ABC Classic FM as a dynamic force in art music | The Music Trust

Richard Letts, The Music Trust
March 2015


Audiences for classical music radio stations
Broadcasters’ strategies to build young audiences
Some basic information
Proposal for a reconception of Classic FM
Some detail: a scenario for Classic Digital
1. ABC triple j
2. Foreign broadcasters’ strategies for building the young audience
2. Some speculations about the young audience

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ABC classical music radio was once a force in the land. It created and managed six concert orchestras, several professional choirs, commissioned, performed and broadcast works by Australian composers, established and managed Australia’s most important competition for young classical music performers, played an important role in music education – and more. It no longer does most of these things, sometimes for good reason. But while Classic FM fulfils its assigned role well, it has no comparable new agenda.

Western art music is one of the great accomplishments of humankind and Australians are brilliant exponents. We still perform in our communities music from across the last five centuries and more. Our composers join other world composers in carrying the art form into the future.

Surely the national broadcaster must continue to play a major role in sustaining this music and fostering its development. But the recent budget cut to the ABC has been visited disproportionately on Classic FM; it appears that it has lost 20-25% of its budget when the overall cut was 5%. While the effect is ameliorated by internal rationalisation, this cut continues a long downward trend. (The Classic FM budget is about one half of one per cent of the ABC budget; even its elimination would be almost irrelevant financially.)

This paper makes the following proposal:

The purpose of Classic FM is to be a dynamic force in the creation and dissemination of art music in Australia, attracting audiences of all ages. To this end:

1. The existing FM service would continue as now to serve its loyal audience with new and heritage music from the Western classical music tradition
2. The digital services – let us call them Classic Digital – would be established under a new concept and not as an extension of the Classic FM program
3. Classic Digital would deploy strategies to attract to art music a younger audience, say late teens to early 30s,

a. Art music is here defined as: Western classical “heritage” music; evolutionary developments of Western classical music; art music of other cultures; jazz and some Western improvised music; sound art; art music developments from Western “contemporary” popular music, and hybrids among any of these genres.

In explanation of the proposal:

1. Less than 1% of the Classic FM audience is under age 30. Current Classic FM programming and presentation has not won over a young audience
2. A separately conceived digital operation makes an opportunity for Classic FM to broaden its reach and repertoire while maintaining its present FM service/audience
3. Classic Digital can pursue a younger audience more at home with the digital formats.
4. Support to art music would update the ABC’s traditional support to classical music.

a. Western classical music is changing. Musicians are not so much locked in genre silos. Many classical musicians also perform in other genres
b. Western art music periodically reconnects to popular music culture, “the street”; we appear to have entered one of those periods.
c. Our immigrant population brings non-Western music into Australian musical life. There is much cross-genre hybridisation.
d. In this time of great change and relentless pressure from the market, it is important both to maintain the heritage and to transfer important values from the classical heritage to our future musical practices even if the music sounds much different. Classic FM and Classic Digital could be important in achieving such an outcome.

5. The diversity of the art music program may attract the interest of the younger audience

a. Sources among European broadcasters believe that young people are interested in musical diversity. Triple j presents a diversity of genres.
b. The program would include art music works from contemporary music genres attractive to young listeners. They may serve as a bridge to other genres, including Western classical.
c. In general, there is a welcoming diversity in which listeners find a bridge from the familiar to the unfamiliar – and the desire to cross the bridge. This would require very skilled programming and presentation.
d. It is understood that this proposition runs counter to the experience that people click to a station to get the expected and familiar. The expectation here might be instead that they will get the unfamiliar but cool, interesting
e. This must be a musically astute audience. Classic Digital can make sure that the audience knows that of itself and feels, consequently, special.

6. Classic Digital could play an important role as midwife to contemporary evolution of Western art music.

a. Post-WW2 Western classical music composition was of a dissonance and complexity that deterred audiences and probably created an expectation that ventures beyond the romantic and neo-classical repertoire would be unpleasant. The orchestras and even more, the opera companies, program it sparingly for financial reasons but even classical music radio tends to stick to the 18C and 19C repertoire.
b. This is understandable. However, it is inconceivable that the artform can survive if it can never be perceived as belonging to our time. An audience must be built for Western classical music of our time. In part, that requires production of new music of our time that can attract a large audience.
c. As a strategy for popularising some of these works, they could be presented in daily special programs in which there is a rotating playlist. A sort of marine park strategy: new works spread from a protected area

i. Research and commercial practice show that musical preferences are affected positively by familiarity: hence the repetition of repertoire in orchestral and opera programs and the rotating playlist of commercial radio. And yet there is almost no opportunity to hear new art music works more than once in live performance or even on radio. Here, not only are the individual works unfamiliar but often, also the genre. This program could repeat shorter works or movements. The full works could also be heard in the normal way elsewhere in the program.

7. Classic Digital would adapt a range of services and formats illustrated now by, for instance, triple j.

a. Examples: offer listeners opportunities for an active role; use a great range of delivery formats including digital and online, music on demand, social networks, websites; use young hosts, journalists, integrate humour; find and expose new talent; produce and/or broadcast live shows
b. It is primarily a listening experience but can be supplemented by online visual elements such as video, musical scores, text.

8. Front and centre to these strategies is support to Australian composers and performers.
9. Classic Digital would reclaim an important role in music education, offering collaboration with school systems and music industry providers
10. There are possibilities for collaboration also with performing organisations both in broadcasting of performances and the commissioning of new works.

Crucially, what is being proposed is that Classic FM and Digital have a much strengthened role as active builders of Australia’s musical culture. We know of no broadcaster with a strategic plan to foster the development of art music to fit the times, to attract to it a young audience, to be a trend-setter and opinion leader. The proposal entails risk, experimentation, and longevity. We believe that the outcome would be transformative for art music, Australian musical culture and broadcasting around the world.


The ABC suffered a 5% cut in government funding in 2014. As a statutory authority, it is not instructed by government on how to apply the cut. It took the cut as an opportunity to make extensive changes in programs and direction – it itself, a constructive response.

The Classic FM classical music radio network was instructed to make cuts to the value of $1.5m. The size of its budget is not published in the ABC Annual Report but we believe that the cut represents 20-25% of budget. This has some confirmation in the changes to personnel: 12 positions were terminated on top of four that were sitting unfilled; this represents about 25% of the Classic FM workforce.[Endnote 1] The majority of the Classic FM casualties were positions directly involved in programming, contrary to the Minister’s assertion that the overall 5% cut could be absorbed in the “back office”.

The Classic FM budget is about one half of one percent of the ABC budget of $1.2 billion. The cut to its budget is one eighth of one percent of the ABC budget; while an enormous jolt to Classic FM operations it is immaterial in solving the ABC financial problem.

There have been program cuts and changes. The annual 600 live recordings were halved to 300 although we understand that the number of broadcasts – 300 – has not changed. In the circumstances, this could be seen as a sensible rationalisation, although the unavailable option would be to provide the extra funds for the editing and broadcast of a larger number of the 600 events. What would be the optimal number of such broadcasts in a musically energetic nation? It should be noted that these are the major source in Australia of broadcasts and recordings by Australian classical composers and performers, fulfilling a need largely met in contemporary music, but barely at all in classical music, by commercial record companies.

Some FM programs such as jazz programs were transferred to RN, which is an AM station and less suited to music broadcasting, or to digital media which may have merit but are less accessible to a good part of the FM audience. Put the cut and its consequences together and we are left with a question about the ABC’s commitment to art music.

ABC classical music radio was once a force in the land. This paper will propose a policy for the ABC to reassert its key role in the creation and dissemination of art music in Australia. The policy includes strategies concerning the creation of repertoire, investment in digital media and attraction of new audiences, especially younger audiences.


Audiences for classical music radio stations

Australia and Classic FM. Classic FM has a weekly reach of 724,000 in 2013-14 in the five largest cities, which collectively contain about 60% of the national population. Since it is accessible to 99% of the population, we can guess that the total reach is of the order of 1 million.

Media reports have said that this audience is characterised by management as an audience of old people, but in fact, it is fairly evenly spread across the decades from age 30 upwards. The 60+ group covers three decades so we might conjecture that the percentages are something like 23-18-9.[2] Listeners younger than 30 then account for 1%. Median age is about 60.

30-39 15%
40-49 15%
50-59 19%
60+ 50%

Probably there is growth in the upper brackets as the population ages.[3]

The USA. The classical music radio audience in the USA has declined with many classical stations closing or changing their programming format.[4] There is a parallel trend in audiences for orchestras and opera companies with again, a number going out of existence or converting to a part time operation. It is possible that both are victims of diminishing interest in classical music.

But there are alternate possible explanations for the decline in classical music radio. Commercial managements may have seen greater prospects for profit elsewhere; community stations may be losing donations/subscriptions and volunteers as reported in some community stations in Australia. Of course, there are no government stations.

Radio is free and ubiquitous and must attract a much larger audience than live performances with their cost and inconvenience. The decline in opportunities to listen to classical music on radio may contribute to a loss of audiences for live performances in the USA. In Australia, on the other hand, the classical radio stations are sustaining a stable audience. Perhaps this is among the reasons that our orchestras have so far not faced the problems that are weakening the US orchestras.

Europe. We have found data from individual broadcasters and from national and international sources. The European Broadcasting Union collects data. These show that for its membership of public broadcasters, reach declined 3.6% from 2004 to 2013 but has remained stable since 2010. Time spent listening declined 13% to 134 minutes/day. For young people, the decline is greater but in some countries there has been an increase. The number of countries sampled doubled during that period. This and other inconsistencies mean that we cannot be sure what the figures describe.


Classical music everywhere faces a big repertoire problem. Its main audience is stuck in what might loosely be characterised as music of the 18th and 19th centuries, reaching into the late romantic and neo-classical music of the early 20C.

When Australian classical composition found its feet in the 1960s, most composers wrote in the complex and dissonant style that dominated in the Western world. Much of the audience was baffled and deterred. Orchestras and opera companies have a financial need for large audiences but generally cannot attract them with this music. Therefore they program it sparingly. From Classic FM programming, we can assume that the music similarly deters radio audiences.

It is essential that there is a place for this new and complex music, the work of some of our most brilliant musical minds, the music that carries seeds of the future. But we also need a music of our time with the emotional and intellectual depth, breadth and richness of the classical heritage (even if in due course it sounds rather different) and which attracts a large audience. This repertoire could include works that borrow from and fuse with music from other genres, including popular and non-Western art music genres.

This music of our time could dismantle audience prejudices against the “new” and could be one key to winning back the younger audience that some decades past, gave enthusiastic support to classical music. For that audience, it might also serve as a more effective point of departure for experimental music than works that date from more than a century ago.

Since ABC Classic FM is not penalised financially for musical venturesomeness, it could take an active role in supporting the production of this new repertoire and could be a crucial player in building an audience.

The large performing companies have a stake in such a project as a means to their survival and future vibrancy. Upon them depends the classical enterprise because they offer the scale of activity and employment that justifies, for instance, the survival of the conservatoria and the personal investment of decades of training by performers and composers. A classical music world comprised only of small ensembles would not be viable on a number of counts.

In fact, this music is coming into existence already. Composers like Ross Edwards, Arvo Paart or John Adams have written many such works. Others like Matthew Hindson explore contemporary genres when writing orchestral music. The large companies are experimenting. Examples: Sydney Symphony’s commission to Nigel Westlake and Lior for the song cycle, Compassion; West Australian Opera’s to Neil Finn for a mainstage opera, Star Navigator; the commission to Kate Miller-Heidke for the children’s opera, The Rabbits, apparently a great success. The new 34-member Arcko Symphonic Ensemble in Melbourne has just released a recording, X-Ray Baby, with an eclectic program of new music including a rap music composition.

Perhaps an important thing that may be missing is a sense in the broad art music audience that there is indeed a stream of new art music that it can understand and enjoy.

Broadcasters’ strategies to build young audiences

ABC MD Mark Scott has a stated policy priority to build young audiences, an area in which the ABC (excepting triple j and children’s television) is deficient. Classic FM has almost no audience in the age group up to 29 and we agree that the creation of such an audience is highly desirable if difficult.

We investigated broadcasters in Europe, the USA and the UK to discover the strategies adopted to attract young audiences. We found no program that surpasses that offered by the ABC’s triple j. Triple j offers both a model and, importantly, a precedent.

Some key points from the foreign broadcasters are presented in APPENDIX 2. In Europe, a very knowledgeable source could identify no classical music stations employing strategies to attract young audiences. Our examples are broadcasters of contemporary music, for which the natural audience is youth. For our purposes, we make an assumption that young audiences will share many needs and behaviours, regardless of their musical tastes.

National Public Radio (NPR) in the USA includes classical music as a priority and does have some specific strategies giving attention to new music as a key to the attraction of a young audience. BBC3, Classic FM’s British counterpart, has strategies to stimulate technological and programmatic innovation but not necessarily directed to a youth audience.

ABC triple j

We discovered that once arrived on the rich triple j websites your every need is met, requiring only that food is left outside the door.

Triple j is regarded as a success story and deservedly so. Its audience has doubled over recent years, it has a very strong presence on social media and other music media, it has great achievements in building and serving its audience, in encouraging and supporting music making across the entire population and supporting success for our top contemporary music players.

Triple j’s great experience and skill in attracting and serving a young audience could be an invaluable resource to Classic FM. Some areas in which its achievements may suggest strategies for Classic FM: its pro-active role in building Australian musical activity and success; its achievement as an opinion leader and trend-setter; its very broad and creative exploitation of new media; its accommodation of young people’s drive to be both consumers and creators; its investment in genre diversity and musical experimentation; its skilful use of presenters; its audiovisual activities; the diversity of its communications. More detail is given in APPENDIX 1.



Some basic information

The ABC operates four radio networks that broadcast music, and also some specialised digital channels. For more information, see endnote.[5]

What the ABC Charter compels and authorises. The ABC operates under a Charter found in the Broadcasting Act .[6] Of primary interest to us is clause 1(c): (the ABC has a responsibility) to encourage and promote the musical, dramatic and performing arts in Australia.

Other clauses require contributing to a sense of national identity while also reflecting our cultural diversity, supporting education, taking account of the broadcasting services provided commercially, balancing programs of wide appeal and specialised interest, providing a comprehensive and innovative service.

These terms are very general. They compel some sort of compliance but do not specify it. On the other hand, they authorise, for instance, a strongly pro-active role in encouraging and promoting music creation and performance within Australia – and in particular, musical activity that contributes to a sense of national identity.

Such activity must give prominence to music composed by Australians; we cannot contract with non-Australians to provide us with our identity. This is an issue for an art form whose practice is so dominated by its European origins. However, our identity lies also in part in our prowess in international forms such as soccer, cricket, rugby, tennis, contemporary and classical music – a complementary concept. The terms of the Charter authorise encouragement of musical diversity, and this surely must draw upon the many cultures of our population – indigenous and immigrant, but they are barely covered on the ABC’s music stations. The terms also authorise programs which appeal only to small, specialised audiences, such as programs of experimental music.

More than reportage. There is great emphasis by management, and in media comment, on the ABC’s role as news reporter and commentator. The responsibility of journalism, it is said, is to report the news, not make the news.

In “encouraging and promoting” the musical arts, Classic FM can take a role analogous to reportage, simply, for instance, by broadcasting recordings created by others. It would reflect the art form, not take part in creating or producing it. This is only slightly encouraging.

But this is the ABC that creates some of Australia’s best television drama and documentaries. This is the ABC Radio that created and managed Australia’s six concert orchestras, several professional choirs and a dance band, that for many years was probably the principal commissioner of works by Australian composers, commissions for which it also produced performances and broadcasts, that commissioned and produced radiophonic works that won international prizes, that produced series that illuminated audience understanding and appreciation of the artform, that was key in the establishment of Australia’s most important art music record label, that created, supported and broadcast the most important national competition for young classical performers, that took an important role in the music education of our children through broadcasts and concerts.

It now does few of these things. Mostly, that is appropriate and we do not suggest that it should. The problem is that it has continued with little more than what remained, and there is no comparable big picture agenda.

We do not accept that this is fundamentally the consequence of a budgetary problem. The issue is one of the leadership’s vision, values and priorities. From those, funding follows.

There appears to have been a long, slow attrition of Classic FM funding and program. The current disproportionate cut to its funding suggests management disaffection. There is a better option. Develop a new policy vision and implement it.

Proposal for a reconception of Classic FM

The proposal. The purpose of Classic FM is to be a dynamic force in the creation and dissemination of art music in Australia, attracting audiences of all ages.

While full execution of the proposal requires additional expenditure, useful change can be achieved with redirection of some existing resources.

Under this proposal, the FM broadcaster continues unchanged. The operation of the Classic FM broadcaster continues, serving its present older audience with a program based, as now, upon the Western classical music heritage with some inclusion of works from our own time and a strong representation of Australian performers and compositions. This will of course evolve and part of the evolution can stem from successes with the innovations proposed below.

But this proposal concerns a new digital operation to be created and operated by the Classic FM network.

1. Establish a service, working title Classic Digital, using a wide range of digital media, to build an audience with strong representation in younger age groups, for art music as defined below.[7]

o Important. To free the imagination, this service is to be newly conceived and is not simply an extension of the Classic FM program

2. Produce a program comprising diverse art music genres: Western classical “heritage” music; evolutionary developments of Western classical music; art music of other cultures; jazz and some Western improvised music; some sound art; art music developments from Western “contemporary” popular music; hybrids among any of these genres; strong inclusion of Australian works.

o Support to art music would update the ABC’s traditional support to classical music.
o This musical program is intended to capture the interest of young people, support development of art music from a diverse base, and offer a clear link to the heritage.
o Western classical musicians are not so much locked in genre silos, they become more diverse, perform in multiple genres. Its practitioners become more flexible, the art form more fluid.
o Western art music periodically reconnects to popular music culture, “the street”; we appear to have entered one of those periods. Classic Digital will program contemporary popular music with art music characteristics, and hybrids of classical and popular music
o In this time of great change and relentless pressure from the market, it is important to transfer important values from the classical heritage to our future musical practices even if the music sounds much different. Classic Digital will foster an art music of our time with the emotional and intellectual depth of the classical heritage and capable of attracting a large audience
o It will also support challenging music of our time of appeal only to more specialised audiences and develops strategies to expand these audiences
o Inclusion of art music of other cultures taps into the enormous musical wealth of our immigrant populations and helps to build it into Australian musical practice.

3. Classic Digital thus would take an active role in developing art music in Australia present and future and in building understanding, support for and practice of that music in the Australian population.

o It is important to note that within ABC Radio, triple j has set a precedent for such a pro-active role

4. This active role includes collaboration with Australian composers, performers and the organisations that present them.

o Live broadcast and recording must have high priority. Classic FM is the main point of access by the Australian populace to Australian artists creating and performing art music.[8] Commercial recordings are a small, declining resource. Other initiatives must not be funded from cuts to this program.
o Classic Digital could rectify a situation in which there is almost no recording and broadcast of Australian performers of art music from other cultures
o Collaboration with art music composers, performers, producers could include strategic commissioning of new work. Possibly, the ABC and Commonwealth and state arts authorities could collaborate in funding shared commissioning objectives
o Encouragement of the musical arts is incomplete if the services of the artists are not fairly remunerated.

5. Classic Digital seeks to broaden the listener base to include strong representation from all age groups. This especially requires adding listeners in their young and middle years. The rationale for reaching the younger audience includes these important concepts:

o Simply broadcasting classical music is not a successful strategy in attracting young listeners
o There is evidence suggesting that many musically attuned young people are interested in musical diversity per se and some European broadcasters program accordingly, as does triple j.
o In this diverse programming, there is the possibility that listeners will find familiar and favoured genres which serve as entry points and then, with skilful programming, as bridges to other genres including the classical heritage. (Classic Digital may eventually feed a young audience into Classic FM.)
o It is understood that this proposition runs counter to the experience that people click to a radio station to hear the expected and familiar. The expectation here might be instead that they will hear the unfamiliar but cool, interesting. The Classic Digital audience must be thought of as musically astute and adventurous.
o Imaginative exploitation of the digital delivery and interactive systems which for the young are supplanting analogue radio and in which the ABC, especially triple j, is expert. Triple j’s collaboration could be sought.
o Program content and delivery are varied to satisfy the interests of different audience segments and the requirements of the various delivery modes. Special expertise would be applied.

6. Classic Digital will reclaim and reinvent a dynamic role in education.

o This could take advantage of the new opportunities provided in digital and interactive media and also offer collaboration to the programs already run by each orchestra, the opera companies, small ensembles, Musica Viva.


If it funds such a Classic Digital program for success, the ABC would create a world leader in the broadcast of art music, with programming that is innovative, attracting adult audiences of all ages, winning collaboration from the professional community and giving strong support to sustaining and developing the art form.

Some detail: a scenario for Classic Digital

The detail of the execution of this proposal would be devised by relevant ABC experts. We do not have such expertise nor presume to be prescriptive. This scenario is intended only as a basis for discussion.

Preliminary strategic considerations

Classic FM and Digital sit within a powerful and diverse media organisation that offers an abundance of opportunities for collaboration, inspiration, emulation.

o Triple j, as noted
o The ABCs enormous digital expertise. RN‘s expertise around the place of the arts in society, arts criticism etc. ABC television‘s experience in and commitment to documentary production. News-gathering.
o Classic FM has an established FM audience and the possibility of broadening its audience demographic through these proposals.
o Radio must now compete with rich music on demand services. Classic Digital cannot offer as extensive a playlist but it can add the attraction of informed and personable announcers [9]. We note that triple j contributes its playlist to Spotify.
o Classic FM/Digital has an unequalled resource of recordings of Australian art music and performances by Australian musicians
o While Classic FM can learn from triple j, it might be noted again that with regard to the younger audience, triple j is at core delivering what the audience already wants. Creating an audience for art music in the younger age groups will be a complex and pioneering effort requiring persistence over an extended period. See the APPENDICES.

The scenario

• Managing the music

o Musically, the program can take on a role of trendsetter and opinion leader.
o “Classical” music of our time able to attract a large audience is interspersed in regular programs
o There are regular programs of challenging music of our time, with some weighting towards works of young composers around the age of the new target audience
o This music of our time also is heard in daily special programs in which there is a rotating playlist as a strategy for building familiarity and popularity of genres and works

– Musical preferences are affected positively by familiarity: hence the repetition of a works in orchestral and opera programs, and the rotating playlist of a limited number of songs on commercial radio. And yet there is almost no opportunity to hear new art music works more than once in live performance or even on radio; works and even genres remain unfamiliar. This program could repeat shorter works or movements of works. The full works could be heard in the normal way elsewhere in the full program of Classic Digital and indeed, Classic FM.

o Heritage works are included in programs of works of diverse genres
o There are regular programs of art music from other cultures
o Art music from contemporary music genres can be dotted through regular programs.
o As at present, the program is enriched and audience extended by cross-referencing music festivals – including festivals that feature innovative music, and as appropriate and possible, festivals for writers, comedy, art, film…

• Characterising the audience and the music

o The age group 15-29 years is missing from the Classic FM demographic. This should be a strong focus.
o The age group 30-49, already well represented in the Classic FM audience, has some ease with digital media and could also be expanded through these strategies.
o Tell this audience that it is special and cool, set apart from the run of the mill pop audience, enthused and knowledgeable about the music, which is also presented as special and cool.

• Attracting the audience

o The audience will be attracted by how it is served, as proposed in the next section.
o The audience can be sourced initially in the Classic FM audience, the triple j audiences and participants, secondary and tertiary students, audiences of festivals for music and other art forms, orchestras, opera companies, choirs, ensembles, contemporary music bands, the more adventurous venues, galleries. Some of these will be won through direct Classic Digital collaboration in presenting their work.
o Organise mutually beneficial promotions with triple jand elsewhere in the ABC
o Include Classic FM and Digital programs under “music” on the ABC app (!).
o Participate in a system-wide music portal:

– Place all music-related programs on a central ABC web page from where one can click into a radio station, a web page, a television program, a radio or streamed program or an app
– There is cross-referencing of current initiatives between music programs and stations and highlights of specific foci for each music outlet so that on its website, consumers are viewing all in music that the ABC offers.

• Serving the audience

o The young audience must be served as both consumers and creators. Triple j has achieved this admirably in multiple ways. Classic Digital can emulate the resolve but would have to conceive different and appropriate detail. A fascinating challenge!

A hypothetical young audience member presents a view:

As a young audience member, I feel served by these things:
o I feel an affinity with the presenters because of something about their style of presentation and because they seem to be around my age
o They arouse my interest and confidence because they are knowledgeable about the music
o They show me that this music is special and cool and make me feel special and cool through my interest in it; I am a member of a special group of listeners
o One of the reasons the music is so cool is because it is music of now and some of it is created by young people
o And I love the diversity. I found Classic Digital and heard some very unusual and interesting rock music and from there discovered lots of other types of music I never thought I would like, even including some classical music. Stravinsky – phew! John Adams, Matthew Hindson…
o They talk about many things that are important to me – musical, topical, life itself… They often make me laugh
o I really like the interactivity, the feeling of being a part of a big network of people who love this music, the chance to express an opinion, to choose music I like through the music on demand programs.
o The website is fabulous, an opening to so much music old and new, and discussion and people. Everything leads to everything else
o There are visual extras such as videos for some of these programs that I find very interesting
o Among them are sometimes the musical scores for the music I am hearing; I have enough musical training to be able more or less to follow them and that is very interesting [BBC3 does this]
o I have a musician friend who has been able to load a performance of his ensemble onto the website. What a great opportunity! It’s there for us.
o I love those competitions. They show what top young people in Australia can really do. It doesn’t all come from somewhere else and it’s not all about old people and there are things happening here that are our own and don’t happen in other places.

Music education

• ABC radio has had a strong presence in primary school music through its singing sessions and its publication of the Sing Book, just now suspended. It has gradually withdrawn from the area. However, with the addition of the new digital services and interactivity, new opportunities abound. It can serve the objectives of the new national curriculum in music. Classic Digital can reconceive its role and decide on a contribution that especially fits its brief and resources.
• The ABC has created an audio/visual educational portal named Splash. Its music content is minimal and does not pre-empt re-entry of Classic Digital into music education
• Classic Digital could collaborate with other organisations engaged in this area.
• Classic Digital can offer special student competitions in performance or composition, designed to be more involving and thought-provoking than eisteddfod-style displays. Winners can be selected by expert judges and also by student listeners Winning entries can be broadcast, students can converse with teachers, each other, professional musicians and composers.
• Competitions should include music created by young people rather than just the usual performances of the heritage. This would parallel custom in contemporary music, such as in the Unearthed program or Local Radio’s Exhumed program.


• Live broadcasts and recordings

o Extend the existing Classic FM program of live broadcasts and recordings, both in-house and in collaboration with festivals, venues, performers. This is of high strategic importance, as already noted.
o As does triple j, include presentation and possibly production of videos, available on the website, and collaborate with ABC TV in production and broadcast of programs with musical and visual appeal
o Ensure that overall, there is a strong representation of Australian works
o Achieve as flexible as possible an assignment of rights to the recordings so that they may have multiple broadcasts and may be offered for commercial release.

• New talent

o Classic FM has attracted strong audience interest through broadcast of talent competitions such as the Sydney International Piano Competition. This competition is typical in that it involves a choice by old people among young people performing heritage repertoire. This is not a criticism, but it leaves room for other concepts.
o The ramifications of the success of triple j’s Unearthed competition for young contemporary music performers have been noted. How can a similar impact be achieved in art music?
o Some disdain competitions. Find other ways to highlight and promote new talent.

Sound quality

o The digital realm commonly uses MP3 technology. The resultant sound quality is inadequate for most art music. This issue would need to be addressed in the design of Classic Digital. The rollout of the NBN will assist.

• Experimentation and research

o From Europe: continually experiment, search for the new both in music and in presentation/dissemination; through this become an opinion leader and trendsetter
o Consider a research program into audience responses along the lines described in the European section in APPENDIX 2
o Use a team approach to canvass new ideas and decide the appropriate format and approach for presenting them to the audience
o The BBC’s “Connected Studio” suggests the value of a regular conference to elicit new ideas for the network. These could in part respond to the changing technological possibilities. They could also unearth new programming talent for employment or contracting. END


Many thanks go to those who contributed to the drafting of this proposal, including especially Colin Bright, Katharine Brisbane, Barry Conyngham, Rowena Cowley, Malcolm Hewitt, Julianne Schultz, Greg Sandow and Mandy Stefanakis.


An article based upon this paper was published in the Daily Review and brought forth some online discussion. You can read it at



ABC triple j

The ABC’s Annual Report for 2014 presents triple j as a success story: Five-city metropolitan average weekly reach among people aged 10 and over increased by 10% from 1.66 million to a record 1.83 million. [We have been told that the strongest triple j demographic is the 30-40 age group.] … triple j has the largest number of Facebook friends of any Australian radio station and in 2013-2014 the most subscribed playlist on Spotify Australia. (Quotes in italics.)

triple j Unearthed is the only dedicated Australian music radio station playing music from unsigned Australian artists from around the country. [Its music] is sourced from the website which houses over 99 000 tracks from 48000 independent Australian artists… triple j Unearthed … [allows] artists and fans to connect and share music through a range of integrated social features…

Double J [is] a new digital music station which is available across a number of platforms and targets music-lovers aged 30 and over. Double J plays a minimum of 35% new Australian music and provides unprecedented access to almost 40 years of triple j archives, interviews and live music recordings. … Double J is available on digital radio and television, online and on mobile phones via the ABC Radio App, available for both iOs and Android devices.

What triple j activities might suggest strategies for Classic FM?

Classic FM is already engaged in building digital products, apparently with a youth audience in mind. triple j has 40 years of experience in serving a youth audience and there is advantage in harvesting that knowledge.

Reservation. Classic FM, in this exercise, has a much more difficult task than triple j: attracting some of the audience that is triple j’s natural constituency to listen to music that is complex and may be outside of its experience. triple j could have a comparable task in converting 60-70 year-old classical music lovers to hip hop.

• By asserting a musical vision independent of the commercial radio fare, triple j has achieved a distinctive profile and has become an opinion leader and among major broadcasters, the strongest source of, and support to Australian contemporary music. Classic FM certainly could be an opinion leader in art music.
triple j exploits new media with technical assistance from ABC personnel. Everything is cross-referenced. Radio supports web supports digital supports live performances supports awards supports music production supports video production
• It has developed an ethos in support of young people’s drive to be both consumers and creators. The Unearthed website allows any Australian performer to upload a recording or add themselves to a gig diary. Competitions for performers include special competitions for high school kids and for indigenous musicians. Unearthed radio presents only Australian artists: that says this is about us. Its audience can rate or review artists on the Unearthed website. The sense of inclusion is pervasive.
• ‘Live at the Wireless’ programs are recorded in the triple j studio or festivals, stadiums, pubs etc. Says the website: Live At The Wireless archive now rates as one of the best collections anywhere in the world… It includes videos and photographs (housed in huge online galleries) shot by triple j teams. Take a listen, have a look and see if you were there with us at any of these shows. Inclusion again.

o Under duress, Classic FM has just halved its live broadcast/recording program, potentially a serious strategic loss to Australian classical composers and performers.

Genre diversity and musical experimentation. Listed genres: dance, electronic, hip hop, indie, metal, pop, punk, rock, roots.

o Genre diversity is even more possible for Classic FM if it sees itself as an art music station. Experimentation is a natural playground for art music. But Classic FM has just taken decisions that reduce diversity and experimentation. Homogenisation of its programming may be strategically unadvisable.

• There are special presenters for various areas of interest including and going beyond music. Presenters’ personalities are played up through humorous bios on the website, simultaneously glamorising them and making them “one of us”.
• It takes advantage of its ABC context through collaborations with television – e.g. the celebration of its 40th birthday, or the 2014 triple j One Night Stand in Mildura.
Communications are fabulously diverse. The websites include charts, gigs (hundreds of them), enewsletter, artist spotlights, tracks and videos you can play, “mixtapes”, a music quiz, podcasts in great variety, a shop with CDs, magazine, DVDs, T-shirts, books; social networking on Facebook, Twitter, tumblr, YouTube; presenter playlists are on rdio, the hitlist and Music News are on Spotify.



Foreign broadcasters’ strategies for building the young audience

Radio in Europe

We have information from European radio broadcasters. As noted, these broadcasters broadcast various forms of contemporary popular music for which they are building the youth audience.
There is an array of issues. Fewer young people are listening to radio and they are listening less. They are moving to various forms of digital and online sources and those are in continual flux. The tastes and habits of the demographic are constantly changing. And the broadcasters in any case would want to build bigger audiences whatever their current success.
While our purpose is to promote classical or art music, we suggest that the strategies used to gain young audiences for popular music and for classical music could be similar.

The demographic
Desired audience for these European broadcasters varies from one to another but includes the teen years up to age 25 or even 30 – exactly the audience missing at Classic FM.

Strategies for connecting to listeners
• Content by, for, about them
• Non-musical: deal with issues that are important to young listeners: life problems, circumstances; presentation, interaction, dialogue. Share feelings, real stories. Targeted news bulletins. Alternative cultures. Ethnic diversity.

o An implication here is that there is a lot more talk on these stations than is customary on Classic FM. Although we have heard that it is the intention that Classic 2 will attract young audiences, it would seem that the lack of announcers is exactly the wrong tactic.

• Musical: generally, discover and deliver what they already like. But on the other hand, experiment (see next section)
• BUT one very interesting broadcaster aims for a more educated audience, aims to be a digital and musical trendsetter, to surprise through daring content. This might be a better model for Classic FM since it would seek to cultivate special tastes for unfamiliar music.

Use young hosts, young journalists, young critics. One station invites well known YouTube presenters to work for it. A few note the expertise of their people including in specific musical genres. A few emphasise integrating humour.

Program development
A few stations but not all, do things such as these:
• Experiment: try, fail, try again.
• Constantly search for the new. Become opinion leaders
• Use a team approach to program content and development

Delivery formats and strategies
Most of these things are mentioned by most of the stations, as might be expected:
• Radio broadcast
• Digital and online dissemination including mobiles, tablets. Cross-platform content
• Probably interactivity of some sort –
• On demand listening, including in conjunction with existing providers such as Spotify
• Community building via social networks: Facebook, Twitter, also YouTube…
• Visual content for radio
• Websites including a role as online guides to music on external sources

Special presentations
A number of stations emphasised production of high quality live shows
• Radio shows, concerts, artistic collaborations,
• Special events around finding new talent
• The talent could be musical but could also be talent in radio production or presentation

One station does daily research: ‘qualitative content analysis (both pre-tests and post-tests) to understand what needs to be improved, how to optimise our offer (research is mainly about behaviour and habits: how young people use and consume media, how they use specific platforms (i.e. mobile). We also develop portraits of groups and people and try to figure out what they like, what formats + content they prefer.’

A summary in a report by the European Broadcasting Union:
“Be More Relevant to Younger Audiences”
[This is not directed to attracting young audiences to classical music but to contemporary music.]

Stay authentic, true to your values and quality, but adapt to their needs and media behaviour. Conduct in-depth research into the diversity of their needs and behaviour; compare the results with those of other PSM. Develop specific portfolio strategies per age group (3–6, 6–12, 12–18, 18–34) and lifestyle.

Deliver your content on the platforms and services that young people use. Invest in: targeted online content, suitable for mobile and sharing; all kinds of short forms (clips, fragments); ‘liquid’ content formats; attractive storytelling (based on speed, immediacy, entertainment value, special angles, gaming). Facilitate dialogue, self-expression, peer-approval and interactivity. Develop specific and credible cross-media branding. Monitor consumer cost of broadband connectivity, as one of the criteria for deciding on specific investments in (mobile) audiovisual online content.

Build 360-degree cross-media brands around your radio stations aiumed at younger audiences and extend to other platforms. Although young people represent a relatively small part of our audience, they require a special strategic focus. Firstly, it’s part of our remit; secondly, programming for these highly connected people will speed up PSM’s progression towards becoming networked; thirdly, they are our future. Be present at music festivals. Develop awards and special events. Be a guide to music discovery and foster talent. Journalism and serious information require new formats, with age-group-related angles, direct rewards (feedback, linking, sharing), suitable for peer-sharing.

Expand linear channels with social radio and TV. Develop inclusive and cross-genre formats on linear channels with multi-layered storytelling, targeting both younger and older audiences. Develop knowledgeable subcultures within your organization. Choose credible presenters that double as ambassadors and role models.

– From Vision 2020, page 22.

This EBU report is complex, powerful, and of course identifies new issues and potential futures for all aspects of public service broadcasting. It does address many issues relevant to this paper on Classic FM, including strategies to attract and serve young audiences, but has little to say about music broadcasting. Since the ABC is an associate member of the EBU, we can assume that the report is known to it and that it is extracting value to assist in its own planning.

We have information on the audience-building activities of two classical music broadcasters, one in the USA, one in England.

National Public Radio, USA
The counterpart in Australia is the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia. However, NPR both services a membership of community stations and produces radio broadcasts itself.

Classical music is its core concern but it is eclectic with regard to genres. Its historic emphasis on classical, jazz and singer/songwriter genres is widening, thanks in part to the wide technology platform.

Strategies for connecting to listeners
• NPR wants to broaden its music audience and that means attracting more young people.
• To that end, its broadcast include classical music of the present. [Interesting!]
• It believes it is important to achieve a visual identity – through multimedia, video
• Lot of young people don’t have radio; it connects through digital products, is developing own apps
• It curates musical experiences to take people to places they didn’t know they wanted to go
• “StumbleUpon” (associated news website) has been popular

Delivery formats and strategies
• FTA, online, mobile; social media
• What are our values, how do we make them resonate in each medium?
• It has discovered that presentations must be adapted to suit each medium; using the same presentation on all mediums is not successful. When an idea comes up, what are the format or content options for presenting it?

Special presentations including live
NPR is engaged in live events

The BBC hosts conferences around the ‘Connected Studio’ scheme, in which creative people – from inside and outside the BBC – are invited to bid for money to create really innovative applications for BBC content. The following information comes mainly from an online report of the most recent conference. Mostly, it serves to suggest the direction in which BBC radio is heading.

For BBC 3, counterpart to Classic FM, the average age is 50. We are estimating the reach as about 2.2m, comparable proportionally to Australian Classic FM. (However, there is a commercial classical station in the UK, Classic FM, with nearly three times the reach. Its website states that “Listeners…are aged between 35-54” – presumably it means its demographic is concentrated there. “It attracts the largest upmarket audience in commercial radio.”)


Some speculations about the young audience

Young people are targeted by the immense marketing power of the commercial music industry. In pursuit of numbers and sales, it needs to keep the music short and relatively simple, produce it now and persuade young people collectively that this is their music. Art music does not fit the formula.
In the mid-20C, there was popular music, made popular by young people even though they were less assailed by the music industry. Frank Sinatra was king, supported by the Nelson Riddle Orchestra – note, “orchestra”. The gulf between popular and classical music existed but was nothing compared to that confronting someone who grew up with heavy metal or hip hop. Here, in Europe and the USA, the average age of attendees at classical music concerts was a couple of decades lower than now.
Back then, Australian primary school teachers were trained to teach music. The basis for school music education was classical music. These days, such an education is available mainly to the affluent. We have some phenomenally good youth orchestras but not in the poorer suburbs.
Classical music is available to all, via Classic FM and the community classical stations. But it is complex, from another time, unfamiliar to most, and has come to be identified with the older people from whom the young have to assert their independence, their difference.
Add to this that their world view is much changed, they expect from the media the opportunity to assert as well as consume, attention span is contracting… Extended, concentrated listening is not a requirement. The riches of art music are available but availability is not enough.
Some process of induction is needed. Orchestras, opera companies, ensembles, Musica Viva have programs that introduce children to classical music. But there are 3.7million school students in Australia and they can reach only a fraction of them. The media can reach many more and can do so in a way that will enthuse interest. Of the media, only the public broadcasters are likely or able to take on a challenge of these dimensions.


1. A new position of Director of Music has subsequently been announced. There may be a plan for other new positions of which we are not informed.
2. The point is that the MD’s joke that much of the audience is in nursing homes is wide of the mark. It is fairly evenly spread across age groups from 30 upwards.
3. The National Endowament for the Arts states in a similar audience profiling exercise for the USA that the upward shift in audience age is not more than would be expected from the upward shift of the population demographics as a whole.
4. Jack Miles & Douglas McLennan. Arts Journal Extra There are now only about 30 commercial classical stations, many with dumbed-down formats, and 100 community stations with classical music programs This may sound like a large number of stations but recall that the US population is 330million. Perhaps more relevant, the number of stations is diminishing.
5. More information on the ABC radio networks:

• Radio National, which is mostly a talk station with many programs of intellectual substance including some devoted to the arts; a few are music programs.
• Local radio is a collection of stations with local audiences and local appeal. Its music content is modest and largely incidental to talk programs.
• Triple j is the contemporary music network and has a youngish audience base (although, we have been told, its greatest strength in the 30-40 age range). Whereas commercial radio has mostly a pop music focus, triple j has concentrated on other contemporary genres such as rock or electronica in which Australia is stronger – in part because of triple j support. It has two digital channels – triple j Unearthed and Double J and extensive activity in new media. It is very successful and has strong audience growth. Its pro-active cultural role sets a precedent for other networks.
• Classic FM is the national classical music network and it will be the main focus for this paper. According to the ABC Annual Report, its weekly reach was 724,000 in 2013-4 in the five largest cities, with an unreported additional number elsewhere. This is 2.8% of the total national radio audience and compares favourably with the reach of many European classical networks. From the data we have been able to access, it appears that about 30% of the listeners are aged 30-49, and almost all of the rest are 50 and older. Classic FM also operates Classic 2, an online channel that began service in June 2014 with a continuous stream of classical music, 100% Australian recordings, presented without announcers.
• Other digital channels include ABC Jazz and ABC Country. They probably will become increasingly important as audiences take up digital.

6. The ABC Charter includes the following clauses of relevance to the ABC’s role with regard to music:

(1)The functions of the Corporation are:
(a) to provide within Australia innovative and comprehensive broadcasting services of a high standard… and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, to provide:
(i) broadcasting programs that contribute to a sense of national identity and inform and entertain, and reflect the cultural diversity of, the Australian community; and
(ii) broadcasting programs of an educational nature;
(b) …
(c) to encourage and promote the musical, dramatic and other performing arts in Australia.
(2) In the provision by the Corporation of its broadcasting services within Australia:
(a) the Corporation shall take account of:
(i) the broadcasting services provided by the commercial and public sectors of the Australian broadcasting system;
(ii) …
(iii) the responsibility of the Corporation as the provider of an independent national broadcasting service to provide a balance between broadcasting programs of wide appeal and specialized broadcasting programs;
(iv) the multicultural character of the Australian community; and …,

7. While we have not been able to discover any official statement about Classic FM’s policy objectives or intentions, Limelight magazine reported (November 24) that in an internal memo, ABC radio bosses foreshadowed development of “the broadcaster’s digital presence to entice a younger audience, saying ‘resources will be put into developing a stronger offer of new classical music online, in an effort to seek further alignment across platforms and networks.’ … Development of online platforms to replace certain aspects of Classic FM’s programming still seems very likely… Already earlier this year Classic FM began integrating its digital station, ABC Classic 2, with its FM broadcasts by replacing the overnight program, formerly hosted by Bob Maynard, with a simulcast playlist streamed from the Classic 2 website without a presenter or any commentary – a move that provoked an angry response from listeners.”
So it seems that Classic FM does not have to be persuaded to take up the challenge of attracting a younger audience and we acknowledge its initiative; it shares this objective with at least some presenters in the classical music live performance sphere.
8. Triple j assigns funds to aspects of its digital program instead of to production of live performances. This is not an option for Classic FM. Its live performance program provides the main supply of recorded performances by Australians. For triple j, this comes at little cost from commercial record companies. Classic FM’s digital services cannot be funded from cuts to the live broadcast program.
9. Radio as a player of discs is faced with increasing competition from music on demand services such as those provided spectacularly by The competitive response is to include the human intervention of announcers and musical guides in which radio has long been expert, upgraded to exploit the new possibilities of digital media, including interactivity and addition in some cases of visual imagery. This active response is not only competitive but gives greater public service, a service that probably could not be offered by the automated providers of music on demand.

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