Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: Feedback; Private Passions

Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: Feedback; Private Passions

Article excerpt

The new controller of Radio Three, Alan Davey, was on Feedback this week (Radio Four) talking to listeners about his plans for the network. Roger Bolton, who presents, wondered if Davey was worried about ratings -- Radio Three hovers around two million listeners compared with the 5.5 million boasted by its commercial rival Classic FM, or perhaps more alarmingly the two million lured to BBC upstart 6 Music. 'Ratings aren't a pressure for me,' said an ebullient Davey, while admitting that he does want to find more listeners, and then to ensure they stay tuned. But how? Without going down the Classic FM route of more audience participation, more gimmicks, more cheesy competitions?

'We have to get better at explaining what Radio Three is about ...that it's more than just classical music,' Davey suggested. 'We have to offer more explanation and context.'

As a start he's abolished the phone-in on Breakfast and cut down the number of news bulletins, to give Petroc, Clemency and co. more time to talk about the music. 'I want music to have more space to speak for itself,' he explained. Davey wants 'to add to the richness of the station', to delve into different kinds of music, a greater variety of composers, more 'cultural commentary'. He wants his Radio Three to be 'informal but informed'.

You can tell Davey used to work in government as a civil servant, spending the last eight years at the Arts Council. He loves a soundbite. We just have to hope his past experience has also taught him how to fight for his department, his station, against those who think Radio Three is too niche, too much of a minority interest to be funded by taxpayers, most of whom will never listen to it. It's a difficult argument to win in times of impoverishment (both financial and cultural). Why should 30 million households be funding the entertainment of just two million?

Strangely, the most vociferous opponents of Radio Three and other esoteric elements of the BBC tend to have had all the benefits of a 'good' education, and to have had an introduction to classical music, to theatre, the spoken word, galleries and museums at a young age, when such interests are often crucially implanted. They fail to appreciate the jewel that is Radio Three, there at the switch of a button, any time of day or night, encouraging us to develop a taste for Pärt, Poulenc and Purcell as well as funky jazz and clever ideas.

All of which you might catch in a single hour on Private Passions (Radio Three, Sundays), which celebrated its 20th birthday this week. …

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