Superbrands case studies: Classic FM

Originally published in 'Consumer Superbrands Volume V', March 2003. The book reviews the UK's strongest consumer brands as judged by an independent judging panel.

Case study provided by Superbrands.


Today Classic FM is the largest commercial radio station in the UK broadcasting to 6.8m adults every week and over a quarter of a million children.

Alongside Classic FM there are now 261 independent radio licences in addition to the BBC's 49 stations.

New technology is revolutionising the radio broadcast market. The advent of digital radio is already delivering its promise of up to 200 new services broadcasting via digital audio broadcasting, cable and satellite, whilst the internet has fuelled a global explosion of some 9,000 online radio services.

Digital is the future for radio in the twenty first century. Classic FM was the first commercial station to go digital in 1999 and the brand has since expanded into new platforms and technologies to reach younger audiences.

More than half a million people now log on to ClassicFM.com every month to listen and interact with the station. A further 300,000 people tune into Classic FM radio via their digital televisions.


Classic FM's pioneering approach to its programming, advertising and marketing has won the station many accolades, including more than ten Sony Awards. Classic FM has been voted UK Station of the Year three times, and has been nominated for the award on four occasions. It has won two Gold Awards for On Air Station Sound and has also been voted Campaign Medium of the Year.

The Classic FM brand has also won much praise across the world of marketing. In 2002, Classic FM was highly commended by Marketing Week as Media Brand of the Year and awarded UK's Brand Development of the Year by the Marketing Society. Classic FM is also the current holder of Arts and Business Champion of the Year Award, in recognition for its projects encouraging children to make music.


Something strange was afoot one summer's day in 1992. As listeners across the UK tuned in between 100 and 102 MHz, they found themselves listening to birdsong. Nothing else -- just birdsong. Then, just before 6am on the morning of September 7, instead of starlings and sparrows, the sound of classical music poured out of radios across the country. Classic FM was born.

From day one, media pundits and classical music buffs alike were ready to laugh off air the idea of a commercial station playing classical music. However within months of launch, Classic FM had achieved double BBC Radio 3's audience figures, with many listeners coming to classical music for the first time in their lives. Eleven years on, Classic FM has now more than three times as many listeners as BBC Radio 3.

From the beginning the vision was to treat Classic FM not simply as a radio station but as a brand in its own right. This philosophy has driven forward a number of new and successful ventures over the years.

Classic FM's main record label, launched in 1994, has to date sold more than 1m CDs. The biggest seller being the latest release, 'Smooth Classics for Rough Days', which has already "gone gold" twice over.

The first issue of Classic FM Magazine rolled off the presses in 1995. It is now the biggest-selling classical music magazine on the news-stand, with more than a quarter of a million readers a month.

Add to this, live concerts and events across the UK, the Classic FM Credit Card, and Classic FM People -- the brand's personal introduction service, and Classic FM has transformed itself into one of the UK's premier lifestyle brands.


Classical music is at the heart of everything Classic FM stands for. With a CD library of more than 150,000 tracks of the world's finest classical recordings, the station has a passion to make classical music an accessible part of everyone's lives.

Listeners also play an active part in choosing the music that is played on the station. Daily shows like Lunchtime Requests and the internet driven chart, Classic FM Most Wanted, let the audience vote or request their favourite tracks to be played on air.

Since 1996, more than a million votes have also been cast through the annual Classic FM Hall of Fame poll, making the chart the biggest regular survey of classical music tastes anywhere in the world. This chart is featured every morning on Henry Kelly's Hall of Fame Hour.

Classic FM music is programmed with the broadest audience in mind, and the station is continually attracting new younger listeners. For this reason music education in schools is an important part of the station's work.

The Classic FM Music Teacher of the Year Awards, now in their fourth year, actively support the inspirational work of teachers who keep music-making alive in schools.

Classic FM has also joined forces with Yamaha, the Purcell School and players from top London orchestras, the London Symphony and Royal Philharmonic, to give youngsters from across the UK the chance to come together for an unforgettable weekend of music-making at the Yamaha-Classic FM School of Music.

Classic FM's National Orchestra Week has also become a firm fixture in the station's spring season. Top bands from across the UK join forces to offer a wide range of special concerts and events. Classic FM's National Opera Week takes place every October and sees the Station teaming up with English National Opera, Scottish Opera, Opera North, English Touring Opera and Glyndebourne Touring Opera to stage a host of activities designed to take opera to new audiences.

Classic FM's closest orchestral partnership is with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. The Liverpool Phil is working with the station to build new audiences of all ages through a Classic FM Concert Series in Liverpool, plus a new Liverpool Music Student Network.

Recent developments

Year on year, the radio station has built its audience across all ages with those who are tuning in listening for longer. In 2002, Classic FM achieved a record set of listening figures, which include best ever reach, market share and total listening hours.

Despite this success Classic FM has not rested on its laurels. In 2002 Classic FM launched its most significant change in programming output in its 10-year history. New presenters such as ITV newscaster Katie Derham, along with Mark Goodier, from BBC Radio 1, have joined the team to help launch a fresh new season of programmes on the station. Stephen Fry's new show 'The Incomplete and Utter History of Classical Music' and 'Chiller Cabinet', a post clubbers overnight show, help complete the new line-up. The challenge is clear: to encourage younger listeners to tune into the station for longer.

December 2002 also saw the launch of Classic FM TV a free-to-air channel, available 24 hours a day on Sky Digital 464. The station is broadcast to 6.3 million homes. Classic FM TV offers an unrivalled format for music television, the first 24/7 classical music video channel anywhere in the world. Classic FM TV features artists such as Kyung-Wha Chung, Angela Gheorghiu, Kennedy, Izzy, The Opera Babes, Yo-Yo Ma and music from original film soundtracks such as 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'Star Wars'.


Classic FM promotion has concentrated on two different target markets in order to grow its audience base. Traditional above-the-line brand advertising using outdoor, cinema, TV and broadsheet press, has been used to talk to a national audience. Along side this, strategic partnerships have been set up with music and art organisations to promote the brand to people at a local level. These partners include festivals such as Mostly Mozart at the Barbican, through to specific productions such as Raymond Gubbay's 'Cav and Pag' at the Royal Albert Hall. Other partners include Symphony Hall Birmingham, the LSO, the RPO, the Philharmonia, The Welsh Proms, the Canterbury Festival and The Lowry.

Brand values

Classic FM remains committed to its aim of presenting classical music to an ever-increasing audience by being modern, relevant, involving and accessible. These brand values across the station and its brand extensions, have delivered Classic FM the largest commercial radio audience in the UK. This unique upmarket audience comes to Classic FM because the brand offers them an emotional benefit -- an antidote to the stress of modern life.

Things you didn't know

  • The sound of birdsong intrigued audiences and the media across the summer of 1992 when test transmissions began. Even Brian Johnstone ruminated over it whilst commentating on Test Match Special. The birds were recorded by presenter Quentin Howard in his Wiltshire garden.

  • Classic FM sponsored Queen's Park Rangers during the first high profile season of England's new elite Premier League.

  • Classic FM shares more audience with BBC Radio 4 than any other radio station.

  • More than 50% of Classic FM's audience do not listen to any other commercial radio station.

  • Classic FM's arrival has helped grow commercial radio revenues from £141m to £552m (Source: RAB/Radio Authority).

  • The first piece of music ever played on Classic FM was 'Zadok the Priest'.

  • The Classic FM record label has sold in excess of 1m albums.

  • Classic FM reaches its 10m listeners a month through 41 transmitters across the country.

    © 2003 Superbrands Ltd

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