker, which had previously been used only for pop music, was adapted for Classical music by Howard, Robin Ray and others to include many more fields and categories and deal with many more rotation rules to create a playlist from the 50,000 listed tracks; the first "officially broadcast" track was "Zadok the Priest".

As Mr Justice Lightman stated when deciding a copyright dispute over the playlist in favour of Robin Ray against Classic FM:
"A detailed categorisation of each track of music in [Classic FM's] library fed as a data base into Selector enabled Selector to select the individual track for any hour of the day in accordance with any choice of programme made by reference to a combination of categories by a programme director. The particular advantage of the Selector system was that it enabled [Classic FM] to provide a balanced rotation of music, composers and performers and to reflect in the frequency of choice of track and in the choice of time when it was played its popularity and mood, and to avoid repetition or the personal preference of the presenter influencing the selection of the music played on the air." (Robin Ray v Classic FM Plc [1998] FSR 622)

Nowadays, nearly every radio station in the world uses Selector, or similar computer packages like Powergold, for the same effect.

Classic FM currently has a music team who create playlists for the station, commission music research with listeners as well as choosing the repertoire for the station's CDs, magazines and concerts. The current Head of Music is Sam Jackson.


Classic FM named a Composer-in-Residence in 2004, Joby Talbot. Talbot created a brand new piece of classical music, scored for up to five instruments, each month for the year of his residence. The compositions were also premiered and playlisted on Classic FM. The twelve compositions form part of a larger piece, released on a CD entitled Once Around the Sun on 23 May 2005.

Classic FM named Patrick Hawes as a new Composer-in-Residence in 2006.

In May 2008, it was announced that Howard Goodall, the composer and television presenter, is to join Classic FM as the station's latest Composer-in-Residence. Goodall will also present a new programme on the station, Howard Goodall on..., beginning on 7 June 2008.


Classic FM were sponsors of Queens Park Rangers Football Club from 1992 until 1994, during which time the club was in the English Premier League.

Other media

  • Classic FM also runs an Internet Television (and formerly digital TV) channel playing classical music videos, Classic FM TV.
  • Classic FM publishes a monthly magazine, Classic FM Magazine, which presents news and reviews.

Jazz on Classic FM

On 25 December 2006 Classic FM opened a sister station theJazz, devoted to jazz music. During February 2008 it was announced that the station was to close, and broadcasting ceased at the end of March 2008. To compensate for the closure, Classic FM used to broadcast a nightly jazz programme between midnight and 2am, presented by Helen Mayhew. This change to the schedule, and a number of other changes that were brought in at the same time, including the axing of popular presenters Mark Griffiths and Lisa Duncombe, and the moving of certain presenters to different programmes and time slots, has proved unpopular with a sizeable section of Classic FM's listeners. The programme has since been replaced in late September 2008 by a two hour segment of classical music titled Midnight Classics. Meanwhile, Mark Griffiths re-emerged in March 2009 with a Classic FM-style show, broadcast live from Beijing on China Radio International every Sunday morning, which retains all the features of his former Classic FM show.


The station is owned by Global Radio.


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