Media: Haydn in small helpings: As Classic FM moves into Europe, David Lister looks at the effects of the station on UK listeners' tastes

Classic FM knows the proportion of its listeners who eat marmalade. From next week the exhaustive market research it has undertaken will include the percentage that eats Gouda cheese; from next year it could extend to sauerkraut and Danish bacon.

Assisted by yesterday's figures from Rajar (Radio Joint Audience Research, funded by the BBC and commercial radio) showing its audience increasing to 4.7 million with a sharp rise in ABC1 listening hours, the 16-month-old station has imperial ambitions. Its press conference next week will be in Amsterdam, where it has been awarded one of the first commercial FM licences in the Netherlands.

The format will be similar to that in the UK, with many of the same programmes in English and the news, weather and adverts in Dutch. There will also be jazz in the evenings. But this is not just cultural colonisation. Dutch radio advertising has been growing steadily and is predicted to produce pounds 74m next year. Classic FM has just moved into profit for the first time with advertising revenues bringing in pounds 1m a month and accounting for 80 per cent of income with sponsorship 20 per cent, a ratio that was 50- 50 for much of its first year. With a European base, the cash could really start to flow.

Small wonder that for Sir Peter Michael, the electronics supremo who is Classic FM's chairman, the Netherlands is merely the entry point into Europe. 'Our long-term objective is to build a European network for the station,' he says. 'We've all been slightly startled by the scale of the success, and it makes you wonder if there might not be a similar potential audience that is unsatisfied across Europe.

'Many of the broadcasting rationales in Europe stem from BBC models. The Netherlands has its own Radio 3. But now all the European countries that have previously guarded their national broadcasters as sacrosanct are going to deregulate. We're looking across Scandinavia, Germany and northern Europe at the moment. We get 4.7 million per week listening in Britain. We see that doubling in the next four to five years by going into Europe.'

As Classic FM trades on its undoubted success, it is a good moment to ask just what effect that success has had. Certainly it has found a large new audience for classical music, at least classical music in bite-sized chunks; a movement rather than a whole symphony, an interview, a chat, a racing tip, a weekly chart countdown. Yes, the evening schedules allow for more full-length works than the daytime programmes, and the Sunday afternoon education programme Masterclass, with its pounds 2.2m sponsorship by Nestle, has had hundreds of schools subscribe for tapes and notes and increased its audience fourfold in its first four months.

But in the main the joy of Classic FM remains its largely popular repertoire from the 20,000 tracks on its playlist chosen by Robin Ray, the former host of Face the Music, who has inconspicuously become one of the most powerful arbiters of musical taste in Britain. The excerpts from each musical work are usually short and the presentation chatty and friendly.

The natural assumption is that finding several million new listeners for classical music would have had an equally positive effect on musical life in Britain. Record sales and concert attendances should have soared. But the surprising result is that the reverse is true. Both have gone down in the first year of Classic FM. The station is indeed altering tastes, but perhaps in a way no one expected.

Jeremy Eckstein, editor of the Policy Studies Institute's Cultural Trends, was one of those who was shocked to discover these effects. 'There is a negative correlation between Classic FM's success and classical album sales,' he says. 'When I asked record companies if their sales had gone up because of Classic FM, they said no way. They say that now you can get first-class quality music free on the air in bite- size chunks, why bother to go out and buy it? There are isolated phenomena such as Gorecki (the contemporary minimalist Polish composer whom Classic FM got to the top of the classical charts) and a small effect from the Saturday morning chart countdown, but generally there's little positive effect.'

Classical album sales were 16.7 million in 1990, 13.5 million in 1992, falling to 12.8 million in 1993, Classic FM's first year of operation. Attendances at classical music concerts over the past year are harder to come by, but the Royal Festival Hall says it has been at best static.

However, for one genre sales have been going through the roof. Look for the word 'essential', the classical equivalent of pop's greatest hits. It features in many of the top 10 classic albums. And when they are not essential they are usually still compilations, classic romance or classic weepies. In the current classical top 10 there are seven compilations including Classic Weepies, The World of Classical Romance, Essential Opera 2 and The World of Classical Favourites. Andrea Turner, product manager for Classical Music with WH Smith, which sponsors the Classic FM chart and displays the top 10, says record companies are bringing out more compilations as Classic FM's influence grows.

And at the top of the current chart is not a compilation but a piece of contemporary music, Michael Nyman's score for the film The Piano, which is played repeatedly on the station. The message is clear. Classic FM does not just play the best-selling music on a weekly basis; it creates that music, or at least the way it is compiled and marketed. EMI even brought out The Sound of Classic FM and sold 100,000 copies, and sales of the company's Callas and Domingo compilations leapt after it bought airtime on the station.

But while Classic FM has succeeded in getting listeners to buy the popular music in compilations that they hear on the station, has it encouraged its 4.7 million listeners to widen their classical horizons? When I asked people in the field, I found the first reservations in their general acclaim.

Roger Lewis, director of the Classical Division at EMI, says: 'Classic FM is a wonderful, never-ending sampler to classical music, but it's a sampler and there's another classical experience beyond Classic FM. It has certainly helped to break down some of the more intimidatory aspects of the genre with its friendly, welcoming style, but it doesn't make people rush out and buy classical music.

'That is a result of the presentational style that will not emphasise unduly a particular work. They play a movement of a Haydn symphony and let the music speak for itself. The listener might go into a shop to buy some Haydn, but won't know which work it was, let alone that it was Simon Rattle conducting.'

Judy Grahame, co-founder of CD Direct, a direct mail classical CD company, and spokeswoman for The Philharmonia Orchestra, is a fan of the station but acknowledges that getting an artist on to Classic FM does not translate into ticket sales at a concert in the way that an interview with a conductor or soloist in a newspaper invariably does.

It is an anxiety echoed by Graham Sheffield, director of music at the South Bank Centre, which contains the Royal Festival and Queen Elizabeth halls. 'Classic FM encourages the soundbite culture, the compilation CD culture,' he says, 'and that's the main negative point about a station I'm generally in favour of. I would like to see them encouraging curiosity in their audience with more live concerts.'

Classic FM is now causing those who present classical concerts to wonder about their traditions and conventions in the same way it caused the record companies to put out more compilations. Chris Lawrence, managing director of the London Philharmonic orchestra, says: 'We haven't cracked how to get the Classic FM audience into concerts yet and we have to ask if concert halls are welcoming places.'

Meanwhile Classic FM is responding to these concerns. It played only 120 hours of live concerts in its first year, but relayed 11 full concerts over the two-week Christmas period. Significantly, it has now decided to give the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra pounds 500,000 a year sponsorship, pounds 200,000 more than the RPO's public subsidy. This is bound to ensure more live music on the station. Classic FM is, in other words, moving directly into Radio 3 territory.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Analyst Programmer (Filemaker Pro/ SQL) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days, pension, private medical : Ashdown Group: A highly...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm - London

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

Sauce Recruitment: Financial Accountant -Home Entertainment

£200 - £250 per day: Sauce Recruitment: 6 month contract (Initially)A global e...

Sauce Recruitment: Financial Accountant -Home Entertainment

£200 - £250 per day: Sauce Recruitment: 6 month contract (Initially)A global e...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project