Classic FM (UK)

For other uses, see Classic FM (disambiguation).
Classic FM
Broadcast area United Kingdom
Frequency FM: 99.9–101.9 MHz
11D (England/Wales/N. Ireland)
12A (Scotland)
Freeview: 731
Freesat: 721
Sky: 0106
Virgin Media: 922
First air date 7 September 1992 (1992-09-07)
Format Classical music
Language(s) English
Audience share 3.5% (June 2013, RAJAR)
Owner Global Radio
Sister stations Capital FM
Smooth Radio
Capital Xtra
Radio X

Classic FM, one of the United Kingdom's three Independent National Radio stations, broadcasts classical music.


Classic FM broadcasts nationally on FM, DAB digital radio, Freeview, satellite and cable television and is available internationally by streaming audio over the internet. As well as playing older music, the station plays several modern film scores and videogame music.

Notable current presenters

Notable past presenters


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 Wiltshire and Bristol, testing audience reaction to a regular drive-time programme of popular classical music. It proved 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 licences 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, 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 Sir Peter Michael and Time Warner (each with over 30%), GWR (17%), DMGT (5% and several other smaller shareholders.

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 York City's WNYC and WGMS in Washington, D.C., 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 attracted newspaper articles and comment prior to the station's 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. Consequently, the sound and style of the station was unknown 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.

Global Radio, the UK's largest radio station ownership group, now owns the station. Classic FM has broadcast from its current studios on the second floor of 30 Leicester Square, central London, since March 2006. The first programme to be broadcast live from there was Mark Griffiths' programme on Sunday, 26 March 2006.

Hall of Fame

Classic FM's "Hall of Fame" is broadcast annually over the four days of the Easter weekend. First broadcast in 1996 the show counts down the 300 most-popular pieces as voted for by listeners, culminating in the number one on the evening of Easter Monday.

The number one spot was occupied until 2001 by Max Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1,[1][2] and then by Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2.[3][4][5] In 2006 the top spot was taken by Mozart's Clarinet Concerto.[6] From 2007 to 2010, the top place on the Hall of Fame was taken by Ralph Vaughan Williams' "The Lark Ascending".[7][8] The 2011 "Hall of Fame" saw Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2 return to the top spot, ending Vaughan Williams' four-year run, and held the position again in 2012 and 2013. In 2014 The Lark Ascending replaced Rachmaninov which slipped back to number 2.[9][10]

Nation's Favourite Christmas Carol

Classic FM broadcasts the "Nation's Favourite Christmas Carol" in a similar format to the "Hall of Fame". The show counts down the 30 most popular Christmas carols every Christmas Day, as voted for by listeners. It began in 2001, with In the Bleak Midwinter winning the first vote.[11] The following year, Silent Night was voted the nation's favourite.[12] Every year since then the vote has been won by O Holy Night.[13][14][15]


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 accurate when subsequently tested by audience research.

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 States, 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)

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 Phil Noyce.

Composer in residence

Classic FM named a composer in residence in 2004, Joby Talbot. Talbot composed a piece, scored for up to five instruments, each month for the year of his residence. The compositions were also premiered 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 Howard Goodall, the composer and television presenter, joined Classic FM as the station's latest composer in residence. Goodall also presented a new programme on the station, Howard Goodall on..., beginning on 7 June 2008.[16]


Classic FM were sponsors of Queens Park Rangers Football Club between 1992 and 1994.

Charity: The Classic FM Foundation

The Classic FM Foundation is a grant giving charity which raises money to fund music education and music therapy projects working with children and adults throughout the UK. It was originally founded in 2006 as Classic FM Music Makers, and was renamed in 2010.

Hayley Westenra is an ambassador of the charity, which also receives support from many famous faces from the world of classical music and entertainment.

Throughout the year The Classic FM Foundation holds fundraising events including concerts, sponsored treks and an annual appeal.

Other media

Jazz on Classic FM

On 25 December 2006 Classic FM opened a sister station theJazz, devoted to jazz music. The station closed in March 2008, and Classic FM itself then broadcast a jazz programme every night between midnight and 2am until September 2008.


  1. "Bruch and Beatles top radio polls". BBC. 6 April 1999.
  2. "Gladiator soundtrack joins classics". BBC. 17 April 2001.
  3. "Rachmaninov tops classical survey". BBC. 28 March 2005.
  4. "Rachmaninov tops Classic FM poll". BBC. 12 April 2004.
  5. "Rachmaninov tops classical poll". BBC. 2 April 2002.
  6. "Mozart 'UK's favourite composer'". BBC. 18 April 2006.
  7. "Vaughan Williams tops radio vote". BBC. 24 March 2008.
  8. "Lark rises to top of classic poll". BBC. 10 April 2007.
  9. "Hall of Fame 2011". Classic FM.
  10. "Hall of Fame 2012". Classic FM.
  11. Vasagar, Jeevan (24 December 2001). "Robbie and Nicole claim pop crown". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 October 2013.
  12. "Nation's Favourite Carol Revealed". Sky News. 24 December 2002. Retrieved 5 October 2013.
  13. "O Holy night still Britain's favourite carol". Daily Mail. 22 December 2006. Retrieved 5 October 2013.
  14. "What is the UK's favourite Christmas carol?". BBC News. 15 December 2009. Retrieved 5 October 2013.
  15. "Vote for the Nation's Favourite Christmas Carol". Classic FM. Retrieved 5 October 2013.
  16. "Composer Howard Goodall Joins Classic FM". Retrieved 28 May 2008.
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