Media Watch report of “big cuts” in classical radio broadcasting to be confirmed on Monday.

ABC Classic FM looks likely to shed around a dozen jobs in its attempt to implement the Abbott Government cuts announced earlier this week by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Sources within the ABC have told Limelight that live broadcasts are set to be the major casualty, seriously impacting the station’s ability to transmit regional performances across the wider nation.

On Monday the ABC’s Media Watch program reported that the following areas would be affected: “Friday’s State-based 7.30 will be axed. And Lateline will be cut back, but it stays on the main channel. TV production in South Australia outside news and current affairs will be shut down. And $6 million will be sliced off ABC radio, with big cuts at Classic FM.” In all, some 400 to 500 jobs will go across the ABC, they reported, with people being shown the door by Christmas.

Mark Scott, the ABC’s Managing Director is due to make an announcement to staff on Monday. Until then, ABC Classic FM Manager Richard Buckham preferred not to make any statement. “More information will be available publicly after that,” he told Limelight.

Meanwhile, sources suggest that the station will focus its cost-cutting attention on its live broadcast activities where in particular it will aim to lose around a dozen staff. The usual way that this happens is that a section is proposed for closure followed by a two week consultation (in accordance with the Fair Work Act), during which it is hoped that a sufficient number of people agree to redundancies.

The impact on the station’s ability to maintain current scheduling is yet to be seen. At the moment, an average week sees Classic FM broadcasting around 17 hours of ‘live’ classical music. That includes one hour of regular programming ie. Sunday Live. In addition there are around six hours of live broadcasting ‘as it happens’ and a further 10 hours of rebroadcasting of previously recorded live events.

Live broadcasting is not just about delivering content as it happens. For many who cannot afford the time and cost of travelling interstate to hear major musical events, these programs represent the only way they can hear the orchestras and ensembles, which form the mainstay of classical music performance in other parts of Australia. It’s also the only way for regional festivals and arts organisations to get their message out to a wider public. “It’s engagement of a different quality,” one ABC insider told Limelight.

Other changes will become clearer after Monday’s announcement. With Mark Scott known to prefer a focus on the many users who already access ABC content via tablet or phone it may be that Classic FM is increasingly driven online. Presenterless streaming is already happening overnight at the station, and less ABC licenced content, much of which comes from recordings of live events, may lead to a decrease in variety during these hours. The cost of maintaining FM transmitters across Australia may also play a part in future decision-making.

It’s certain that Monday will bring some clarity to the situation; meanwhile many Classic FM fans and staff will be holding their breath and crossing their fingers.

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