2018 will see new shows, live concerts at lunch, a move away from long interviews, while Keys to Music gets the chop.

ABC Classic FM has announced its 2018 lineup, which will feature a new weekday Lunchtime Concert slot, hosted by Mairi Nicolson, as well as a series of one-hour ‘gateway’ programmes in the afternoon.

In other changes to the lineup, Phillip Sametz will no longer be presenting Classic Breakfast in 2018 and will not be part of the ABC Classic FM lineup, with the flagship programme to be presented by Russell Torrance in an extended slot that will run from 6am to 10am. “We would like to thank Phillip for making such a contribution to Classic Breakfast,” said ABC Classic FM Content Manager Richard Buckham in the station’s press release. “But the time is right to take the Breakfast programme in a new direction.”

“We’re looking at a slightly different sound for Breakfast next year, we think it’s time to move on to another presenter,” Buckham told Limelight. “It’s no criticism of Phillip because in terms of how the programme is now he’s done a very good job, we’ve been very happy. But you know, these things happen in radio that you do move on with presenters when the sound of the programme might change.”

Vanessa Hughes, who has been heard on ABC Classic FM across 2017, will take over Classic Drive – which has also been extended by an hour, running 4pm to 8pm weekdays – from Christopher Lawrence, who will move to Weekend Breakfast.

2018 will also see an increased focus on the digital space. “We really do need to put some more resources into our digital content because that’s the way the audience is going, that’s the way the world is going,” Buckham told Limelight. “We haven’t had a lot to put into it over the years.”

Part of this increased focus on digital resources will see a new website go live later this year, featuring more and varied content including articles, reviews, opinion pieces and educational content. “We’re looking forward to a new website because the current one presents us with all sorts of problems I won’t go into, but it’s had endemic issues for a long time,” Buckham said, slating possible podcasts and a new approach to education content.

The reallocation of resources to digital education content, however, has meant the axing of Graham Abbott’s long-running Keys to Music programme, which first went to air in 2003. “It has done an incredible job over the past 15 years but the time has come to re-assess our educational offer and to make sure we’re reaching audiences on new platforms and in new ways,” Buckham said in the ABC’s press release. “Graham Abbott has been a valued and highly respected presenter – we would like to thank Graham and his producer Ngaire Duffield for their work on the programme.” 

“I guess 15 years ago when Keys to Music started up, the world was quite a different place and certainly the way that people consumed audio was quite a different matter, particularly for younger listeners and students,” Buckham told Limelight. “So instead of having that one-hour scripted programme, which has served us very well, we want to turn our attention to getting our content out to where those younger listeners and students are finding audio. So it’s really following the audience to where they are, I think.”

The announcement seems to have caught the presenter by surprise. “It’s with sadness that I report that KTM will end in mid-January. I was informed of this today,” wrote Abbott on Twitter, where there is already an outpouring of support for the presenter. “Thank you to everyone for 15 great years!”

While there doesn’t seem to be any indication of comparable education content produced specifically for on air, Buckham suggested that the digital content may be repurposed for radio. “We’ll reuse some of that on air,” he said. “We’re yet to explore the full extent of what we can do, but with that in mind we will be looking for someone to look after education, education specialist among our digital team, so it’s a real investment in that.”

With the recent announcement of Margaret Throsby’s leaving the Saturday interview slot, already scaled back from her popular and long-running weekday midday interview programme in November last year, there are unlikely to be any long-form interviews on ABC Classic FM next year. “There won’t be an interview on that Saturday morning,” Buckham said. “We’re tending to move away from that sort of long set-piece interview. We’re much more interested in developing ways in which we can talk to artists in relation to concerts, to have that as interval content for our direct broadcasts, find ways to reuse that when we rebroadcast the concert, to make those conversations available online. So rather than the big, long interview with music that traditionally has gone an hour, it’ll be a bit more targeted and bite-sized for the new schedule.”

The cancellation of the midday interview show last year prompted a backlash from the Chairmen of the Adelaide, Melbourne, Queensland, Sydney, Tasmanian and West Australian Symphony Orchestras, who said at the time they were “disappointed that ABC Classic FM’s Midday programme, which featured guests sharing their life stories and favourite music, will not return next year.”

The amount of live Australian concerts broadcast by the ABC has been a contentious issue in the past, but Buckham has slated an increased focus on live music in 2018, which will see ABC Classic FM present a major live broadcast by Australian performers every week. “We’re staying with our commitment to 300 across the year, but we’re going to look at doing more live,” Buckham said. “Because the live concert’s a special thing. We’ve been mostly putting our Australian concerts on weekend afternoons, pre-recorded, but we’ve decided we could do both. So we’re going to look at a pattern of going live with some great concerts from around Australia, probably as they happen, Thursday, Friday night, and then rebroadcasting those to the weekend audience, probably on a Sunday afternoon, with that live feel still there. With the presenter presenting it as they did on the night, so while it’s still got that energy and that interest and the fact it happened the day before or two days before, someone who’s touring currently, what an orchestra’s doing right now, it’s just retaining that interest and currency in what we put out.”

The live broadcasts will be presented by ABC Classic FM presenters such as Margaret Throsby, Tamara-Anna Cislowska, Damien Beaumont, Christopher Lawrence, Kristian Chong, Alice Keath, Gordon Hamilton and Mairi Nicolson.

Nicolson will also be hosting a new Lunchtime Concert slot from 1pm to 3pm weekdays. “From the concerts we record around Australia and from our connection with the European Broadcasting Union, which gives us great access to international concerts, we’ll choose the best that we think suit afternoon listening,” Buckham said. “So it will be a mix of Australian and international concerts.”

“Our commitment is still to 300 Australian concerts across the year, which is broadly speaking one a day for ten months, and then we go into our repeat season over the summer while generally orchestras and other groups are in recess between seasons.”

Another new initiative in 2018 will be a series of programmes offering a ‘gateway’ to classical music at 3pm on weekdays. These will include shows like Music in Time with Gordon Hamilton on Mondays and Game Show with Meena Shamaly on Fridays, which will focus on scores and soundtracks from video games. “It’s a chance to give our audience something with a story and a focus, a different way of approaching music for that hour before Drive,” said Buckham. “What I’d like to emphasise about those is there’s not going to be a whole lot of talk, they’ll still be very much music programmes, the talk will be pretty light on. So when Gordon talks about a moment in time, he won’t be giving a lot of information and facts and figures, he’ll be telling a few anecdotes. Same with the Travel programme. So they’re a way of continuing the music with a different focus but still really retaining the emphasis on music. Because that’s what we know our listeners want to hear.”