Classic music radio demise leaves huge gap

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I started listening to classical music in high school. I would borrow classical music records from the library in those days located on the road in front of the beach in Fish Hoek. I had heard classical music was something special but it remained closed to me until I started listening to it in a deliberate way.

At home my parents mainly listened to jazz. My father was a double-bass player and singer and had formed a band. I still remember the records he would play: Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong and others. These roots had a positive influence on my musical taste much later in life.

So classical music was something foreign to me. I enjoyed some of the Mozart piano pieces but not much else. Then something happened in the heavy rock music world. Bands like Emerson Lake and Palmer were taking Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and turning into rock (and unbelieveably with lyrics).

After this classical music clicked with me. I began to appreciate the beauty of classical music and the variety. Dvo?ák, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Ronald Binge, Malcolm Arnold, etc.

The introduction of Classic FM radio on 1 September 1997 opened classic music to me on a scale I hadn’t known before. Here was a radio station where you could listen to hours of classic music for free in the car and at home. I, of course, bought CDs of the music and composers that I enjoyed.

Over time I got used to Classic FM as wonderful background music at home while I worked on projects and painted watercolours. I enjoy some pop music played by the other radio stations but after a while it gets sickly sweet and I have to turn it off. I got rid of the talk radio stations from my life which were no more than chewing gum for the mind.

Then came the sad day when Classic FM had to shut its doors. We heard that wrong business decisions were made. Others put it down to lack of an aggressive sale and other problems. Outsiders can only guess at what went wrong.

Gone forever. It felt like loyal classic music radio listeners gained over years and years were abandoned. For some people the feeling was that it was jettisoned too easily. The fatalists merely attributed it to a long decline in radio for intelligent radio listeners.

Some felt it was a pity that radio listeners were not approached on how they could have helped them keep the station alive. Others said they would have paid an annual subscription fee (even if some listeners wouldn’t want to pay) to keep the classic music programmes running. We don’t know the business models of radio stations but some weren’t convinced that all options had been explored.

A wave of sadness swept over me the first Saturday morning after Classic FM had closed down when I thought of how in the afternoons while I was working I heard the uplifting Theme from a Summer Place by Percy Faith.

It was goodbye to all of that and goodbye to some warm, seasoned presenters. Peter Thierre, Mike Mills, Kutlwano Masote, Shireen Hollier, Caroline Steyn and Richard Kock and those polished news readers Deano Maduramuthu and Anne Williams.

I can’t go back to the past and borrow classical music records from the library anymore but there are other ways of listening to classical music. It’s enjoyable to listen to your own selections. But it’s never going to be the same again without those presenters’ voices. Switching on Classic FM radio early in the mornings and letting it play the whole day and late into the night was a pleasure (and luxury) that came around once in a lifetime and now it is gone.

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