Classical Music Radio – More Than a Niche Format

By Andy Beaubien, BPR

This is the first installment in a series of articles about the classical music radio format designed to explore different ways in which classical stations, both public and private, can develop and expand their audiences.

Although the classic music radio format is quite unique among the myriad of radio formats available today, it shares a common goal with its format brethren – the need to attract as wide an audience as possible. The term “broadcast” literally means to reach out to listeners throughout the listening area. Unlike some pop music formats, classical music radio does not necessarily appeal to the majority of listeners in a given coverage area. Nevertheless, many forward-thinking classical station operators consider it their mission to bring classical music to as wide an audience as possible.

In the early days of radio, classical music was most often available in the form of special programs of a limited duration and often at times of the day when listening was not at its peak. One of the earliest privately-owned classical stations was WQXR in New York City which signed on the air in 1936 and was owned by the New York Times. WQXR was unique in that it devoted its entire broadcast day to playing classical music. BBC Radio 3, a classical radio pioneer in the public sector, originally was known as the Third Programme and began broadcasting as a classical music and arts station in 1946.

Classical music stations have often been considered to be “niche” stations that cater to an exclusive audience of people well-versed in the music, academics and musicians. Unfortunately, this mis-conception about the target audience has too often discouraged potential listeners who would otherwise enjoy classical music and would enjoy learning more about it.

Classic FM in the UK is one of the stations that has, in its 31 year history, taken a different approach. It has sought to reach out to a wide range of radio listeners from people who have a budding interest to those who are highly familiar with and well-versed in classical music.

In coming editions of this newsletter, we will explore the different ways in which a classical music station can best serve and expand its target audience.


Andy Beaubien, a BPR senior consultant, has extensive experience working with classical music stations around the world including Classic FM in the UK.



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