Limelight obtains exclusive details of cuts to the ABC’s classical music station.

It has been a source of speculation, anxiety and public outcry for many weeks. Now Managing Director of the ABC, Mark Scott has made his long awaited announcement outlining the impact of federal funding cuts on the broadcaster’s output.

So called “restructuring” to Classic FM will be part of a major overhaul of the ABC’s radio offering, which will involve a substantial reduction in original programming and a cull of staff at Classic FM. As many as 400 ABC staff are to lose their jobs across the entire corporation, with radio and news programming set to suffer the greatest losses.

While major changes to Classic FM have been confirmed, few details were revealed during Scott’s speech. A statement from the station with a comprehensive list of the specific changes to its programming is yet to be released, however Limelight has obtained details of the extent of the cuts to Classic FM from sources at the station. So far 13 redundancies have been confirmed, which includes presenters, engineers, producers and people in management positions.

As predicted last week, live broadcasts of concerts will be “reduced.” Limelight has learned that the number of concerts recorded will be slashed by a massive 50%, with just 300 performances due to be recorded over the next two years verses the 600 concerts recorded during the previous two years. Broadcasts of live performances currently account for 17 hours of Classic FM’s weekly output.

One source within Classic FM has categorised the changes to coverage of live performances as the most “critical cut” suffered by Classic FM today. They also expressed the concern that the reduction in the recording and broadcast of concerts will intensify competition for these valuable broadcast opportunities, saying “it will amplify the struggle within the network between the major presenters [ie. orchestras] and the small, independent sector.”

In his speech, made this morning at the ABC’s Sydney headquarters in Ultimo, Mark Scott described the decision to gut Classic FM’s live broadcasting schedule as “a prudent efficiency measure that still ensures a quality service for the Classic audience.” However the knock-on effect of this reduction will hit organisations presenting performances outside of the state capitals the hardest.

Musica Viva Artistic Director Carl Vine

This will include rural events like Musica Viva’s Huntingdon Music Festival. Artistic Director of Musica Viva, Carl Vine described the proposed cuts as “terribly disturbing,” adding “the broadcast of live music is incredibly important to the cultural vibrancy of Australia. Depending on how deep the cut goes, I think this is very alarming for classical music in this country.”

All jazz programming will be moved to Radio National, but Classic FM’s coverage of contemporary music, produced by ABC Radio’s Australian Music Unit has received the most severe blow. One of the first programs confirmed as axed is New Music Up Late, Classic FM’s modern music showcase presented by composer, cultural commentator and regular Limelight contributor Julian Day.

As part of an internal memo on the decision to cancel the program, ABC radio bosses echoed Mark Scott’s recent comments about developing 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.” Since news of the axing of the program emerged earlier today an online petition has been set up by award-winning Australian composer Cat Hope, to try and save the show from being taken off the air.

Development of online platforms to replace certain aspects of Classic FM’s programming still seems very likely, although the specifics of how this will be rolled out, and what formats it will use are yet to be agreed. Already earlier this year Classic FM began integrating its digital station, ABC Classic 2, with its FM broadcasts by replacing the overnight program, formally 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.

The mood among staff at Classic FM has been described by a source as “awful” while another said that many staff were “shocked, unsettled and deeply anxious.” A spokesperson from the Friends of the ABC, Gleys Stradijot declared in a statement issued earlier today, “The ABC will be unable to fulfill its charter obligations or meet its responsibility to be a truly national public broadcaster which services Australians across the country.”

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