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25 years of Classic FM

To celebrate Classic FM's 25th birthday, Choice met three of is longest-serving presenters to learn what it was like to launch the station and the impact it's had

This month marks a special milestone in British broadcasting. On September 7 1992, Classic FM became the UK's first national commercial radio station/

Twenty-five years on, it is now the nation's most popular classical music station, with an audience of 5.4 million listeners every week.

We caught up with Classic FM stalwarts Jane Jones, John Brunning and Nick Baile, who was the first presenter heard on air.

How did you become a presenter on classic FM?

Jane Jones: My first role with the new station was as presenter of a late Sunday evening Classical Cabaret show from a London restaurant. I'd worked with Classic FM's founding programme director Michael Bukht in the past and he though I night be up for something a bit different... classical music with your late night burger was definitely unusual! Within a dew weeks, I was working full time with the original lunch team.

John Brunning: I was presenting breakfast news bulletins for a local commercial radio station in Kent when I spotted a small story in the Sunday Times about plans to launch a national classical station and decided to investigate.  called Michael Bukht, who invited me to Classic FM's studios, which were then in north London, and was offered a job on the spot as one of the main journalists and news presenters. What he didn't know then was that I had been a classical music fan for many years, though at the time, the idea od presenting a programme of my own seemed like a pipe dream. It was probably a couple of years later that he discovered my passion for classical music and offered me my first programme. Classic Newsnight, which features the day's news, interviews with soloists, conductors and, of course, music.

Nick Bailey: I was working at Radio Television Hong Kong where I was co presenting the morning current affairs programme. I'd always liked classical music but always felt that there was a snobbery attached to it, so this was the ideal opportunity to have it demystified!

How significant was the launch of that station?

Jane Jones: Hugely! It was a national first- and as such, we were in the media and musical spotlight to an unprecedented degree. but the most significant aspect of the station was the immediate, unexpected and positive response we had from listeners. Any notion that classical music audiences were made up of small elite was quickly dismissed by the unexpectedly high audiences from day one, outstripping when the most optimistic assessments of a potential audience.

John Brunning: Hugely significant; impossible to interstate really, since it was and remains unique.

Nick, you were the first ever presenter heard on the station. How did that feel and can you describe the moment?

Nick Bailey: I realised that it was history in the making and it was somewhat daunting to have all the powers that be listening outside at 6am, not to mention a TV crew filming in my first link and the Daily Telegraph's radio critic, Gillain Reynolds, taking notes. However, once that first link was over it was reasonably plain sailing/ As they say with parachuting, however, the second jump is the worst, so the next day was more of a challenge, but by that time the heat was off...

At the time, many people said Classic FM would fail. How did that affect the staff?

Jane Jones: Ah yes- those who wanted o keep the audience for classical music to those established elites. and out critics were vocal but as presenters and programmers we were bowled over and thrilled bu the overwhelming support from listeners who got in touch by the sackful- and this was before email and Twitter. Letters and cards with comments like "I've waited so long for a station like Classic FM" reinforced our belief that our style of classical music radio was long overdue

Twenty five years on, how has Classic FM changed the way we listen to classical music?

Jane Jones: Well, certainly more people are listening to classical music on their radio than ever- but with live streaming and listen on demand, it means we're able to make sure the very best classical music is always easily accessible. Add in live concert exclusives from around the world, and all the additional artist and composer information that's available from our website, ClassicFM.com, and we're continuing to make classical music relevant and approachable for today's audiences.

John Brunning: Without a doubt, the biggest change is that far more people  now listen to classical music as a direct result of Classic FM. It would be very hard to argue that Classic FM hasn't broadened the audience for classical music and continues to nurture enthusiasm for the repertoire, particularly among younger people, which is vital for the future. The technological revolution has also had a massive impact, with people now turning in online, as well as via the Classic FM app- oh, and not forgetting the trusty wireless, of course.

Nick Bailey: Listeners are now more open o all kinds of music- from full-blown symphonies as featured in Classic FM's nightly Full Works Concer, to film and even video game soundtracks. We also introduced them to the music of Karl Jenkins,which has elements of 'world music'; and I'm proud to have been the first person to play the music of Ludovico Einaudi, a composer I've championed ever since presenting the Classic FM Chart in 1997, and who has subsequently become very popular with students. i also think that since the launch of Classic FM, people are much more willing to attend concerts. Did you know that more people attend classical concerts than football matches?

What do you enjoy about presenting on Classic FM today?

Jane Jones: How long have you got? I'm very lucky because of the range and variety of programmes I present every wek- from the Full Works Concert to early breakfast at the weekend. I can be hosting exclusive performances from international stars in concert, or helping a frazzled parent settle a baby in the small hours of the morning with a 'cradle classic'. Then at the weekend, it's great to be part of that early-morning routine as listeners plan the day ahead- and hearing about all the things they're up to. with Classic FM for company.

What piece of music sums up Classic FM and why?

Jane Jones: I'm not sure I can answer that! If I think about how we've introduced new artists and contemporary music to listeners, I think I'd say a piece like Le Onde by Ludovico Einaudi. But then the Classic FM Hall of Fame, which reflects listeners' favourites every year, has been dominated bu a select few which have made the number one spot in that annual chart. Of those, my favourite would be a five times number one choice: Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No.2. It's for the lot- with those sweeping melodies, it's emotionally involving and a perfect showcase for soloist and orchestra. And that sounds a bit like Classic FM to me!

John Brunning: Easy. It's the Classic FM theme tune, composed by David Arnold, which has been with is since day one. Various artists I've interviewed have told me the jingle is known in the business as 'the Classic FM turn'. Ironic that it doesn't have a proper name, sin't it? Perhaps we should run a competition.

Nick Bailey: It would have to be Zadok the Priest by Handel, the work that opened the station in 1992. We have a great choral tradition in this country and this certainly fits the bill. It's also triumphant without being jingoistic, as it was written for the coronation of George II and has been played at every coronation since. On a personal note, Handel is my favourite composer, and Baroque is my favourite genre, so it wins on both counts for me.

Classic FM broadcasts across the UK on 100-102 FM, digital radio, at (ClassicFM.com) and on the Classic FM app.

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