Classic FM to offer Bach and banter

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The Independent Online
Britain's first national commercial radio station goes on the air on Monday, offering listeners a curious mixture of classical music, quiz games and racing tips.

John Spearman, chief executive of Classic FM, introduced the station's schedule yesterday and said his initial target was an audience of 2.8 million, about 7 per cent of the national audience.

Test transmissions - on 99.9- 101.9 FM - begin at midday tomorrow, with the first scheduled broadcast at 6am on Monday. On Wednesday, David Mellor, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, will formally open the station's high-tech studio in Camden Town, north London.

The studio contains a small auditorium where a maximum of four musicians will give live performances for an hour every night. There will be one or two live concerts a week, plus the occasional live opera. The rest of the output will be recorded. News bulletins will be broadcast on the hour.

The segment from 6am to 9am, presented by Nick Bailey, will feature sport, weather, finance, travel and traffic reports. Between 9am and noon, Henry Kelly will deliver what the station describes as 'Bach, Brahms, and banter'. The programme will also include racing tips and competitions.

At midday, Susannah Simmons will host a 'heady two-hour mixture of music and serious conversation on a wide range of issues and themes', followed by an hour- long lunchtime concerto, and a three-hour programme of 'the world's most beautiful music' presented by Petroc Trelawny.

Between 6pm and 7pm, Margaret Howard will be on air with the day's news, music and arts stories.

After the Classic FM Concert at 8pm, Adrian Love will guide the station through the last two hours of the day, and into a six-hour night-time programme presented by Andre Leon and Robert Booth.

Research shows that 70 per cent of listeners will be in the ABC1 category favoured by up-market advertisers. The company, whose shareholders include TimeWarner International and Associated Newspapers, said it had sold pounds 1.3m of advertising in two months, and was aiming for a target of pounds 10m a year.

Initially, only about three-quarters of the population will be able to hear the service, with the rest of the country being covered gradually by new transmitters.

Mr Spearman criticised the BBC for reducing consumer choice in its recent changes to Radio 3. He said that although Michael Checkland, Director-General of the BBC, spoke yesterday of extending choice, the new Radio 3 format was clearly aimed at pre-empting Classic FM.

Classic FM was originally meant to be a contrast to the more solemn approach of Radio 3, but the changes made by Nicholas Kenyon, its new controller, have narrowed the gap. The changes have been much criticised by regular Radio 3 listeners.

Mr Spearman said there was room for both stations. He thought most listeners to Classic FM would be drawn from Radios 1, 2 and 4. Michael Bukht, programme controller, said it would be a popular music station, pointing out that the classics were the pop music of their day.