FoR3 News

News of current developments in the FoR3 campaign.

An archive of older items can be found here.

Nov 17 2014: Do listening figures matter?
The press took up our Facebook story that last quarter Radio 3 had its worst Proms quarter listening figures ever, since comparable figures were first published in 1999.

It's often said that, as far as Radio 3 is concerned, listening figures shouldn't matter. They shouldn't: the provision of a high quality classical music and arts network is self-justifying and will only ever appeal to a small audience. Quoting The Envy of the World:

"The BBC has never sat down to define 'culture' or what a 'cultural network' should be doing. Nor has it ever really faced up to the fact that if such a network is to do its job properly it will only have a very small audience… "

However, within a rigid corporation structure decisions affecting Radio 3 may well be made on the basis of listening figures. Recently, BBC 6 Music, the digital-only station, overtook Radio 3 in reach, which triggered populist calls for 6 Music to be given Radio 3's slot on FM (the main reason being, apparently, so that 6 Music listeners could listen on their FM car radios as well as via all the various digital platforms now available, including DAB car radios).

Also, the BBC Trust, which is responsible for ensuring that public funding is spent in the best interests of the public, might be seduced by proposed station strategies designed to appeal to 'the broader audience'. This is exactly what happened in 2011, and the result can be heard daily in Radio 3's diet of 'accessible and welcoming' easier listening designed for a broad Classic FM-style audience. To quote the Trust: "We want more people to enjoy Radio 3's exemplary programming." To which the response would be, "No, you don't - you just want Radio 3 to increase its listening figures, because the BBC equates that with 'success'."

When the BBC claims that station budgets are allocated according to the nature of the content rather than the size of audience, it is hard to understand how Radio 3's content (live concerts, expensive features, full-length drama, as well as the obligatory support for the BBC Performing Groups and the Proms) could be provided as cheaply as Radio 1's programming, or Radio 2's, for that matter. Yet Radio 3 has the same service budget as Radio 1 and significantly less than Radio 2.

Even if Radio 3 has a relatively small audience, it is still better to have one which is being maintained, rather than one which is diminishing. We disagree with Radio 3's long-term editorial direction, so it's useful to show declining audience figures. They support our arguments if they show that, even on its own terms (getting new listeners), the strategy is counterproductive because it loses more listeners than it gains: fewer people are enjoying its 'exemplary programming'.

Let's leave aside the argument of cultural value as a 'public good' which the BBC finds increasingly difficult to appreciate. So, do the figures matter? No, but yes…
Oct 11 2014: O what can ail thee, BBC…?
We’re a bit (very) late commenting on the final attendance figures for the Proms, partly because waiting for the online press release from the Media Centre proved vain. Unlike last year, there wasn’t one – the press must have been briefed separately with the ‘Glorious Summer for BBC Proms 2014’ story sent out on 13 September.

Also unlike last year, when ‘records were broken’ all over the place, few comparative figures were given this year. Average attendance was 88% (but last year it was 93%). ‘Over half’ the RAH concerts were sold out (but last year they specified 57 out of 75 – which is 76%). ‘More than 300,00 people’ attended the concerts (the same (wording) as last year).

But (big BUT) ‘around 33,000’ bought tickets for the first time (Tick Box) whereas last year it was ‘more than 32,000’, and more than 9,400 under-18s attended (Tick Box) ‘an increase of over 1,000 from last year’.

What we apparently see, then, is that attendance at ‘conventional’ Proms concerts was down, whereas first-timers and younger people boosted the figures. The last fact hardly needs explaining with the Pet Shop Boys (with Chrissie Hynde), Rufus Wainwright, Paloma Faith and Laura Mvula headlining their own shows, and the usual two family Proms (this year CBeebies concerts) joined by the War Horse Prom, with Gareth Malone and the Military Wives. Then there was the BBC Sport Prom, Kiss Me Kate, Battle of the Bands and the Free Prom (featuring Riverdance). The amount of classical music in these concerts varied from ‘nil’ to ‘some’.

The question is inevitably asked: to what extent do the “ailing” Proms (and “ailing” Radio 3, one might add) need the influx of popular entertainers and entertainment to subsidise them? Or are they not ailing at all, but merely being diluted in the search for bigger audiences along with the pan-BBC obsession with ‘reaching the wider audience’, everywhere?

Don’t be afraid: the Proms are for you. Look, here’s Joey the Warhorse and Paloma Faith. And opera singers Katherine Jenkins and Alfie Boe. And even famous pop stars. Something for everyone.

The great BBC publicity machine clearly set its Proms sights on ‘the wider audience’.

Pretty much like Radio 3: phone in and tell us what you think, email us with your suggestion of a piece of great British music, here’s an extract from a long concerto, have a go at our brainteaser, tune in to hear 6 Music presenter Cerys Matthews/Radio 4 presenter John Humphrys telling us about their favourite classical pieces.

Any wonder if, by the time Radio 3 gets back to being serious, many listeners have already quietly switched off and reached for a CD? [Last quarter, reach was down 5.6% on the previous year’s (poor) performance.]
Sep 27 2014 Hail to the chief
Six months after the BBC announced the resignation of Radio 3 Controller, Roger Wright, and two months after his actual departure, his replacement has finally been revealed to an astonished world as the candidate hotly tipped for some weeks as 'the man most likely to' by the press.

Alan Davey, Chief Executive of Arts Council England, was apparently invited to apply and fitted the BBC's requirements well enough for no further round of interviews to be deemed necessary.

Meanwhile, sections of the press, already spreading alarm with sinister speculation at the unconscionable time the process had taken the BBC, looked on the appointment with disbelief: the new controller has no experience of broadcasting! Not of radio, not even of television. (And perhaps even worse, though no one seems to have mentioned it, no experience of working for the BBC).

But one seems to recall that the previous Director of Radio (then Director of Audio and Music), an even more senior radio post, had no experience of broadcasting either. Nor of the arts. And scarcely anything of the BBC. His cultural background had been in marketing via Pepsi Cola and Procter & Gamble. Then, Malvolio-like, he had greatness thrust upon him when he briefly occupied the post of … Acting Director-General. Of the BBC.

So let's just look at Mr Davey's qualifications – holding a senior administrative position in the arts world, working collaboratively with a team, passion for classical music. Yes, but look, he's been an axeman, slashing and burning all over the place. Prospects for Radio 3 not good then.

But, surely, he won't slash and burn if he doesn't have to. And if he does have to, so would anyone else in the post.


Now, come, come people. Next January there will be a new man in control of Radio 3. He will be replacing the controller who probably had by far the most impressive combination of qualifications, musically, administratively, broadcasting-ly, BBC-ly, of any of his predecessors. Ever. In the history of the world. After his 15 years in post … need we say more?

Hail to the new chief!
Sep 15 2014 But answer came there…
Last year, in fact about a year ago, we wrote to the then Director of the Proms, Roger Wright, who was also chair of the Classical Music Board which had responsibility for coordinating the broadcasts of classical music across BBC television and radio. We asked him why the televised Proms had edited out nearly all the contemporary music from their broadcasts. These had been broadcast, as usual, in full on Radio 3 but television is the medium which gets the bigger audiences by far.

New music is programmed in Proms concerts alongside more familiar works to give audiences who would not normally seek out such music the opportunity to hear it. Why then were the works made into an edited compilation programme for television, aired late at night when few people would see them unless they were already interested?

Two days after sending the letter we received a reply from the Controller’s PA: "Thank you for your letter of 19 August, addressed to Roger Wright, regarding television coverage of the BBC Proms/classical music this year. This acknowledges receipt of your correspondence."

We did send a reply intimating that we hoped there would also be a reply to our question. Sadly, Mr Wright did not take the opportunity during his further year with the BBC to oblige. In fact, this year the same thing has happened again - and it did not go unnoticed by composers whose work was removed.

But the BBC speaks: "… the Proms team and the commissioning editor have to bear in mind the audience and that newer works are often less familiar to them." What!?Newer works are always less familiar to them, not least because some of them are being given their première performances (that means they haven’t been played in public before), often commissioned by the BBC. And the whole point of including them in a concert with better known works is completely lost. One by one established composers lined up to condemn the decision.

Judith Weir, Master of the Queen’s Music: The decision is out of step with the commitment the BBC makes to new music.

James MacMillan: There is widespread shock among composers, publishers and performers.

Helen Grime: It’s patronising to the audience to assume that people are going to switch off.

Jonathan Dove: It is disappointing … I write music that is approachable, and it’s not intended for a ghetto, it’s intended for people who like music.

Sir Harrison Birtwistle, on the BBC's explanation: Crap

Nothing we say could be more eloquent.
Sep 10 2014 And finally… perhaps
Almost one year ago exactly, we lodged our complaint about various aspects of the BBC/Radio 3 'Sound of Cinema' season. The most recent two events in the saga have been a response from 1) the Trust saying it had been referred back to Radio 3 as there may have been an inadvertent misunderstanding (shurely shome mistake) and then 2) from Radio 3 saying they thought they had replied and understood the matter had been referred to the Trust (it had). This is a copy of the letter sent to the Trust this afternoon:

Dear Sir,

I quote from the latest Trust email (21st August, ******* *****) relating to the Friends of Radio 3 complaint (breach of editorial guidelines by the BBC and Radio 3 regarding the interactive element of the Sound of Cinema season in 2013):

Thank you for your appeal to the BBC Trust. You have previously corresponded with my colleague **** ****** to confirm that the file with your previous correspondence is complete.

Correct. It was complete.

The Trust Unit has reviewed the various correspondence strands between you and the BBC Trust as well as your correspondence with BBC Complaints. We agree that you have not received a substantive response to your complaint alleging that the Nation's Favourite film music poll breached editorial guidelines. Having discussed your complaint with Radio 3 it became evident that there had been a misunderstanding between Radio 3 and BBC Complaints which resulted in their response not being sent to you and Radio 3 inadvertently thought that they had already responded to your concerns.

I think there was no misunderstanding or inadvertence. Radio 3 replied to us via BBC Complaints but we were not satisfied with Mr Wright's response (see Mr *******'s comment below). In any case, the interactive element (audience poll and the subsequent results programme on Radio 3) was also publicised across BBC television, radio, online and by the media centre, therefore was never a matter for Radio 3 alone.

***** *******, Radio 3 would like to respond to you further on your complaint and will write to you shortly.

I have indeed heard from Mr ******* (email 8 September) in which he said:

Agreeing with you that in such circumstances external adjudication would be helpful, Roger Wright asked me to send a brief response to BBC Information [BBC Complaints?], asking them to inform you that we had nothing to add to previous correspondence and that we did not recognise the allegations. As far as we were concerned, the matter was concluded, and we assumed, rightly, that you would pursue the matter with the BBC Trust."

Factually, Mr *******'s reply is accurate. However, you will surely agree that a reply that 'we have nothing to add and do not recognise the allegations' is unlikely to be construed as a 'substantive' response to a complaint. It would appear, in any case, that Mr Wright may have been referring to the official response to the general complaints about the 3-week cinema season, not the specific claim of a breach of editorial guidelines (on two counts within §17.2.3, 'Interacting with our Audiences') to which he did not refer.

I have replied to Mr ******* confirming that his understanding was quite correct, and we were not expecting to pursue the matter with Radio 3 but with the Trust. We did not expect the Trust to refer the matter back to the point where the complaint had started. This is the theme of Camus' novel,La Peste, where the hapless protagonist is sent trailing from pillar to post until a vital link is broken and he has to start back at the beginning again. It is classed as a novel of the absurd.

If you remain dissatisfied with his response it will, of course, be open to you to return to the BBC Trust to appeal.

We were entirely satisfied with Mr *******'s statement of the facts, but hope the BBC Trust will now consider the complaint itself, rather than refer it to someone else. We are available for further clarification.

Please accept our apologies for the delay in responding to your complaint.


Briefly: the BBC's Sound of Cinema season on television and radio seems in retrospect (in our view) to have been a ploy to draw the attention of the wider public to Radio 3 and persuade them to listen to the film music then everywhere on the station. That was (again, in our view) an abuse of the BBC's 'interactive' offer, an abuse of Radio 3 and a flop (reach fell below 2m, a year-on-year drop in reach and share). The interactive element breached BBC editorial guidelines in that it was not 'distinctive' (it copied Classic FM's annual Movie Music poll), and the poll results concert on Radio 3 did not match the expectations of the likely audience – for reasons stated elsewhere. The three-week season alienated Radio 3 listeners which the Trust said the station's efforts to be more 'accessible' should not do.

We wish to press this complaint regarding the breach of BBC editorial guidelines.

Yours sincerely
Aug 1 2014: Thrown to the wolves
The BBC has a dilemma: does it trumpet the success of BBC Radio 6 Music in overtaking BBC Radio 3 for the first time with its quarterly Rajar listening figures? or does it stand back to present a broader picture which doesn't tell quite the same story? Of course, it tells the world how 'despite also being available on analogue radio' Radio 3 has been beaten by digital-only 6 Music, once threatened with closure.

Ivan Hewett has an article in today's Daily Telegraph, alluringly entitled 'Will an embattled Radio 3 have to change its tune?', in which he appeared to face in opposite directions. Or possibly in neither direction. Was it a plea for the current spectacularly unsuccessful strategy to be reversed, or intensified, or changed to something… else?

Like many, he latched on to the fact that pop station Radio 6 Music had 'overtaken Radio 3 in popularity'. A pop station 'more popular' than a classical music station - there's a novelty! 'Digital-only' underplays the fact that the Rajar figures now include all listening, analogue and digital, online, on Sky, on mobile phones and tablets - in fact any 'live' listening. This means that, with its younger audience (average age was given as 36 in the 2010 review), 6 Music has been at a decreasing disadvantage compared with stations like Radio 3 which are also on FM: few people can't get 6 Music if they want to listen to it.

Ah, but Radio 3 is 'lavishly funded' whereas 6 Music has a 'modest budget'. Well, yes. But all the BBC national network stations are 'lavishly funded' when compared with digital-only stations, Radio 3 rather less lavishly than others in spite of its obligations to support the Proms and the BBC's Performing Groups which eat up something like a third of its budget; whereas, among the digital stations, 6 Music is currently the most lavishly funded, even though a significant amount of the schedule is the cheapest kind of music radio output - playing CDs.

It must be conceded that Radio 3 had a rotten quarter - and even if it had had the few extra thousands to pull it just ahead of 6 Music, that would still have been a rotten result compared with its regular 2 million listeners.

But, to get back to Ivan Hewett and his two suggested alternatives:

Fall back in ever tighter defensive positions around the citadel of high art, as some [unnamed] people feel it should. Not sure what 'ever' tighter means. Perhaps it means tightening up the sloppiness and populism which has crept into so much of the output?

Abandon its loyal listeners and find new ones. In other words, press on with strategy of abandoning its loyal listeners in pursuit of new ones. But Radio 3 has been progressively doing that for 15 years - surely a primary reason why it is now so 'embattled'?

One suggested conclusion is that it should do neither because the 'real story' is that Radio 3 has done jolly well to maintain its 'share of the audience' at 4 per cent. That magic 4 per cent, yes, except that it is actually rounded up (or down) to 4 per cent, because the statistic is quoted as a whole number. However, up to the end of 2006, it seldom fell below 4.0 per cent, in fact on four occasions it reached 5 per cent (i.e. 4.5 per cent or a little more), but since 2007 (coinciding with the introduction of the new Breakfast format) it has more often been below 4 per cent. It needs to fall below 3.50 per cent for the figure to be registered as 3 per cent instead of 4 per cent - but with figures of 3.542 per cent and 3.60 per cent already recorded the magic 4 per cent looks less and less secure - and will continue to do so as the population rises and Radio 3's reach remains stagnant.

As Mr Hewett remarks: “That Radio 3 faces challenges is certain; but it's equally certain that without a faith in its core mission, it has no reason to exist.” Would Mr Hewett, the BBC and Radio 3's loyal listeners all agree on what that core mission is?
Jul 16 2014: Time for a change
Anyone who has taken note of our campaigning over the past ten years will know that it isn't our style to stand on pavements waving banners and chanting; nor do we rant to the newspapers (though to read most of the press stories you might believe we do it all the time, 'vociferously').

We seldom contact the press and haven't responded to a request to splutter our anger/fury/outrage for years - and even then we did so with laboured arguments that had to be spiced up unrecognisably to make the story worth its column inches.

Nor do we personalise: we wish Roger Wright all the very best when he leaves the BBC (at the end of the week, it seems) to take up his new appointment in Aldeburgh in September. Our views on the strategy he has been pursuing are a separate matter. It has been a controversial and very lengthy process achieving no obvious success.

Now, it's time for a radical change of approach: for the first time in our (over) long existence we shall be dealing with a new controller who will be responsible for Radio 3's editorial strategy. We hope this will be someone who has total confidence in the intrinsic value of those areas of the arts which Radio 3 covers: classical music, jazz, world music and the spoken arts; and - just as important - confidence that there are intelligent and informed listeners who expect to be taken more deeply into those subjects in which they already have knowledge, who will not be 'intimidated' or 'daunted' by in-depth examination of musicology, or ideas on subjects of current importance, or being addressed, seriously, by experts in their field.

We quote from last week's editorial in The Guardian: "At […] times the presentational tone can be jarringly patronising, as if still recovering from the shock of Classic FM placing its tanks on the Radio 3 lawn."

Classic FM is Classic FM. It aims to present classical music in an accessible way to a broad audience. It should be left to do that without Radio 3 trying to muscle in. In the face of considerable evidence to the contrary, the BBC denies that Radio 3 has been copying its rival at all. It should not be allowed to get away with claiming that broadcasting a live concert every evening is enough to satisfy some 'niche' audience, so that an extensive part of the remaining classical schedule can happily concentrate on serving 'normal members of the public' who will appreciate a service which is a marginal cut above a Classic FM-without-the-adverts, and won't frighten horses.

That the BBC's 'audience research' has discovered listeners who like the new BBC-style Classic FM would come as no surprise to anyone who stumbles upon discussions on forums like Mumsnet (no disrespect!).
May 16 2014: So is that up… or down?
The latest (March) RAJAR figures for Radio 3 presented a bit of a challenge for any spin doctor, so the BBC response was rather muted (or rather, it concentrated on Radio 2). Yes, both the reach and the listening hours were UP on the previous quarter (December), in the case of the listening hours, very substantially so. But the December quarter had had a very low reach and low listening hours, so improving on them wasn't difficult (and not improving on them would have been disaster).

On the other hand, because of the seasonal variations to the figures (for instance, Proms quarter each year), a more valid comparison is always with the same quarter the previous year, not the quarter immediately before. And the same quarter last year was quite strong, so the reach in the latest quarter was well DOWN on last year's. And even the latest listening hours didn't quite overtake last year's. So, do you quote the quarter-on-quarter figures and say the new ones are UP (4.8% up for reach and 25% up for listening hours)? Or do you quote the year-on-year ones and say they are DOWN (down 3.5% for reach and down just fractionally for listening hours)?

Both sets of figures tell their story. But there are other figures too. Each year the Office for National Statistics recalculates the 'RAJAR population' of the nation's 15+ audience. So if, as happens, year-on-year the population goes up but reach goes down that is… not what would be hoped for.

Calculating the Radio 3 reach as a percentage of the population is less headline-grabbing but more valid. And averaging the percentage reach over the four quarters irons out the quarter-by-quarter fluctuations.

On the published RAJAR tables, Radio 3's percentage reach is unfailingly 4% because the figure is quoted to the nearest whole number. So 4% could mean anything from 3.50% to 4.49%. Taking this year's population figure, that would mean that a "4%" reach might be anything from 1.862m to 2.389m. In recent times Radio 3's reach has never been above 2.30m, and although it did drop below 1.862m a couple of times, the population was also lower at that time, so percentage reach was still - 4%.

The figures the BBC appears to use in Annual Reports are the annual averages so, since the latest set of figures completed the year 2013-14, we can see that the average of the four quarterly figures is 2.025m (3.806%), whereas the previous year it had been 2.103m (4.017%). The percentages round up or down to… 4%. But there is a significant difference: in the past 15 years the annual percentage reach has only once been lower than it was last year, 2013-14, and that was in the year 2007-08 which first brought us the delights of 'Breakfast' and the howls of dismay from listeners.

The conclusion has to be that, in spite of all the strenuous efforts to attract this elusive 'potential' new audience, the trend is down. And there are still very unhappy listeners.
May 7 2014: Trial and error
The Discovering Music programme was Radio 3’s nearest thing to the long-running Talking About Music series on BBC radio, given for almost 40 years by the composer Antony Hopkins. Hopkins, who died yesterday aged 93, was remembered with gratitude and admiration for his unpretentious and informative delivery, capturing the attention of young and old listeners who wanted a deeper understanding of the great works of classical music.

At the end of 1998, a short series, Discovering Music was announced: the conductor Leonard Slatkin would give ten talks on various aspects of music, the hour-long programmes to be broadcast each weekday for two weeks. Since the new controller, Roger Wright, had only begun in post the previous month the series was probably commissioned by his predecessor, Nicholas Kenyon.

These programmes were repeated in the summer-autumn of 1999, and at the beginning of 2000 Discovering Music reappeared in what became its standard format: a series of different musicologists each week analysing a particular piece of music, with illustrations often provided by BBC orchestras.

2 January 2000: 4pm Discovering Music: A new long-running series exploring the great works of classical music, using specially recorded examples to illuminate the textures and deconstruct the music. In this first programme, Anthony Payne unlocks the secrets of Elgar's Second Symphony with the help of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Brad Cohen.

In successive weeks, there were a number of presenters at Sunday teatime: Anthony Payne, Chris de Souza, Gerard McBurney, Roger Nichols, Stephen Johnson, Catherine Bott, Sarah Walker, Ivan Hewett. The works were varied: Schubert’s Piano Trio D929, Bartók’s String Quartet No 6, Stravinsky’s Symphony of Wind Instruments, Ravel’s Ma Mère L’Oye, James MacMillan’s The Berserking, discussed with the composer.

Judging by the comments on the BBC’s then relatively new messageboards, the programme was well-received by listeners. However, it seems that it was not fulfilling whatever mission it was supposed to fulfil, and a revamped version was announced for the autumn season, after the 2003 Proms season.

The programme was billed as ‘Charles Hazlewood Discovering Music’, though the title was not persisted with after a few weeks as Stephen Johnson was also presenting. The programme was moved from Sunday teatime to after lunch on Saturdays, still an hour long at this point but with an audience ‘workshop’ (this seemed to mean a studio audience encouraged to ask questions). Hazlewood was more of a showman and was occasionally joined by one of his own bands providing the musical examples. There had been a hint in the BBC Music Magazine that Leonard Bernstein’s television series in the United States had been the model.

In spite of some sticky moments (certain examples of plagiarism being noted and Hazlewood’s recent conducting debut at Carnegie Hall, or rather his now familiar manner of presentation, having been roundly criticised, snake oil and real estate being mentioned), the programme was lengthened to 90 minutes to allow for a full performance of the work under discussion, and moved back to Sunday teatime in early 2007. Some programmes retained the original serious intent: Stephen Johnson explored the medieval Play of Daniel with the Harp Consort, for instance, followed by a complete recorded performance.

However, it appeared that this still did not satisfy and there were rumours that the programme was to be axed. In August 2011, FoR3 wrote to Radio 3: “Can you reassure listeners that Discovering Music will be returning to a regular slot when the Proms are over, and what day/time will that be, please?”

The reply was: “Discovering Music will be moving to enhance our Monday to Friday 'Live in Concert' live music broadcasts. Each week, in a concert interval, Stephen Johnson will introduce listeners to a work from the second half of the concert.”

So the 90-minute programme was to be squeezed into a concert interval where Stephen Johnson had a bare 20 minutes to unlock the secrets of Liszt’s Piano Sonata or Beethoven’s Große Fuge. From Sunday to Saturday, and then back to Sunday, then any day except Saturday or Sunday; first extending it, then shortening it: where next?

This was not satisfactory and the options could have been to return to something like the original format or drop the whole idea. Early in 2014 the station decided in favour of a solution that listeners had already complained about: a concert interval of recorded music instead. Discovering Music, the station’s only programme of musical analysis, was no more.

It’s hard now not to see Radio 3’s recent programme policies as the complete negation of Antony Hopkins’ careful contributions to educating and informing an audience eager to pursue a deeper understanding of music.

But do tweet and tell us which is your favourite piece of music, and why…
May 1 2014: Va tacito…
Timeline of changes to the presentation of the choral music programme on Radio 3

Sept 12 1999
, 10.55pm-12.00am. New series Choirworks Paul Guinery with Denis McCaldin, Haydn’s Late Masses on period instruments: Te Deum in C for the Empress Marie Therese. English Concert Choir and Orchestra/Trevor Pinnock. Mare Clausam (fragment). Tolzer Boys' Choir, Tafelmusik/Bruno Weil. Mass in B flat (Theresienmesse). Janice Watson (soprano), Pamela Helen Stephen (mezzo), Mark Padmore (tenor), Stephen Varcoe (baritone), Collegium Musicum 90/Richard Hickox

Spring 2003: Details released about the autumn schedule changes led to rumours that the programme was to be dropped, since it was not clear that there was an available slot for it. FoR3 wrote to Radio 3 quoting alarmed posts from the BBC’s messageboards: "a disturbing rumour …such a move cannot be regarded as helpful", "an evil slanderous suggestion which could never be true", "a crassly stupid act", "a dereliction of the BBC's remit", "exactly the kind of educational and entertaining programme that Radio 3 are still very good at producing". Was the rumour True or False?

14 May 2003: Radio 3 replied, confirming the programme was going, ‘replaced by an extra edition of Performance on 3; this will include choral music as appropriate as will the other days of Perf on 3. It allows more flexible scheduling reflecting the musical life of the UK and beyond.’

This was interpreted as meaning that choral works could be scheduled ‘more flexibly’ if included in existing programmes, rather than anchored to one programme on one particular evening of the week.

July 13 2003, 8.00pm-9.30pm: Paul Guinery introduced the final edition of Choirworks: ‘a concert of Purcell and Bach recorded last month in Westminster Abbey as part of the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music. Purcell: Funeral Sentences for the death of Queen Mary II; Te Deum and Jubilate; Bach: Cantata No.11, Lobet Gott in seinen Beichen (Ascension Oratorio); Emma Kirkby (soprano), Charles Humphries (countertenor), Charles Daniels (tenor), Roderick Williams (bass), Choir of Westminster Abbey, St James's Baroque James O'Donnell (conductor)’

The extended length of the programme, and the fact that it had been brought forward to an earlier time indicate that it had proved popular.

Autumn 2005: In the view of the ‘flexibility’ reason given for dropping the 90-minute Sunday Choirworks barely two years previously, it was baffling to learn that a new programme devoted to choirs, 90 minutes long on a Sunday evening was to begin on Radio 3 in the New Year. The new host was to be Aled Jones, who had been presenting on Classic FM and whom the BBC had also signed up to present a programme on Radio 2.

8 January 2006: The Choir begins on Radio 3. ‘Aled Jones begins his new series on choirs by celebrating one of Britain's best loved and most highly regarded choral directors, Sir David Willcocks.

Aled assesses his achievements with composer John Rutter, singer Catherine Wyn Rogers, biographer Bill Owen and Sir David himself. Including music from the Choir of King's College Cambridge, The Bach Choir, The Choir of the Royal College of Music and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir of Salt Lake City.’

A major change was that this was not to be primarily a programme of choral music, but a programme about choirs. For some, the possibility that Aled himself had the competence to ‘assess the achievements’ of one of the great choral directors was slight. Amiable though he was (and by now an experienced broadcaster) this proved the case and too often he appeared to flounder.

The scope of the programme stretched wider than the great choral works to include more or less anything that was sung by vocal ensembles of any kind. Barbershop quartets, gospel: CDs often replaced the ‘live’ recordings and the programme already had little for appeal to the fans of Choirworks.

May 2012: It was announced that Aled Jones had signed for ITV, and would be co-presenting their breakfast show from the autumn. Jones’s engagements with the BBC were progressively ended, including on The Choir.

3 January 2013: Aled Jones presented his final edition: ‘The King's Singers join Aled Jones in the studio together with rising close-harmony stars Vive for a look ahead to the 2013 London A Cappella Festival. Plus there's more music from the six choirs picked to represent the UK in the Europe-wide 'Let the Peoples Sing' competition later this year.’ There were 20 items averaging about 4 minutes each.

An interim period saw a number of guest presenters, all involved with choirs and singing, introducing the programmes. Listener comments grew more favourable.

31 October 2013: A BBC press release announced that the new resident host of The Choir, as from 5 January 2014, was to be Sara Mohr-Pietsch who had for some years been a presenter of the station’s breakfast show. The programme’s strategy-imposed format had been criticised by press and listeners alike for triviality and progressive resemblance to Classic FM.

Comparisons soon began to be made between The Choir and Breakfast: tweets and texts were welcomed

5 January 2014: The programme had already been moved, first from 6.30pm to 5.00pm and now to 4.00pm (a less good slot than early to mid evening – 3.30pm is the ‘trough’ each day). A live choir was in the studio, but most of the music was on CD. ‘Plus, the first in a series of visits to amateur choirs from around the nation, and Sara makes her pick from the range of recordings of this week's choral classics: Tallis's Spem in Alium

The programme is now presenter-led, there are short works, chattier interviews and features such as ‘Meet My Choir’ with input encouraged from listeners. How it has changed in concept and purpose from the first edition of Choirworks. As usual, those with the keenest interest in the music content itself are left scarcely catered for as gradual transformations are wrought, step by step – the same recognisable imprint spreading across the station: Never mind the music, enjoy the chat.

Va tacito e nascosto
Apr 22 2014: How to succeed…
"Roger Wright, Radio 3's controller for the past nine years, is keen to stress that ratings are not his sole means of judging success."

Radio 3’s ratings haven’t been very impressive, so what other ‘means of judging success’ are there? and how reliable are they?

The BBC’s ‘lead metric’ is the Appreciation Index which provides a measurement of how much people enjoy programmes. A panel made up of members of the public records daily which programmes they viewed/listened to, rating their enjoyment/appreciation on a scale of 1-10. These figures are aggregated by service, the mean figure is calculated and then multiplied by 10 to give each channel or radio station its own AI score, now ‘out of 100’, rather than out of 10.

As has been pointed out, people usually avoid programmes which they dislike, so the programmes they choose to listen to will usually afford some positive reward, even if at a low level.

Since the first quarter of 2011, the BBC has been publishing the AIs for television and radio services (though not for individual programmes) and most services come out of this well: for the ten national (UK-wide) radio stations, the average AI scores are in the range 74 to 84 (average 80), with Radio 3 coming third (behind 5 Live Sports Extra and 6 Music) with 82.

But, statistically, a high proportion of the Radio 3 listeners on the panel will listen to the high audience programmes – Breakfast, Essential Classics and In Tune – all programmes tailored to attract the ‘potential’ new audience. One could assume that those at whom the programmes have been specifically targeted will enjoy them, whereas those who hate them won’t choose to listen (and therefore won’t register their dislike). QED?

The BBC issues this caveat: "Owing to the quite considerable difference in output from one radio station to the next, and the fact that they are aimed at different audiences, it is not advisable to compare AI scores between radio stations."

Considering that, using a scale of 1-10, the scores are mostly 7s and 8s, this suggests similarity rather than ‘considerable differences’. Programmes will show wide differences, but these aren’t routinely published as members of the public might arrive at incorrect conclusions… Apparently.

But besides the Appreciation Index, separate scores are published for Distinctiveness - whether listeners find programmes ‘original and different’. Here the BBC stations do less well (average 74), presumably facing greater head-to-head competition from commercial broadcasters.

As for Radio 3’s ‘distinctiveness’ score: it might be supposed that it would do well, considering the lack of competition. However, third from the top for its AI, it’s third from the bottom for distinctiveness (it just beats Radio 5 Live and Radio 1). So, if not very distinctive, what does it resemble? Listeners might compare it with Classic FM and Radio 2, given the pronounced similarities with many programmes: short pieces of music interspersed with chat, and repetitiveness in the (classical) music, at least in the breakfast programme, which means there isn’t much distinctiveness even from day to day (a piece of Johann Strauss II, Gershwin and/or Piazzolla, a film or TV theme, Slavonic/Hungarian/Romanian Dances, some Ravel, a few warhorses …).

Finally, on appreciation scores: a conclusion might be that you will find an appreciative audience if you set out deliberately to attract one, no matter how low or trite your standards. On distinctiveness - pretty much what we’ve been saying all along: that Radio 3 will imitate anything that might encourage those who habitually listen to other stations to switch to something else as long as it’s not too unfamiliar.

Another quote from the controller: "We know how to get our listening figures up - what we would do is to make the station less distinctive."

Not quite true, then: the station has become less distinctive (judging by its scores) but the listening figures are still unimpressive. So why not become really distinctive? Dump the chat, the games, the listener contributions. Make the content more adventurous, risky, even. Bring back the more demanding programmes, the critical analysis.

Some systems of programme ‘quality control’ are able to measure the ‘cultural and intellectual level’ (or fulfiment of cultural standards). Does the BBC system measure this? Or is it simplified to either ‘helps me to relax’ (entertainment) or ‘makes me think’ (demanding)? If so, no wonder the intellectual dimension has virtually disappeared.

* Averages quoted are for all quarterly scores since they were first published. This disguises trends over the period but these have mainly been undramatic.
Mar 24 2014: But what next?
It has been announced that the Controller of Radio 3 and Director of the Proms, Roger Wright, is leaving the BBC to become CEO of Aldeburgh Music.

During most of his time as controller (15 years, which made him the station’s longest serving controller by some margin) we have been at odds with him and disagreed with his vision in attempting to make Radio 3 the hub of the BBC’s ‘classical music for all’ service. We would have preferred him to have used his (we thought) considerable influence to effect an expansion of art music coverage on the mainstream BBC services, television and radio, rather than seek to attract new audiences to Radio 3, where the audience has always had high expectations - and long memories…

We also thought he could have fought harder to maintain the value of Radio 3’s budget. Other services overtook it, leaving it as the worst funded BBC network station in respect of its content costs. Much of what we (continually!) complained about seemed to stem from disproportionate budget cuts. Radio 3 has been very far from the ‘horrendously expensive’ service that it has often been painted.

All this said, we wish Roger all success in his new post at Aldeburgh. But Radio 3’s future will now be a source of some anxiety until the station's editorial direction becomes clear.
Mar 9 2014: How the BBC thinks
So, the axe has fallen, or will fall, sort of, on BBC Three, rather than (yet) on BBC Four.

The Director of Television, Danny Cohen (just turned 40), was interviewed on Radio 5 Live by Richard Bacon (38). First point: 'There was an expectation that BBC Four, which is a channel for an older market, would be the one that went…'

Wait a minute! A channel for an 'older market'? No, it isn't. It is a channel for adults rather than children, but BBC Three isn't for children either. BBC Four is for people, including younger people, interested in the arts and culture generally; or as the BBC puts it: “The Corporation's gold card channel for arts, music and culture.” People in their twenties and thirties can - and certainly do - watch it if there's any subject that appeals to them.

The debate was held in the Guardian too, where one reviewer spoke of the 'perverse decision' having been taken by 'the old, badly informed duffers at the top of the BBC' who could now 'now happily carry on watching BBC4 into their dotage'; to which one reader responded:

“This is absolutely untrue. There are numerous people who simply enjoy BBC 4 because of its informative nature. As an A-level science student I find it to be a great public service which is of a quality that is not found elsewhere on British television. To assume that it is only watched by those who are 'old' suggests that this is a stereotype based upon the assumption that only the elderly would like to watch high quality informative program[me]s presented by those who can inspire. This is very much untrue; I can assure you that as much as some may enjoy 'reality TV' or 'comedy' others enjoy being educated regardless of their age - old and young alike.”

Quite so. Though Mr Cohen (40) didn't take the opportunity to make this point.

Next point: Wasn't it the easy option to close BBC Three rather than BBC Four, because 'older people' tended to have more of a voice - in other words they would have made more of a fuss and all the media people who had any influence were of the same demographic. Weren't older people, in fact 'overly served by the BBC'? asked Mr Bacon (38). 'They are, they are, of course,' agreed the Director of Television (40).

Really? Name one service that is targeted on 'older people'. Where does the idea originate that serious, educative or cultural programmes are for 'older people'?

The same argument pertains with what is caricatured as the 'highbrow' - only accessible to the 'élite'. That's nonsense: it's accessible to anyone who is interested enough to seek it out. Those who need to have it simplified and trivialised aren't that interested in the first place or they wouldn't be satisfied with having it served up in a diluted fashion. Radio 3, take note.
Feb 24 2014: Thesis - antithesis - synthesis
1. "In more than 15 years of running Radio 3, I have never been put under any pressure over ratings."

2. "By joining with the rest of the BBC in this short [cinema] season, attention has helpfully been drawn to Radio 3 across a wide spectrum of BBC audiences who would not be natural listeners to the station. This is a requirement of our Service Licence Review, conducted by the BBC Trust in 2011, which obliges the station to reach out to the widest audience…"

3. - - - - -

Q. But how are those two propositions reconcilable? If Radio 3 is required/obliged to reach out to the widest audience, and to people who would not be natural listeners to the station, how is this not also a strategy for increasing ratings?

A. In two ways:

a) you may draw attention to Radio 3 and reach out to the widest audience, but they may take no notice and not listen

b) they may take notice and start listening but an identical number of people who are natural listeners to the station might stop listening

In either case, ratings would not rise. So, seeking to widen the audience is not necessarily the same as chasing ratings: in fact, the ratings might go down.

Q. That’s true, and they haven’t been very good lately, have they? The Breakfast programme which is specifically aimed at getting new listeners has had dire ratings for the past two quarters, so the Controller may have a point here. But, what is the advantage of a wider spectrum of audiences but fewer listeners? In what sense is that a better use of the licence fee, for example?

A. Hmmm, well, it will be better for Radio 3 management because they will have rid themselves of the critical listeners who complain and pick up on mistakes, and will have replaced them with less demanding listeners, so they won't need to employ experts; and Breakfast can play The Four Seasons, Rodeo and the Slavonic Dances every week. Q.E.F.
Feb 3 2014: Turning up the heat
With a number of journalists picking up on Classic FM’s submission to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s public inquiry on the Future of the BBC, pressure on Radio 3 is building up to justify a strategy which has been unpopular, its success elusive, and its motive mysterious. They have a case to answer and declaring the criticisms “complete nonsense” does not go far in explaining why, in that case, various organisations and listeners are so frustrated and angry.

In among the tweets and texting, the quizzes and playfulness, the chat and cheeriness, there are still some very good programmes and wonderful music. But it is a miscalculation to imagine that radio listeners will happily navigate a way through such childish banalities to find the more serious content. They won’t obligingly switch on and off, and then back on for the good things. They will either switch off completely or stay listening, and fuming. Either way, they won’t be happy.

Two points: we would like to remember that Radio 3 still has some excellent presenters, sometimes disappointingly hidden away from the limelight; and production staff who - we’d like to think - could do much better given a more worthwhile brief.

But… Radio 3 is underfunded and, at a time when the BBC has had to tighten its belt, some services have been treated much more kindly than others. To produce a fine service, of the kind which once inspired, educated - and entertained - Radio 3’s budget needed to be maintained or increased. Squeezed budget, cheap programming. The BBC pays lip service to Radio 3 and what it does; and then turns away to more important matters, playing safe with ‘old favourites’ that pull in big audiences.

Radio 3 is not performing its role as educator of those who want to be stretched; it's purveying pap to those who don't.
Jan 6 2014: Why BBC scandals happen
They happen because those at the very top - Executive and Trust - are too remote from what’s going on. ‘No one told me, I was assured, the evidence was not compelling…’

1. In August 2010, RadioCentre (the umbrella group which represents UK commercial radio stations) submitted their response to the BBC Trust’s review of Radio 3, saying: “…we are concerned that elements of the Radio 3 schedule point towards an increasing popularisation of the service. Programming elements, such as the A-Z of Opera, a classical music chart and the Nation’s Favourite Aria, borrow significantly from the commercial sector (the Classic FM Chart has been running since 1992; the Classic FM Hall of Fame listener poll since 1996 and the A to Z of Classic FM Music since 2008) […]

We are concerned that this marks a dilution of Radio 3’s core public service output. Perhaps more worryingly, this seems to be driven by an attempt to increase audience. In a recent interview, the Radio 3 controller concurred that programming and scheduling changes on Radio 3 were a result of trying to get people to sample the station and get our regular listeners listening for longer. We note that the style of Radio 3’s breakfast programme has moved closer to that of Classic FM…”

The Trust dismissed this, along with similar submissions from listeners and organisations, because it had no idea of the likely results.

2. 24 February 2011 RadioCentre wrote to the BBC Chairman (then Sir Michael Lyons) to express concern at the Trust’s conclusions regarding Radio 3, repeating their comments.

“We are therefore concerned that the Trust has given Radio 3 permission to continue to pursue this populist strategy, agreeing with BBC management that Radio 3 should look for ways to be more ‘accessible and welcoming’ (particularly at breakfast and drivetime).”

We have no information as to whether the BBC deigned to reply: it certainly made no difference to Radio 3’s strategy.

3. November 2012, the CEO of Global Radio (owners of Classic FM) spoke out at the Radio Conference in Salford:

“If you look at the changing programmes Radio 3 has done against Classic, it is pretty overt that it has looked at the successes that Classic has had and adjusted its programming structure… Radio 3 has aggressively pursued Classic FM and it uses its other platforms to cross-promote the station. They are absolutely trying to take our listeners.”

4. And now, January 2014, Classic FM itself has spoken publicly in response to Radio 3’s ‘defence’ of its populist descent:

“Mr  Wright’s recent editorial changes move Radio 3 even further away from its previous distinctive position, making it harder than ever for Radio 3 to justify its privileged public funding. The BBC appears intent on moving its network into the space occupied by a commercial radio competitor in a market of only two stations.”

And this is the key point from the commercial point of view: it’s an unjustifiable use of public funds. From Radio 3 listeners' point of view, it takes away our choice by offering a second station aimed at attracting a ‘broader audience’ with little knowledge of classical music. Classic FM is already doing that.

And what will the ‘men at the top’ do? Ask Radio 3 to account for itself? Which it will do. And if licence fee payers ask what justification they gave, they will be told it is secret, exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

Ask the guilty party and they deny it all, not a shred of truth in the accusations. And at the top of the BBC they will smile understandingly and draw their remuneration.

Meanwhile, after two and a half months, we’re still waiting for a response to our complaint that the ‘Sound of Cinema’ season breached the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines in two respects and that listeners who complained were fobbed off with information that was factually incorrect.

Dec 30 2013: Why Roger is Wrong
The press picked up on our letter to Lord Hall and spoke with the controller, Roger Wright, who defended the policy of playing film scores and ‘theme tunes from television shows’ on Radio 3. This, of course, had not been the point of our letter. We did not ‘accuse’ Radio 3 of ‘dumbing down’, nor did we challenge the occasional playing of film music on Radio 3. But straw men come in handy in such situations.

What we asked (among other things) was whether the three-week long Sound of Cinema season was principally a promotional event to draw attention to Radio 3, since most of the so-called ‘BBC season’ was focused on Radio 3 and the controller had said that ‘attention has helpfully been drawn to BBC Radio 3 across a wide spectrum of BBC audiences who would not be natural listeners to the station’.

A glance at the comments beneath the Telegraph article shows why Roger’s policy is wrong.

“Actually, I find that film themes are the natural bastion of traditional music with a tune that you can actually hum, or whistle. Anything composed since 1950 as "serious" music has been absolute rubbish, so I'm all for R3 playing film music.”

There you have it - playing film music will attract an audience whistling the tunes and thinking that all serious music composed since 1950 is absolute rubbish. So will Hear and Now and all new music commissions follow Discovering Music as the next specialist items on Radio 3 to be axed?

Roger, you have responsibility for ‘coordinating classical music broadcasting across BBC television and radio’. So where are the modern equivalents of those many unpretentious programmes from Radio 2 and Radio 4 which introduced a mass audience, including young people, to classical music? What is the point of having such programmes on Radio 3, where you do not have that mass audience, in the hope that you can attract listeners? You haven't done so and won't, not in any significant numbers.

You are familiar (allegedly) with the Trust’s review of Radio 3, so you know they specifically said that other BBC services besides Radio 3 were ‘more effective’, ‘better placed’, than Radio 3 to introduce new audiences to classical music. So why don’t you ensure that they do it, instead of trying to turn Radio 3 into a children’s party, with comedians (“I don’t know too much about classical music”) and games, kazoos and funny noses?

Such gimmicks will not appeal to listeners who are keen to learn more about classical music, and they will turn away the listeners who expect more of Radio 3. Where is your informed audience going to come from?
Dec 20 2013: And there's more…
The comments below accompanied our letter to the Director-General:

Radio 3’s budget

We have been categorically assured by the Trust that the level at which service licence budgets are fixed is not calculated on the basis of audience size, but on the nature of the content. That is hard to believe when Radio 3, supporting the BBC Proms and the BBC Performing Groups, as well as producing long-form drama and specialist features, has a smaller budget than Radio 1 – smaller, in fact, than any of the other network stations.

We know that part of DQF [Delivering Quality First] strategy was to concentrate the ever-squeezed BBC finances on the larger services with bigger audiences [DQF, p 20: ‘Focusing investment on flagship services and on the times of day when the public most use our services, and reducing spend on off-peak times and the smaller members of the television and radio portfolios’]. This sounds like the opposite of what the Trust told us, and we disagreed with it at the time.

The effect on the Radio 3 budget, accepted by a mystifyingly compliant management, is appalling. The BBC is reducing what was once an exemplary service for the arts and music to a light-weight, low-cost music station to compete with Classic FM, celebrity-strewn for a, no doubt, very appreciative, but undemanding audience.

FACT: Since the introduction of service licences in 2006/07 Radio 3’s budget increase has been 8.6%, compared with, at the other extreme, Radio 1’s 35% increase. A sizable proportion of Radio 3’s budget (more than a third in 2009/10, that is, over £12m from the controller’s direct spend of £33m that year – figures supplied by the Trust) supports the Proms and the Performing Groups. This is disproportionate to the broadcast hours and leaves a grotesquely small amount to provide a remaining schedule of any quality.

FACT: In the past five years, almost all the areas of Radio 3’s specialist remit have been cut and, if press rumours are to be believed (see print-out attached), there are further cuts planned to arts and music speech programmes. The live and specially recorded music, which two years ago actually accounted for 58% of the music output, is now required to be only 40%, leaving a daytime schedule heavily dependent on CDs – the cheapest form of output – and formulaic, presenter-led programming. Long-form drama has recently been relegated to the 10pm slot, ensuring a reduction in its audience. Will that lead to a reduction in its budget?

Editorial strategy

a) Radio 3’s adopted strategy – endorsed, not imposed, by the Trust – is to focus a substantial part of the classical music output, especially at peak listening times, on audiences ‘with little knowledge of classical music’. Current listeners are understandably angry at being served so much elementary, light material which is aimed principally, not at them, but at attracting a possible new listenership.

b) Was the recent three-week BBC ‘Sound of Cinema’ season intended mainly as a promotional event to draw attention to Radio 3 (which carried most of the programming)? Was it coordinated by the Classical Music Board, chaired by the Controller of Radio 3 (who has said that it ‘usefully’ drew the attention of people who would ‘not be the station’s natural listeners’)? Why should an entire three weeks be spent broadcasting music that Radio 3 seldom plays in order to attract the attention of people who are not the station’s natural listeners?

c) The Controller’s claim to licence fee payers, to justify holding a three-week film season, was that the Trust’s 2011 review contained a ‘requirement’ which ‘obliged’ Radio 3 to ‘reach out to the widest audience’. That is factually incorrect: the Trust review said that other services within the BBC’s portfolio were ‘more effective’ (p. 7) than Radio 3 in introducing new audiences to such content, and should do so [i.e. Review, p 41 “other services within the BBC portfolio should also play a role in meeting this requirement, and are potentially better placed to do so, given their size, scale and broader audience”].

The BBC has refused to reveal Radio 3’s complete strategy plans, submitted to the Trust in 2011. This is secrecy rather than transparency, and we believe the BBC has abandoned any intention of providing a critically rigorous service on the grounds, presumably, that it is ‘elitist’.

Many of the BBC’s services are now directed at very specific audiences, rather than at ‘the broad public’: CBeebies, CBBC, BBC Three, Radio 1, Radio 1Xtra, the Asian Network, for example. Radio 3 is a broad-based specialist station: it should not be regarded as needing remedial treatment if ‘some audiences’ perceive it to be ‘daunting’ or ‘inaccessible’ some of the time [Trust Review 2011]. That is exactly as it should be.

Downgrading Radio 3’s non-classical output and focusing the classical musical content predominantly on new listeners is effectively closing down an entire service by the back door.

Insofar as it is, indeed, desirable to educate a new audience to classical music and the arts, the BBC has a fundamental duty to provide regular coverage of these subjects on mainstream services, regardless of whether that affects their audience figures. Why were no complete Proms concerts broadcast last season on BBC Two? Even the ‘lighter’ concerts that it used to broadcast were moved to BBC Four. Why was the tiny amount of classical music (about 7 minutes) that was included in the Urban Classic Prom concert cut from the televised broadcast on BBC Three?

It is hypocritical for the BBC to claim that it wants to bring such music to the wider public if it fails to include it with any regularity on mainstream services. How much would it cost to film a piano recital or chamber concert for BBC Two?
Dec 19 2013: Dear Lord Hall
Letter sent to Lord Hall, BBC Director-General, 19 December 2013

Dear Lord Hall

This is NOT a complaint – please do not forward it to Capita in Darlington to be referred to ‘the relevant staff’. This is sent to you as the BBC’s Editor-in-Chief and Chairman of the BBC Executive Board. We protest at the way the BBC treats arts subjects and classical music; and the extent to which it underestimates the intelligence of the public – in general, but particularly on Radio 3.

The Royal Opera House values ‘accessibility’, reaching a wider public; but this has meant screening the Real Thing in multiplexes and public spaces, not taking simplified operas, with celebrity crossover stars, into small art house cinemas. The arts, seriously treated - and classical music in particular - should form part of the BBC’s regular mainstream services, education by familiarisation, not the occasional big event, series or reality TV.

Meanwhile, Radio 3 is making cuts to its specialist classical output (musicology/music talks, early music, new music recording) and is reducing or sidelining its special, non-classical areas (jazz, world music, drama/arts). Financial constraints are cited but such cuts also sit well with its strategy of increasingly targeting ‘people with little knowledge of classical music’ and cutting anything they might find ‘daunting’.

Seven years ago, Radio 3’s morning music programme discussed Bartók’s Cantata Profana. The successor music programme, this week, had a media personality being invited to talk about Strictly Come Dancing. The BBC should blush that its intellectual standards and ambition have fallen so low. The official view is that this is about ‘accessibility’ and ‘differing tastes’. It is not.

Under the Charter & Agreement (Agreement §7 b, Education and learning) the BBC is obliged to provide “specialist educational content and accompanying material to facilitate learning at all levels and for all ages”. It has been Radio 3’s unique role to provide such specialist content at the highest level. This can still occur during the high-profile ‘special events’; however, the main aim of these, we learn incidentally, is to promote the station (and satisfy the BBC hierarchy?).

The Radio 3 listeners on the attached list express their dismay at the decline of a station which was once intelligent, educational and enjoyable; now, increasingly frequently, it is none of these things. Not only that, but the current strategy has been a failure, even on its own terms.

Yours sincerely

Signed by 740 Radio 3 listeners (including many distinguished musicians, writers, scientists and academics)

[This letter was accompanied by evidence of how budget cuts and the station's editorial strategy have affected programming, which we shall publish shortly.]
Nov 27 2013: What’s afoot?
They say ‘Talk of the devil’, so maybe we shall hear from BBC Complaints (aka Capita Ltd) tomorrow. But at the moment it’s still today and the last postal delivery has come. Our most recent complaint was dated 14 October and we received the standard acknowledgement, with our case Reference Number, on the 24 October, indicating that it had been referred to the ‘relevant staff’ (who dat den?).

They ‘aim to post our replies to complaints within 10 working days of receiving them’, but cited various possible hindrances to this aspiration (e.g. too many complaints to deal with) and said they might not investigate every issue if it did not suggest ‘a substantive breach of guidelines’.

From the date of their letter it has now been a good 24 working days so presumably there was no immediate glib response or standard reply that had already been sent out to others…

One complaint – relating to the three-week ‘Filmfest on 3’ – was very specific and outlined a breach of the BBC’s editorial guidelines. We quoted:

BBC Editorial Guidelines §17.2.3 which states:

“When we offer interactivity to our audiences on our publicly funded channels, it must add public value and enhance our output in a way which fits our public service remit. It must ALSO be distinctive, have a clear editorial purpose AND match the expectations of the likely audience.”

We said that the interactive poll for the ‘Nation’s Favourite’ film music:
  • was not distinctive, since Classic FM has been holding such a poll annually and had just held its vote for 2013 the previous month
  • the coverage on Radio 3 did not match the expectations of the likely audience (Radio 3’s core classical audience) because the ‘top’ 20 pieces in the poll, and played in the evening concert, were not selected by Radio 3 listeners but were chosen by a team of DJs and presenters from across BBC radio: Radio 1, Radio 2, 6 Music, the Asian Network, Radio 3 and Radio 4; nor was the voting limited to Radio 3 listeners. The concert programme had little Radio 3 input and was a promotion to attract new listeners to whom the normal classical programme would not have appealed.
We pointed out that our own poll of Radio 3 listeners had a completely different result, more closely matching the expectations of the Radio 3 concert audience.

There was more, providing support for our claim that the whole season was disproportionate and inappropriate, and saying that Radio 3 management responses to complaints were inaccurate. That does not appear to breach any particular Editorial Guideline, however.
Oct 25 2013: Where did they go?
Radio 3 listening figures for Q3, 2013, Proms quarter, published yesterday:

Overall station reach was an unspectacular 2.025m, 1.5% up on the previous quarter (itself a very mediocre 1.995m). Seasonally, the Proms quarter should be reasonably good, the summer quarter (June) more likely to be poor.

However, Proms quarter 2012 reached the respectable 2.150m, so this year it was down 5.8% on last year. Listening hours were down 8.9% on last year. Did the good weather keep people outside? Could be – but, in that case, Radio 3 listeners more than most: overall, reach and listening hours were fractionally up on last year.

As we always say, a set of figures for each individual quarter is only ever one piece in a jigsaw which is never complete. But taken over all, station performance was not very good.

More interesting were the figures for Breakfast: breakfast shows are the only programmes for which figures are published. It doesn’t do to read too much into Radio 3’s figures here because the sample size is rather too small to be reliable. However, it is worth pointing out, considering this programme has been so controversial, that this quarter’s reach was the lowest since the adjustments to length, timeslot and content in 2011. Reach down 20% on last year, that is 132,000 fewer listeners on average per week. This alone might account for station reach being down more than expected.

It might be pointed out that many BBC breakfast show figures were somewhat depressed this quarter, but Radio 3 unenviably topped the list of ‘losers’. This should also be seen in the context of a strategy to attract new listeners to the station, especially by means of – the breakfast programme.

Classic FM’s reach also dipped a little, year-on-year, but only by 2.4%; listening hours down by 3.3%.
Oct 15 2013: Into the sunset
As Radio 3’s Sound of Cinema passes into oblivion, what was the verdict – ratings hit? critical miss? We’ll never know for sure about the ratings, though Radio 3 was pronouncing it a hit the following week. But what is the verifiable evidence for that?

The Radio 4 Feedback programme on 11 October gave it only about four minutes, almost half of which was devoted to Radio 3’s defence of the enterprise. But of the views broadcast, there was one short anonymous clip that was less than impressed, one listener who could not have been more satisfied (‘Bet the highbrows were miffed,’ he chortled) and two contributions from people who were complaining. So that was 3-1 against. And in fact it wasn’t completely clear that the one ‘pro’ was talking about the Radio 3 coverage - or whether he was normally a Radio 3 listener expressing his delight.

Onward: Radio Times had two letters, one for, one against. Once again the ‘pro’ was a declared film fan, but not necessarily a Radio 3 listener. 1-1 score draw.

Radio 3’s Facebook page was, at a rough estimate, a 20-5 defeat for the film fans; there was no Radio 3 blog, so no opportunity for opinions to be expressed there.

Rather more suspect in terms of impartiality was the Radio 3 forum. Don’t even ask: people there aren’t even keen on the wall-to-wall treatment of Beethoven for a week, so three weeks of film music can be taken as a no-no with them.

Publicly, then, the balance was clearly negative.

But getting back to the official Radio 3 replies: there were ‘a small number of complaints’, put at ‘a few dozen’ (that’s quite a lot, surely? 36? 48?). There was however, overall, ‘a hugely positive response’ – but of what did that consist? Tweets, texts, emails? The more alert would see that these were not equivalents: the opposite of complaints would be people writing to express appreciation, to say thank you. How many of those were there? Hundreds? The opposite of listeners tweeting, texting and emailing would be listeners not tweeting, texting and emailing. So how did those figures compare? Unless there were a million interactive participants, it would be fair to say that the majority did not interact.

One more point: Radio 3’s public declaration that the BBC Trust’s review of Radio 3 contained a ‘requirement’ which ‘obliged’ Radio 3 to reach out to the ‘widest’ audience. Our reading of the review would be that the BBC Trust said almost the reverse. They acknowledged that there were audiences which Radio 3 ‘struggled to reach’ and said they would ‘welcome’ increases in such audiences; but there were, they said, other BBC services that were better placed to do so. No requirement, no obligation, no reaching out to the widest audience. So much for the ‘defence’ of the three week bonanza.

Radio 3’s explanation of the aim was that it was to draw the attention of people ‘who would not be the station’s natural listeners’; which as explanations go must win the prize for unfathomability; and as aims go, the prize for unwisdom.
Sep 26 2013: Dire, dire, dire
Even some of the posters on Radio 3’s own Facebook page are rebelling (see quotes below), just as regular listeners usually flag long before the end of most of Radio 3’s special ‘clearing the schedules’ events.

It isn’t, though, that the latest marathon, Sound of Cinema, hasn’t thrown up some joys - the contributions of composer Neil Brand (on BBC Four as well as Radio 3) have been sharp and enlightening, but that television ‘season’ consisted of three one-hour programmes, one a week - not the entire schedule for three weeks. A weekly series on Radio 3 would surely have been a case of less is much, much more!

But Radio 3 has other motives and doesn’t work like that - no new programming is involved in these media circuses: it’s the normal routine programmes, routine presenters, doing their stuff but each with a narrowly focused theme. Oh, the novelty! Even the old hands at Composer of the Week and The Early Music Show were roped in to celebrate film music (The Early Music Show!!?). We half expected a cinema organ to be imported for Choral Evensong - but God is merciful.

And on the subject of The Early Music Show, a second blow has been announced: Radio 3’s autumn schedules. While we’re all moaning about the overkill of Sound of Cinema, alas! one of the two weekly episodes of ‘TEMS’ is to go, Apparently, ten years ago Radio 3 cottoned on that early music was the coming thing (and had been for some while) and The Early Music Show was born, twice a week, at times with late-night repeats of the weekend lunchtime programmes.

Now, it seems, Radio 3 has decided it’s a 'going' thing, but that film music is doing rather nicely (a popular featured genre at Classic FM for some while), so it’s now the coming thing, with a brand new weekend programme promised. Bizarrely, the Saturday afternoon schedule has been rejigged so that, instead of slipping into the 1pm slot vacated by The Early Music Show the new programme will occupy the 4pm-5pm slot, just before Classic FM’s weekly film music programme with Howard Goodall. Dangerous, that: real film music buffs might just prefer Howard Goodall for their weekly ration.

And there’s more: drama! Or rather, less drama. The innovative new-writing strand The Wire is being ‘given a rest’, while Drama on 3 is shunted, notionally, to the 10pm-11.30pm slot on Sunday nights; but the opening new production of the Shaw comedy will actually finish at midnight. How many people will stay up for that? (“Let them use iPlayer.”)

Another Radio 3 ‘distinctive’ specialism is world music: but World Routes, one of the two world music programmes is also axed: foreign travel too expensive, apparently.

Yet another goodie – the Saturday Music Feature: not being recommissioned, while the explanation for all these concert intervals being filled with, er, more music, rather than an interval talk or feature, was that Radio 3 can’t afford to commission any new ones (couldn’t they use old ones?). Discovering Music, remember, was reduced in length and shoe-horned into the 20-minute concert interval in the last round of cuts.

So the speech-based component, like the music specialisms, has pretty much been decimated.

We congratulate the Controller of Radio 1 in managing to secure a budget increase of £3.3m this year (and an extra £4.4m in 2011) , while Radio 3 received £300,000 and fell to the bottom of the network radio league in terms of budget. In fact, that's £200,000 less than it was getting two years ago. Actual less. Real less.

We have written to the BBC Trust to ask them to explain what criteria are used in deciding, for example, that over the past seven years Radio 1 should have an increase of 35% and Radio 3 only 8.6%: who decides these budget levels? Radio 3 is progressively becoming, not the ‘cultural network’ that the BBC claims, but another music station with ‘high quality’ classical music and a reducing amount of jazz and world music. Was this management's secret ‘strategy proposal’ that was so sensitive that the BBC refused to reveal it when requested?

But the Trust describes the Radio 3 audience (rather dismissively, we thought) as ‘a sub-set of the Radio 4 audience’ which is therefore enjoying the 25% increase which Radio 4 has had.


‘I have Actually. Stopped. Listening to Radio 3. For the first time in over 40 years.’

‘Endless film music was never what I chose to tune in to Radio 3 for!’

‘What an abysmally cretinous choice of film soundtracks the Radio 3 aparatchik donkeys gave us to vote for, with exception of 8 1/2: No Shostakovich, Britten or Prokofiev, but vomit-inducing crap Grease, Billy Elliot and Clint Eastwood tosh.’
[Suspect people will vote for the films they’ve seen and enjoyed, rather than the music, hence the choice of popular films – Ed]

‘enough with the sound of cinema, please! it all sounds exactly the same!’

‘This seems like a cynical ploy to get bums on seats (or whatever the aural equivalent is). If I want to listen to stuff like this, I will tune to Classic FM...’

[The above quotes have been specially selected as NOT being from FoR3’s Radio 3 Forum members, where a further colourful selection of quotes is available, our prize going to:

"Sorry if this has already been dealt with in the thread, but does anyone know how long this wretched film music 'season' will last?"

"Til the end of the month. And then "Film Music2", "Son of Film Music", "Revenge of Film Music", "Film Music, the Deadly Hollows" (in 3D), "Carry On Film Music ...".]
Aug 26 2013: BBC, my BBC
There are times when it’s hard to love the BBC. We know we should: its role during the war, ‘Nation shall speak peace unto nation’, inform, educate and entertain, The Proms - all for one old penny a month…

But, the Hutton Inquiry apart (where untold numbers believed the BBC was, of the two sides, in the right, though it agreed it was in the wrong) it remains unaffected by criticism, emerging unscathed, sailing on regardless, leaving sundry disasters in its wake.

So the grandees at the Trust wave away our complaints directed at itself without feeling the need to answer the criticisms which, to us at least, seemed undeniable. To be fair, they didn’t deny them: they just didn’t refer to them. Here they are:

1. The Trust implied in its review of Radio 3 that the station should not popularise to the extent that it would concern the commercial radio industry (on behalf of Classic FM):

“ ...  such an approach would significantly jeopardise and damage those elements that make Radio 3 distinctive and highly valued. Such a strategy would not be welcomed by either audiences or industry.”

  • We show that even before the review took place, concern was expressed at the possibility of Radio 3 adopting the very strategy management was proposing to pursue: broadening the appeal, making programming ‘more accessible’, cross-promotional campaigns.
  • We show that industry’s submission to the review criticised the populist changes already evident, many copied from Classic FM.
  • We show that after the Trust took its decision, there were two objections to it from industry. [As a lesser point we presented evidence that audiences were dissatisfied too, but never expected that to be seriously considered.]

We asked why this evidence was ignored and Radio 3 management allowed to continue with their popularising policy when the Trust had acknowledged that the industry would not welcome it.


2 We complained that the Trust’s audience research was biased. The review stated that the majority of Radio 3’s listeners were in the older age range, that they predominantly came from the South-East and South of England, that reach was ‘much lower’ in the North and the devolved nations.

  • We showed that the majority of the ‘qualitative research’ focused on younger age groups, and on those in the North and the devolved nations.
  • Other audience research asked people who had never listened to Radio 3 (and were stated not to be necessarily interested in classical music) to listen to current programmes and give their opinions.
  • The online survey contained a question which stated specifically that Radio 3 should cater for listeners with little knowledge of classical music and asked how well it did that (no balancing question asking how well it catered for knowledgeable listeners).

Overall we showed that the research was heavily biased against the Radio 3 listener with a passion for classical music, and favoured the views of the ‘potential’ listeners which the proposed strategy wanted to attract.

This predisposed the Trust to endorse the strategy which industry and current listeners said they were unhappy about. Answer?


3. We claimed the Trust were uncooperative in failing to provide evidence about their research methods, failing to acknowledge or consider evidence sent to them and not publishing the disputed proposals in advance (in fact, not at all) so that they could be commented on in the public consultation before a decision was taken to endorse them.

NO RESPONSE (except, when pressed, a very belated apology for failing to acknowledge receipt of the evidence; and some further details followed by an apology for getting that wrong).

And NO RESPONSE to the query as to whether there were no alternative proceedings for judging a complaint against the Trust other than adjudication by the permanent head of the Trust.

"It is our view that the Trust has responded reasonably to your enquiries and provided you with significant explanation of the reasoning and research behind the Trust's position on Radio 3."

They have not responded to the actual complaints and show no signs of doing so. They have, indeed, responded, many many, times to our ‘enquiries’ - but only because we keep writing since they evade the issues each time.

And while we’re at it, they might also explain why, since the new service licence budgets were introduced for 2006/07, Radio 1 has been granted an increase of 34.9%, while Radio 3 over the same seven-year period has had 8.6%. Radio 1’s increased expenses are met, Radio 3’s aren’t?
Aug 20 2013: Heavies weigh in
A quick look at another bit of valuable audience research which the BBC Trust used to ‘inform’ its decision on Radio 3’s programming strategy.

We made the point some time ago that, if asked, long-standing listeners who are already knowledgeable about classical music would be likely to have very different views about Radio 3 from those of the current target audience: those potential, or now actual, listeners with little knowledge of classical music, or who found the programmes to be ‘slightly intimidating at times’.

But - the Trust said in reply - our qualitative audience research was weighted in favour of the ‘heavier’ listeners as against the ‘lighter’ ones.

Objection m’lud: by ‘heavier’ they mean those who listen longest. So a ‘heavy’ listener can be someone who listens to
Breakfast every morning (and perhaps Essential Classics, formerly Classical Collection) and then maybe to In Tune in the evenings – the programmes designed to appeal to the newer listeners. A lighter listener could be one who now, discriminatingly, only selects a couple of evening concerts to listen to most weeks, and perhaps a lunchtime recital, since the bulk of the peaktime programming is no longer aimed at him/her. And the research is weighted in favour of the heavy listener. This seems precisely to confirm our original concerns.

Weighting the results in favour of the ‘heavier’ listeners appears to have meant that they conducted five ‘heavy’ focus groups (40 people), as against three ‘lighter’ ones (24 people), which would indeed mean that those who, as a matter of routine, listen for longer get a bigger say than those who listen selectively – the traditionally encouraged way for Radio 3 listeners.
Quod erat, for BBC purposes, faciendum?

We noted that many personal opinions were quoted in the Trust’s research reports, mostly from the younger age groups. One listener expressed the view that the presenters were ‘not well-known’. Perhaps, one or two others ventured to suggest, having ‘well-known voices’ talking about music would make it seem more accessible and less elitist?

But what is ‘a well-known voice’? One suspects that the well modulated tones of, for instance, Dame Janet discussing her distinguished career as a musician would strike such listeners as ‘daunting’ and ‘elitist’. Instead, we had a succession of well-known TV chefs, gardeners, weather presenters and illusionists sharing their musical favourites – because the new target audience suggested it: or rather, one or two people did.

But, to be fair, we do seem now to have run out of all the TV cooks and gardeners who had any liking for classical music and we’ve moved on to nature writers, political cartoonists, feminist members of the House of Lords and professors of poetry: people chosen, it seems, for what or who they are; and what they like rather than what they know about music.
Aug 5 2013: The only way is…
The BBC Trust's review of Radio 3 had some encouraging comments to make back in February 2011:

"Whilst our analysis shows that Radio 3 struggles to reach certain audiences we note that
there are other services within the BBC's portfolio - across both television and radio - that also have an important role in making great music and arts accessible to a wide audience."

And again:

"However, other services within the BBC portfolio should also play a role in meeting this requirement [to build appreciation of music and culture amongst audiences with little classical music knowledge],
and are potentially better placed to do so, given their size, scale and broader audience."

Other services? There's BBC Two and Radio 2. But the signs are that both are shying away rather than playing this 'important' role.

This year BBC Two has reduced its regular Proms coverage to highlights; the lighter concerts (Hollywood, film music) which it used to broadcast have now been moved to BBC Four. And the BBC Two Proms presenter, Katie Derham, engaged as the high profile celebrity Proms presenter (following Alan Titchmarch and Clive Anderson) and styled 'the Proms queen', moves over from BBC Two to BBC Four.

BBC Four, the BBC's 'gold card channel for music, the arts and culture' itself now excises new works from the concert broadcasts and will place them in a special, edited 'New Music' compilation. This seems in line with the 'Create your own content' trend. If you're enthusiastic about New Music you can seek it out; if you 'don't know it',  'don't like it', think it's all 'rubbish'  you can carefully avoid it. And it won't spoil the rest of the concert for you. So what is the point of programming new works and older works in the same concert in the first place? Wasn't it to familiarise audiences with the new and unfamiliar?

As for Radio 2, its own contribution,
Your 100 Best Tunes, was axed in 2007 and its ostensible successor, an extended Melodies for You, followed it into oblivion six months after the Trust's grand pronouncement.

Meanwhile, over on Radio 3, it seems that Sunday afternoons are also deemed unsuitable for new works: the world première of Naresh Sohal's 45-minute The Cosmic Dance, commissioned by the BBC, was omitted from the Sunday afternoon repeat. 'Daunting and inaccessible' to new listeners perhaps? Horses? Frightening? And this is the station a former Director General called one of 'real seriousness'.
Jul 9 2013: A grizzly experience!
The former chairman of the BBC, Lord Grade, addressing the House of Lords Communications committee in 2011, argued for a BBC ombudsman to adjudicate on complaints against the BBC.

Here are some of his direct words, following his own efforts to pursue complaints against the organisation:

"Since I've left the BBC, I've had two serious complaints that I've been involved in against the BBC and that has been such a grizzly experience that I have to say now I think an ombudsman is absolutely the answer."

"I think that one of the problems of dealing with the BBC in a complaint is how long it takes them."

"It took months and months and months of grind for me to resolve my complaint."

"I thought to myself I'm a man that has been inside the BBC, I know how it works, I know the people that are dealing with this thing and I'm having a problem."

"Goodness knows, poor members of the public having to seek redress from the BBC when they don't know how the system works, who to write to by name or anything. It's hopeless, absolutely hopeless and it does a great institution no service at all and I think I would wholeheartedly support an ombudsman today."

Last week, Friends of Radio 3 lodged an official complaint against the BBC Trust. We shall argue negligence and incompetence in handling the review of Radio 3 and in continuing their support for management's editorial strategy in the teeth of strong opposition from the commercial radio sector, against independent advice and in spite of listener complaints.

We expect a grizzly experience (it has been so far).
Jun 12 2013: Quis ipsos custodes?
Yet another of the BBC’s recent ‘not our finest hour’ moments was the announced cancellation of the Digital Media Initiative (DMI) with an admitted loss of £100 million of licence fee payers’ money, and in spite of warnings a couple of years ago that the project was already in trouble.

Then, in steps the newly appointed Director General and pulls the plug on it, no messing. Lord Hall was quoted as saying, “The DMI project has wasted a huge amount of licence-fee payers’ money and I saw no reason to allow that to continue, which is why I have closed it.”

But, isn’t it the job of the BBC Trust to look after the prudent expenditure of licence-fee payers’ money? The managers are supposed to spend it (albeit wisely, of course). And the BBC Trust Chairman was told that the project was ‘doomed to failure’ a year ago. How come they were caught like the proverbial rabbit in the headlights, unable to move?

Well, all right, enough said: the BBC has grovelled, the BBC Trust has grovelled, as well they might. No need to labour the point and we are more concerned about why the managers spent more on Radio 1’s programme content last year than on Radio 3’s (and more on Radio 2’s, Radio 4’s and Radio 5Live’s - but Radio 1’s had previously been the least expensive of the five network stations; now, Radio 3’s is).

But the DMI story does connect with another aspect of BBC Trustworthiness. An article in a publication some months ago posed some, not entirely light-hearted, quiz questions about classical music (if anyone would like to read the original, it can be found in Mark Doran's 'Music Matters' column in the May-June issue of
Musical Opinion). One of the questions [slightly edited, but you’ll grasp the gist] was:

What route is the most effective for a licence fee payer who wants to complain about the ever-intensifying contempt with which the BBC treats classical music and its audience? Is it:–

  1. You write to the BBC, and they respond thoughtfully and constructively to your concerns.
  2. You complain to the corporation’s governing body, the BBC Trust, and they take action to bring about needed improvements.
  3. You send something to a newspaper or magazine, and the resulting exposure shames the BBC into making the necessary changes.

But (we protest) we’ve been trying all three of them for years (admittedly, not so much on the newspaper/publicity route as we have always thought it better to keep things ‘in the family’). “You have?” is the response, “Well, tough: you picked the wrong answers.”

“Inevitably – because, in fact, there is no ‘most effective’ route: the simple truth is that there isn’t anything you can do that will have even the slightest effect. You can complain and expose and agitate in whatever way you like, for as long as you like: you might as well spend the time pouring water on a duck’s back. So I’m afraid everything just continues as before.”

We currently await replies to our latest communications from the classically-inclined BBC Director General and the classically-inclined BBC Chairman. Will they reply at all to our factual evidence and coherent arguments? Coincidentally, it appears that the Director of the Trust Unit (the sort of ‘Cabinet Secretary’ to the BBC Trust and with a staff of 70, though this being the BBC, probably paid rather more than the real Cabinet Secretary who heads 453,000 civil servants) is also classically-inclined. A hat-trick of the BBC’s top personnel. But there will never be any possibility, or even likelihood, that any one of them will ever reply to a letter addressed him personally; indeed the likelihood is that he will only ever see it or hear about it if someone lower down deems it important enough for the Great Man to be troubled with it. While advocating general ‘accessibility’, the BBC’s top brass are themselves ... inaccessible.
May 17 2013: Radio Twitter’s breakfast bid
Radio 3 has been all a-Twitter this week, everyone wishing the Breakfast team good luck with its Sony ‘Breakfast Show’ nomination. In the end they were also-rans: the gold went to Radio 4’s Today programme, the silver to Absolute’s Christian O’Connell and bronze to Chris Evans on Radio 2.

But enough of the detail: this was surely the first time that a Radio 3 ‘Breakfast Show’ has even been nominated for this category. Why …? Presumably because it has only recently had a breakfast show: prior to that it just played good music first thing in the morning. But Breakfast is the real deal: phone-ins, listener interactivity, requests, emails, texts, tweets, snippets of topical news from the morning papers – and the prize for that? Entered for the prestigious Sony Radio Academy Breakfast Show of the year. And, in a sense, everyone does win in this competition because if they lose they still get fulsome praise from the judges (these are the radio industry’s luvvies, after all):

What the Judges Said:

"This is a joy to listen to. Radio 3 has made considerable changes to its breakfast show turning it into an accessible, warm, and stimulating start [to] the day, in the teeth of opposition from some traditionalists.

No longer is classical music handed out. Now listeners are asked for their suggestions, introduce them, and talk about discoveries and musical passions. Presenters Petroc Trewlawny [sic] and Sara Mohr-Pietsch are well matched friendly experts, always encouraging."

Cynics we, and we begin to smell a rat. What’s all this about ‘in the teeth of opposition from some traditionalists’? What do they know about that? Who do they mean? Not us, surely, who would prefer something more musically imaginative, broader and more challenging in its classical scope, without the bland sameness of popular radio flannel. In fact, come to think of it Radio Flannel has a certain ring to it…

The judges clearly are part of the target audience and were chosen for their familiarity with the tried-and-tested breakfast show routines rather than classical music.

As for the teeth of the opposition, could it be that the programme was entered in the first place in the hope that it might win an award and thus publicly knock a few of those opposition teeth out? Unfortunately, it didn’t win so it will need to sink even lower to capture that elusive gold award.
Apr 14 2013: Pop goes 3
Radio 3 Digital is currently celebrating (tweeting) the fact that their Red Nose Day video of Justin Bieber goes Baroque has had the highest number of views of any R3 video to date ‘by about a mile’. The reason for this is not hard to find: Bieber is an international pop artist currently with a huge worldwide following. His name attracts attention, especially on YouTube and the internet. Wow, awesome, as Radio 3 people say these days on Facebook and Twitter.

But whereas the video might well hold some interest for Bieber fans (a recognisable version of his pop song with orchestral treatment, sung by a counter tenor), a pastiche baroque arrangement can hardly have the same attraction for Radio 3 listeners. No more a pop song made famous by a pop singer - neither otherwise likely to feature on Radio 3. This was a video curiosity for the wider pop world and, as such, it created a small ripple of interest.

But, is this the very thing to attract new, younger listeners to Radio 3? Should they tune in and hear the Early Music Show, or perhaps catch the odd bit of Vivaldi on Breakfast, will that convert them to Radio 3? Hardly likely, in our view, since the main attraction was Bieber, not baroque.

So get your priorities into proportion Radio 3: Bieber’s Wikipedia article is about the same length as Beethoven’s. Judge for yourself the value of ‘popularity’.
Feb 25 2013: In your Face-book
Radio 3's Facebook last week had an uncompromising contribution from a listener: "The two "Breakfast" shows this weekend must rank among the worst programmes ever broadcast on Radio 3. The station should be ashamed of the patronising production content and style of 'presentation'. "

We note that minor concession, ‘among' the worst. Many would say there isn't much to choose between Radio 3's breakfast shows these days, though weekends have often been better than most.

Only one reply (of four so far) ventured to object to this trenchant view, the reasons being instructive:

"Sorry, I disagree. There are many styles of broadcasting and this for me was accessible and enjoyable. I am not a classical music expert but would like to know more. BBC Radio 3 is now our family station of choice with even our 8 and 5 year old boys enjoying it."

Well, what can one say? Wait a few years: when your sons are 18 and 15, they may have graduated to something more grown-up? Like Classic FM, for instance?

Yes, there are many styles of broadcasting: so, why doesn't the BBC vary them with at least one of its radio stations?

Meanwhile, where do the rather older listeners, with a bit - or even a great deal - of knowledge of classical music go to get some stimulating musical caffeine in the mornings? For them, now that 6.30am to midday on the UK's leading cultural network is the province of children and beginners, BBC radio is hardly worth visiting.
Feb 22 2013: Watch your language
In a week when Radio 3’s Essential Classics had a ‘language which may offend’ warning slapped on its Listen Again recording, two days running, a focus on language is perhaps appropriate.

Regarding the Essential Classics programme, as far as we could tell (from the Radio 3 Forum) listeners were more amused than offended; not amused by the language itself but by the presenter’s nervous apologies and the need to post a subsequent language warning (while, be it noted, on Facebook Radio 3 was mixing its messages, in vaunting the programme by publicising it: “complete with the warning 'Contains language which may offend'. A first for Essential Classics, they proclaimed. Gillian Reynolds in The Telegraph considered the guest’s ‘language which may offend’ was merely quoted ‘for maximum “listen to me” effect’. Quite (the article’s headline, “When bad language makes brilliant radio” was not a reference to this programme but to one on Radio 4).

But a word we want to look at is ‘accessibility’ - and ‘accessible’. Radio 3 management expressed its intention to make the station ‘more accessible and welcoming’. The word as currently used, for instance by local councils and public services, has a reassuringly ‘inclusive’ meaning, a socially caring meaning. It’s a good thing. No one should be, or feel, left out.

But wait a minute: in that sense it refers to those who have some disadvantage or disability, making it possible for them to access the mainstream: giving a minority the ability to do or enjoy those things that the majority of us take for granted. A lecture may have signers to aid the hearing impaired, websites are designed to be navigable by the visually impaired, buildings have ramps to allow wheelchair access. All things most of the population has no difficulty with. That's accessibility.

But as it’s applied to Radio 3, it’s a weasel word, a warm-sounding word which has a different significance altogether. A radio arts station dealing with classical music, drama, arts discussion, jazz is in no sense the mainstream; nor is it enjoyed by the majority. So to whom, exactly, is it being made ‘accessible’. One answer has been ‘to the broader public’ – but what, exactly, is the broader public? what are their interests? how much do they know, or care, about classical music? Most importantly, what do they want from a radio arts station?

It is the most widespread problem that besets Radio 3’s current classical music programming: the presence of jazz, world music, speech programmes is no problem whatsoever, it’s the presentation of and assumptions behind a current crop of classical music programmes.

More and more short pieces, single movement extracts; a concentration on familiar pieces; listeners’ phone-ins, tweets, texts, emails; celebrity guests, television comedians' hosting of Question Time sessions on music; barely any expert critical comment and analysis; fewer and fewer experts …

‘Classical music is for everyone’ is the mantra. Well, yes, that is at the same time both self-evidently true and profoundly untrue. It is true in that, like most other sorts of music, it is ‘out there’ for everyone to enjoy, there for anyone who, for example, turns on Radio 3 and listens, there for anyone who pays their ticket money to go to a concert, who borrows a CD from a library. But it is as untrue as saying gangsta rap is ‘for everyone’, when equally self-evidently, whether through age or upbringing, culture or taste, it is not ‘for’ most people.

But Radio 3 must survive, they say, it must have more listeners to justify its existence. And in saying this they ignore the fact that the audience does not increase if you make the programmes more accessible because the natural audience which is being talked down to gradually gives up listening.

‘To simplify or reduce the intellectual content of (esp. published or broadcast material) in order to appeal to a larger number of people.’
‘To become less intellectually challenging or sophisticated, or produce less intellectually demanding material, esp. in order to appeal to a mass audience.’

Where Radio 3 is concerned, in what way does ‘to make accessible’, ‘to become accessible’ differ from the two definitions given above which in the Oxford English Dictionary define, respectively, 'to dumb down' and 'dumbed down'? And if they are not definitions of ‘to make accessible’ and ‘to become accessible’, how, exactly are these terms to be defined?

What public value is enhanced by reducing the intellectual challenge of a service of which the intellectual challenge is one of the reasons for its existence? What has happened at the BBC which renders them unable to appreciate this point?
Feb 12 2013: The Sound of Music
We haven't had much news of the BBC or Radio 3 recently, but a couple of items are worth noting.

Firstly, BBC Two is currently broadcasting a new classical music series - The Story of Music - written and presented by Howard Goodall. It is, as he made clear, his story of music - among 'millions of others'; his story of Western classical music in particular, starting with its origins so a bit thin on the pre-'classical' period (episode 2 is already at the baroque period, for example, the series having started with prehistoric cavemen). Although the press critics seemed to like it, viewers' comments were divided between those saying it was too simplistic, too keen to point up the similarities with pop music in the interests of appearing 'cool' and those who enjoyed it therefore venting their spleen on the 'snobs' and 'elitists' who were disparaging. Radio 3 listeners, posting on the Radio 3 Forum, had largely positive impressions of the soberly dressed Mr Goodall's knowledgeable and non dramatic presentation, while conceding that they were perhaps not the audience at whom it was directed.

The connection with Radio 3 is that the programme is linked to special concurrent features on Radio 3 - on Essential Classics and In Tune, both programmes tailored to receive the potential new audience for classical music. The aim, then, seems to be to attract the television viewers over to Radio 3 to listen to the further, related, material. Whereas the television programme does seem to be a lot of talking, Radio 3 has the music.

The points here are:

1. That the level of the programme, though the commentary is good, is fairly basic. We can all learn something from the broad scope but it is specifically aimed at those without much knowledge already. Attracting them to Radio 3 is in complete accord with the current station strategy: to broaden the appeal of the station by making it more 'accessible' (and therefore more 'welcoming') to potential new listeners.

A good thing, surely? But this is a strategy to make the station more popular, not to make the music more popular. This very overt link between the television audience and the radio station could also be seen as just the kind of 'promotional campaign' that Lord Smith's committee had in mind when it reported to the BBC Trust in 2010:

"For Radio 3, our main concern is that the service should retain its "quality" positioning and its distinctiveness from Classic FM. If Radio 3 were to broaden its appeal (for example, through more accessible programming - supported by promotional campaigns), this could have a detrimental impact on Classic FM's audience […] In order to ensure the retention of Radio 3's distinctiveness, there may be scope to tighten the service's remit - but any changes should wait until the Trust's review is completed."

The Trust's review has been completed and needless to say they paid no heed to Lord Smith's committee, albeit that Classic FM has no similar TV space to advertise its wares. The downside of the strategy is, in any case, that progressively less and less of Radio 3's classical output is aimed at the more knowledgeable listener.

Which brings us to the second point: what effect has this strategy had on the Radio 3 audience? So - secondly - to the subject of the latest RAJAR quarterly listening data.

2. As far as Radio 3 management is concerned, the overall reach was perhaps a matter for relief (that it wasn't lower) or for disappointment (that it wasn't better), rather than cause to celebrate. At 2.061m, reach is roughly static, albeit down slightly year-on-year and down 4% quarter-on-quarter (last quarter was Proms quarter). No sign that the strategy, introduced back in 2010, has increased the audience. Weekly listening hours of 13,302m are quite good - if the aim is to keep listeners tuned in for as long as possible and increase station share. But should that be the aim? Three-hour programmes may coax a listener to stay tuned for longer, but wouldn't an excellent one-hour programme, for example, be of more value than three-hours of 'easy listening'?

The part of the schedule which has been specifically aimed at the 'broader audience' is the morning, until noon: Essential Classics, from 9am until midday, and the preceding Breakfast (this is the time of day which attracts in general the highest number of radio listeners). Various features have proved controversial, not only with a section of the audience but also with the commercial sector which has described the changes as 'populist' and fears its publicly funded rival's encroachment on the territory of Classic FM (the BBC description 'great music accompanied by listeners' calls, e-mails and letters' refers to Steve Wright's Sunday Love Songs on Radio 2, but it could just as well be Radio 3's morning offering). A recent listener text message read out on Essential Classics informed us the texter thought Beethoven's 8th Symphony was 'groovy' and Bernard Haitink was 'doing a grand job'. Was that even worth sending in, still less taking the trouble to read out? As a critic, Howard Goodall need not fear the acuities of Radio 3.

As for RAJAR, we have no details of the performance of individual programmes - except Breakfast. So how has it been doing?

The weekly average last quarter - and we now have nine comparable quarterly figures - was 606,000. This is the third lowest figure since the new timings were first recorded for Q4 2010. The average over this period has been 650,000. So where are all the 'potential listeners' for whom the new style has been specially created? Even by its own criteria (which many criticise) the programme does not seem to be succeeding.

If people want light popular music and high profile presenters, they listen to Radio 2; if they want news and current affairs, they listen to Radio 4; if they want 'pop', it's Radio 1 and any number of commercial stations; if they want half an ear on easy listening classical music, interspersed with friendly chat, they have Classic FM. So where does this leave Radio 3 - unless it discards its 'bleeding chunks', its frequent repetition of familiar works, its untaxing listener contributions in texts, tweets and phone-ins, its trivial 'themes'? One possibility is that those who want a more sober mix of interesting music and useful information will give classical music on Radio 3 a miss in the morning and opt instead for Radio 4.

'Accessible' remains as elusive a weasel word as 'elitist'. Who knows what different people mean when they use it? But we are trained to think 'accessible' is good: who would dare say that they did not want classical music to be 'accessible' if that is promptly glossed as meaning it should be 'inaccessible', which in turn means they want to keep people out.

Meanwhile Howard Goodall's Saturday night effort to make 'classical music accessible' battles against Casualty on BBC One and Jonathan Ross on ITV1. Not surprisingly, the first episode of The Story of Music was nowhere in BBC Two's Top 30 that week.
May 17 2012: The circus in town
In other words… it’s RAJAR frenzy again. The radio listening figures were published this morning.

In some people’s view it was a poor quarter for Radio 3, with large falls in reach, listening hours and share of listening, while record highs were achieved elsewhere.

Other people describe the figures as having ‘dipped a little’, pointing out that listeners were tuning in for slightly longer.

In our view, a year on year drop of 15.8%, and a drop on the previous quarter of 9.3% is a bit more than a little dip. Realistically… it’s a lot, isn’t it? Were it to have a similar dip next quarter, Radio 3 would be floundering down in the Stygian depths of the unknown and never heard of again. And as for people listening longer, there is a tendency (not always realised) for average listening to go up when reach goes down, and vice versa. Nothing to see there, then.

With fewer listeners, listening hours are also down: 13.6% year on year, and 13.5% on the previous quarter. Again, quite spectacular.

The new style ‘refreshed’ Breakfast programme which celebrated a big rise in its first quarter has also suffered ‘a slight dip’: down 17.6% year on year, and down 18.1% on the previous quarter.

But what does it mean, since we always say that one quarter should not be taken in isolation?

Well, we saw a rather similar pattern back in 2007 when Breakfast first arrived on the scene: widespread listener criticism and a sudden collapse in listening.

Yet the Radio 3 managers remain sanguine: it’s ‘early days’ for the new schedules. Isn’t this a rather sinister attitude? Sudden exit of listeners but listening will go up again before too long? Some of the defectors will return because they have nowhere else to go, and the less ambitious programming will eventually pull in new listeners to replace those who don’t come back. All shall be well.

But what does this do to standards each time? Doesn’t this please new audiences while bludgeoning existing listeners into accepting the unacceptable because the BBC has no higher ambition for the arts than to present them as light entertainment? Where next for Radio 3? Wall-to-wall light listening from 6.30am to 6.30pm?
Apr 23 2012: 'Value for money'
It even has its own abbreviation - vfm. Ensuring that the BBC provides it is one of the duties of the BBC Trust. And one of their 'metrics' for the broadcast services is the 'cost per listener' and 'cost per listener hour'.

Oh, dear. This is a bit of a disadvantage to a station which is - or was - designed to be a minority service (which means it has comparatively few listeners). And more: those listeners have traditionally been 'selective': they are more likely to scan the schedules and tune in for the programmes which interest them, unlike the listeners who need music or voices as a constant background, and listen - or hear them - for hours on end. These are the factors which raise cost per listener and cost per listener hour: fewer listeners, fewer hours of listening

The other factor is the actual cost, in millions. Radio 3 is horrendously expensive, as we all know. Don't we? Well, no: in actual millions Radio 3's content spend last year (2010/11) was £37.3m. That was signicantly less than Radio 2's, at £46.7m. Even more significantly less than Radio 5 Live, at £55.4m. And dwarfed by Radio 4's £92.8m. And all three have digital sister stations serving audiences which resemble their own, adding to the expenditure on those segments of the public.

Only Radio 1 cost less, at £36.7m, though with another £7.4m for 1Xtra.

But what do we see! The Director-General's report, Delivering Quality First (with its own abbreviation - DQF), publishes the projected content spend for all services by the end of the current charter period, 2016/17. Radio 3's spend will be £40.7m and Radio 1 has leapfrogged over it with £42.1m (plus £8.6m for 1Xtra). So it's intended that Radio 3 should be the cheapest of the national network stations in four years' time.

Except, of course, that we don't bother about actual amounts; just cost per listener/hour: which still leaves Radio 3 as 'horrendously expensive'.

But, hang on: if you have a 24-hour radio station to produce, the production costs for a programme are the same regardless of how many people listen. And why not apply the same 'value for money' metric to individual programmes?

Take yesterday's production of Twelfth Night (ballpark figures calculated from published BBC sources). Would have been a snip at £45,000. Being something a bit special, it might have doubled the usual Drama on 3 audience to 200,000. Essential Classics this morning will have cost, give or take, £4,000 and have attracted 800,000 listeners. Have those figures got anything, even remotely, to do with value for money? Surely a fundamental part of the equation is what you're getting for your money, not just how much it cost and how many people listened?

And isn't this the problem: that the BBC shows itself to be totally incapable of judging for itself the intrinsic value of what Radio 3 does?

Hence the strategy to lower Radio 3's elevated standards to bring in more listeners, and to cut its share of the available money. Their triumphant answer is that audience appreciation scores show that Radio 3 has retained its 'quality'; meaning, presumably, that the less knowledgeable listeners think it's wonderful (fabulous-fantastic-amazing-brilliant-awesome &c.); while those with higher expectations are finding increasing amounts of the programming unlistenable. They, of course, are the minority. The minority which the BBC hoped to serve when it set the station up in the first place.
Feb 17 2012: Is … a puzzlement!
It's a bit of a mystery why the BBC has adopted the strategy for Radio 3 of attracting a 'broader public'. We have been given answers but they don't quite seem to add up.

A letter from the BBC Trust:

"It is because we believe that Radio 3 is such a high quality and distinctive service, that we want it to be heard by as broad an audience as possible. Our report shows that there are people who would appreciate this content but don't currently listen."

So, 'There are people who would appreciate this content but don't currently listen.' As it stands that seems an unremarkable discovery. How many, roughly speaking, is 'people'?

The letter goes on to say, 'The evidence gathered in our review suggested that some audiences perceive Radio 3 to be a little inaccessible and daunting at times'. So it's
a little inaccessible and daunting, but only for some people and only at times. Does that justify altering the style of Radio 3's entire peak time schedule (morning programmes from 6.30am to midday) to suit what would seem, from the new style, to be a rather middle-class, middle-aged, middle of the road audience which enjoys a mix of Classic FM's undemanding classical music, Radio 2's chatty presenter-led DJ shows and the interactivity of local radio?

Radio 3 has a broad range of content, and consequently already has a broad audience in that respect. And Radio 3 is to attract 'as broad an audience as possible'? More young people? More ethnic minority people? More social grade C2DEs? Or just, more? The latter, judging from these changes.

And have people been approaching the BBC and saying, 'I would really appreciate the content on Radio 3 but I do perceive it to be a little inaccessible and daunting at times'?

Or does the BBC stop them in the street and interrogate them: 'Do you listen to Radio 3?' 'Er, no.' 'Would you like to listen to Radio 3?' 'Dunno, who's on it?' 'Well, it's classical music mainly.' 'Oh, yes, like Classic FM. I tried it once or twice but it was a bit inaccessible and unwelcoming.' 'If we made it more accessible and welcoming, would you like to listen to it?' 'Maybe, I don't know. All right, then, yes.'

There is no clear evidence of a 'broad audience' wanting to listen to Radio 3 at all. It's the BBC which for reasons of its own wants Radio 3 to have a bigger audience. And they're very coy about which listeners they hope to attract. The Trust again: "Radio 3's strategy to become more accessible to potential listeners does not ... mean the targeting of [the] Classic FM audience." Radio 4's audience, then? Radio 2's? Local radio's? But why can't people be allowed to listen to their chosen station if they want to, especially if adapting Radio 3 to entice them in entails making the station totally
in-accessible and un-welcoming to many of its existing listeners?

The Trust's review says: "This strategy should not, however, reduce the high levels of quality and distinctiveness on Radio 3, nor alienate the core audience."

However, the Trust's criteria for quality and distinctiveness are not ours, since theirs have been deliberately framed to fit all services alike, all right as far as they go; whereas what we expect of Radio 3 are
special qualities, and distinctiveness of a particular kind; and it can hardly be maintained that the core audience is not being alienated. New support for FoR3 since the changes were introduced in September has been ten times what it was in the same period last year. Small numbers, yes, but it's the comparison that matters.

Well, we have now put our case to the Trust, asking them to reconsider the strategy as they reconsidered the closure of 6 Music and the cuts to local radio. It will be a question of how well the intellectual arguments stand up against the marketing arguments: ideas v. numbers.
Feb 2 2012: December RAJARs
As usual, the comments here on the latest RAJAR listening figures, published this morning, are prefaced by the caveat that a single quarter’s results must always be regarded with some caution. These are not measurements, they are calculations from samples.  ‘Gains’ and ‘losses’ which are frequently talked of by the media can be illusory.

Taking Radio 3’s figures, the reach in the quarter September-December 2011 is shown as marginally up on the previous quarter from 2.052 million to 2.097 million, not large enough to be significant but reliable enough ‘for the record’. Like the previous quarter’s figures, it is down significantly year-on-year, but this is still the effect of some very hefty results in 2010/2011. The same will apply next quarter: there will appear to be a big year-on-year fall but we shall still be working through the same phenomenon. There was no obvious reason that we know of for the high reach achieved in 2010/2011 (no schedule changes, for example), but there could, for example, have been some sort of promotional campaign which drew listeners in to ‘sample’ the station. In the circumstances it was predictable that the increase would not be maintained through this year and too much emphasis on the large year-on-year drop is not justified.

The current level of the reach could be described as ‘average, satisfactory’.

With substantial schedule changes in September 2011 and an enormous amount of adverse reaction in the print and internet media, these were going to be interesting figures to see, with two conflicting forces possible: disgusted long-term listeners deserting the station versus the new, more popular, target audience at last finding the station ‘accessible’ and pouring in. This will be the case to some degree but only the BBC will have any idea to what extent it has occurred.  Have the arrivals and departures kept the figures in balance or has there been very little change at all? If we knew, we should know what questions to ask, which is no doubt partly why we’re not told!

All we can say is that there has been no dramatic change, but the effects of substantial schedule changes can take several months, maybe a year or more, to work through. So, as usual as soon as new figures are published, we await next quarter’s for elucidation ...

The Breakfast figure does appear to be sharply up (quarter-on-quarter from 554,000 to 703,000 and year-on-year up from 613,000). It has to be remembered, though, that the figures (the earlier ones are recalculations) are not comparisons for a single programme but for one time-slot. This will remain the case for the entire year. The audience begins to fall away at 9am, so the new Breakfast will have retained the pre-9am peak and added the figures for the end of Through the Night.  Again, a balance, as it will have lost the post-9am new listeners. Two comments: the comparative figures are not like-for-like but the current figures look healthy enough to please the managers for the present.

The one startling feature of the latest results is the leap in listening hours – the amount of time listeners have spent listening to the station. This, again, is a calculation and depends on the listening habits of the sample. It seems too soon for schedule changes to have effected such a rise, and may well be an exaggerated result of the kind that occurs from time to time. People don’t change their listening habits quite as quickly as that. One could hypothesise that it was the result of a new audience transferring its listening habits from a popular station to Radio 3, and being less selective and more likely to keep the radio on indiscriminately from 7am/8am to midday every day. We have no evidence either way – though, again, the BBC will have.

Complaints received by Friends of Radio 3 in the period since the new schedules began have one recurrent theme: Classic FM, Classic FM, Classic FM. Over and over again, listeners have compared the new programming with Radio 3’s commercial rival. We took the view that Radio 3 was (and had been for some time) targeting the same audience as Classic FM: the BBC disagreed (or rather, dismissed the view with the irrelevant argument that Radio 3 was ‘distinctive’ i.e. not exactly the same as Classic FM in some ways, even if it does have a similar appeal). So, looking first at Classic FM’s Breakfast results: like Radio 3, Classic FM has increased quarter-on-quarter, though by nowhere near the amount that Radio 3 increased. And it is significantly down year-on-year (by 12% or 236,000), unlike Radio 3’s which is significantly up by 14.6% or 90,000 ). Caveat, again: Radio 3’s figures are not exactly like-for-like and single quarters can be aberrant, but it’s a situation worth watching.

CFM’s pattern is not totally dissimilar to Radio 3’s in certain respects: reach significantly down year-on-year (however, unlike Radio 3, this is not from an unusually high level), though also very marginally down on the previous quarter. Listening hours, like Radio 3’s, are up on the previous quarter, though by nothing like Radio 3’s increase, and is significantly down year-on-year, unlike Radio 3’s which improved even on the previous year’s relatively good figure.

If Radio 3’s reach is ‘average’ satisfactory’, Classic FM’s could now be described as ‘somewhat depressed, mediocre’. Is there a connection, with Radio 3’s deserters being replaced by Classic FM listeners? [
To be continued…]
Oct 27 2012: Skewered!
The thing about Radio 3’s listening figures is that they are usually win-win as far as the BBC is concerned. If they’re up, it’s thanks to the work done by gifted BBC staff – particularly the managers who wisely guide the strategy of the station.

If the figures are down it demonstrates that the BBC is serious about culture and with its adventurous, distinctive programming clearly isn’t chasing ratings.

Either way, the critics are skewered.

So, what were we expecting of today’s figures? This was Proms quarter and the season had been an outstanding success. Over the past year listening has been very buoyant, a total recovery after the worrying collapse in listening of a few years back. Furthermore, the controversial Breakfast programme, introduced in February 2007, had been coming good with record figures in recent quarters.

Based on these facts, there was the possibility that Radio 3’s reach might have nudged up to an all-time record, listening hours high as the Proms fans tuned in night after night and Breakfast continuing its triumphant rise and rise.

But it was no, no and no. Reach has suddenly dropped from very good to average, listening hours from very good/good to below average, breakfast listening from excellent to below average. At least the indicators all seem to be indicating the same thing and all will have been a disappointment to the managers.

It will be the next two quarters, however, that will begin to show what effect the September schedule changes are having. From Radio 3’s point of view they must go up, and go up significantly on today’s figures. If they stay the same it will mean that they have alienated as many existing listeners as they’ve attracted new ones. In that case, the question would be asked: what has been gained - and lost? If they go down it will be very bad news for the popularisers at Radio 3.

Facts and figures, weekly averages compared:

Q3, 2011: Reach 2.052m, listening hours 11.951m, Breakfast reach 749,000

Q2, 2011: Reach 2.174m, listening hours 13.362m, Breakfast reach 897,000

Q1, 2011: Reach 2.258m, listening hours 13.791m, Breakfast reach 903,000

Q4, 2010: Reach 2.216m, listening hours 12.206m, Breakfast reach 818,000

Q3, 2010: Reach 2.145m, listening hours 12.776m, Breakfast reach 819,000
Oct 11 2012: No answers
The eagerly announced Feedback programme with controller Roger Wright has now been broadcast, prompting one vital question: was it the work of an unkind editor, excising the razor-sharp responses that demolished the opposition and leaving to the mercy of the air waves a limp succession of non-sequiturs, hesitancy and querulous objections? We shall never know, but this was judged not a confident performance.

It may be that all BBC senior managers think Feedback is a bit of a joke, but for a one of them to blurt out that the programme’s job is seen as trying to make something out of nothing in terms of listener complaints would seem to be one cat that the BBC would have preferred not to have let out of the bag. Who needs to take such non-issues seriously? they seem to be saying.

Once again, we are told, the words of appreciation have come flooding in to Radio 3 and the dissidents are so few as to be near invisible.

Only – that’s not how it seems in the world beyond Radio 3: the situation is completely reversed, whether it’s the comments in The Guardian , The Telegraph here and here and here, or the Radio 3 blog.

In these and other places the overwhelming view is of dissatisfaction. These are public sites: where are all the glowing praises, all the supporters voicing their indignation at the injustice of the criticisms?

And did Mr Wright answer the questions put to him?

Q. … there’s a relatively small number of people in this country who like serious music why alienate a lot of existing perhaps rather conservative listeners, why not just make them happy and be happy with that relatively small number?

RW. We’ve never said that the number listening to Radio 3 is a small number.

Q. But what you said in terms of the Proms is what the figures demonstrate is that your strategy has been successful, you’ve never had as many people listening, the attendance figures are up higher than ever. So obviously that strategy is justified. If you apply the same however criteria to looking at the figures for Radio 3 there isn’t that increase. So on the one hand you’re justifying what you’re doing by an increase in audience and on the other you’re justifying what you’re doing even though there hasn’t been an increase in audience.

RW. How many emails have you received?

Q. “All my life I’ve worked while listening to Radio 3. The music was new, it stretched me, I learned things, the talk was knowledgeable. Now I find myself switching off in despair.” She may be wrong but she has that impression is genuinely held and it’s reflected in a number of the emails we’ve got. Why, why have they got that impression if you say there is no evidence to support it?

RW. “What a perfect line-up of presenters for the morning sessions. The alarm goes off at 6.30, we’re greeted by Petroc Trelawny’s wonderful vocal tones. Bliss! Not only that but his brilliant choice of music has made getting up in the morning so much more pleasurable.

Q. On interactivity: "Where did the demand come from?” “Do you not understand that you’re alienating what used to be Radio 3’s core audience? Kevin has texted to say how much he enjoyed the last piece...’” Why is that important? What does it add?

RW. Well, you know, I hear all of those comments, but it’s also, of course, true to say, that the listeners themselves are wanting to have some level of interactivity although obviously we’ve got to select quite carefully.

Q. Some people do think that there is much more news on Radio 3 … So any plans to reduce the amount of news?

RW. Well, we have actually, and all we’ve done is exactly what we have been doing which is to give a 15-second look at the news either from the papers or a quick news headline. We share a lot of our listeners with Radio 4. What’s very important is just to give them when they come to Radio 3, to give them a sense if there something they would actually want to develop further on Radio 4 on 5Live on a BBC local radio service, then they can go elsewhere and get that news.

Now here we have an answer:

RW. … there’s a balance to be struck which the Trust recognised which is about the station doing what it can to appeal to new and lighter listeners and at the same time maintaining its distinctive, some would say unique, output.

To which the Question is: so much for appealing to the ‘new and lighter’ listeners – how about engaging with longer-standing, more serious listeners who are clearly unhappy instead of pretending they don’t exist?
Sep 19 2012: Après Breakfast …
… came the deluge of letters to the Times and Sunday Times, a couple of articles in the Telegraph and a taster on Radio 4's Feedback programme for a future edition in which listeners will call the station controller to account for his changes to Radio 3. Coming soon.

There is a sense that the most recent Radio 3 innovations - or 'refreshing' of the schedules - are finally proving too much for long-suffering listeners. What advantages there may be in attracting a larger number of listeners and getting them all to listen for longer is an issue on its own, a complex balancing act which needs skill and intelligence to achieve in an appropriate way.

The main issue now is that the crass, transparent attempts to achieve these goals impinge upon everything that Radio 3 does. A trail of hype, cajoling, trivialisation and cult of celebrity continues through the daytime schedule: Follow me, don't switch off. The message is unmissable and cheapens the underlying content.

With stubborn determination every gimmick familiar to popular radio is pursued so that listeners new to the station will feel 'welcome'. It's been said privately: keep the presentation light, 'without in-depth musicological or complicated biographical detail', the ambitious aim 'to hold on to as much of the breakfast audience as possible whilst drawing in new listeners from the post-Today Radio 4 switch over'. The BBC quotes are exact.

It's not that Radio 3 isn't informative, but that isn't the same as educational. Whoever would have thought that musical debate on Radio 3 would sink to the discussion of what emotions and memories a particular work evokes in a celebrity TV gardener or chef? To find that information interesting you have to be interested in the celebrity (or unknown listener in the case of the morning phone-in). Where are the programmes for people who are interested in the music?

The Controller of Radio 3 will be appearing on Radio 4's Feedback in a few weeks' time. Let him know now what you think.
Aug 25 2012: It's Your Call!
Finally, after hints and threats, with one bound Radio 3 leaps into 1973 with a brand new phone-in 'feature', announced yesterday on 'The Breakfast Show'.

"Now, coming up at the end of the Proms on Breakfast we’ve got a new feature. It’s called Your Call and I wanted just to tell you a little bit about it now.

"It’s basically your chance to talk about a particular piece of music that means a great deal to you and to let us know
why. It could evoke strong memories of childhood or be associated with particular people who were close to you, or maybe you associate this piece with a particular time in your life, like a holiday.

"Well, whatever the piece is and whatever it means to you, whether it’s good or bad, we want to know about it. And you’ll also have your chance in Your Call to appear on the phone on The Breakfast Show and also hear your piece played.

"So, if you want to tell us about a piece of music, then email us &c.&c.&c. Very much looking forward to hearing from you."

So, what happened in 1973, you ask? The Radio 3 Controller, Stephen Hearst, decided to introduce a phone-in. The verdict behind the scenes at Radio 3: 'The programme concentrated on packaging at the expense of the product [music]'. It was 'too trivial'. Of the listeners, ‘most correspondents complained of trivial pieces, banal chat, boring homely patter.' One Radio 3 presenter considered that 'the callers had nothing to say - "I remember that piece so well, it was on our honeymoon and we were walking over the Downs ..." This time listeners are being positively encouraged to tell us all about their memories, their honeymoons and their walks over the Downs. (Please keep the pieces of music short or we won't have time for your memories.)

This comes hard on the heels of the news that at the same time the long-running programme of musical analysis, the intellectual jewel in Radio 3's crown, Discovering Music, is being axed. Or rather, it's not being axed, not exactly. It won't be on at the same time (in fact it won't have a fixed slot), it won't have the same format and, at 20 minutes, it will be less than half the length of the original Discovering Music. Like my grandfather's axe, the component parts have been replaced, but, says Radio 3, it will still be Discovering Music. Until it's axed, presumably.

Back to 1973: the editorial in an evening paper declared, "Once Mozart's music could speak for itself. Now apparently it needs the prop of a flabby phone-in chat. What is the BBC up to?" Sadly, we know what the BBC is up to: it's replacing its educational remit with a populist feel-good factor because that's what ‘people’ like. And if that's not the way that people with as yet little knowledge of classical music want to learn about it, then this won’t be for them.

The only glimmer of hope is that the original phone-in only lasted seven months and was then quietly buried. Not long after, Hearst was asked at a Radio 3 committee meeting what was the place of a cultural network in the intellectual life of a country. His reply was that, 'It should not just reflect that life but initiate new life.'

The Breakfast Show and Your Call are no reflection of any form of life: they are simply the latest manifestation of Radio 3's intellectual slide. Today's BBC will probably consider that a compliment.
Jul 28 2012: U-turn on jazz
Back in about 2000 as part of the 'New, alive and different' publicity Radio 3 hauled the late-night jazz down to the civilised realms of tea time listening.

The new Jazz Legends slipped into the 4pm slot on Fridays, and Saturdays launched The Jazz Zone - Jazz Line-Up at 4pm, Jazz Record Requests at 5pm, and Jazz File at 6pm. And Jazz on 3 was still around late for those night hawks. There wasn't actually much more jazz but the fans weren't expected to stay up half the night to hear it. It felt part of what Radio 3 did.

And it was a great success - according to the publicity: everyone was very positive and the station's jazz audience increased. Apparently.

Then, bit by bit, the plan was disassembled. The Friday Jazz Legends ended (all the jazz legends had been done, the station explained), and the new Jazz Library was its Saturday afternoon replacement, sending Jazz Line-Up to a late-night slot, although increased by 30 minutes to make up for the axing of Jazz File.

So, only four jazz programmes now instead of five. No Friday afternoon jazz. The Jazz Zone reduced to two hours, and here is the beginning of the return to late-night listening. Furthermore Jazz on 3 moved to the less listener-friendly Mondays instead of Friday's 'weekend-starts-here' slot.

Finally, we come to the latest change: Jazz Library moves to midnight in September. So The Jazz Zone is only one-hour long, and is called Jazz Record Requests. Like back in 2000 (though at that time it was followed by another 30-minute 'Jazz File'-type programme, and now it isn’t).

If there is anything that epitomises management strategy for Radio 3 over the past 12 years it's the policy on jazz. Trumpet the fact that you're doing something new and wonderful. Do it for a few years. Stop doing it altogether without explanation. A bit like the cunning plan on 'live concerts'. Drop them entirely (claiming that listeners didn't care whether concerts were live or not; or even whether they were concerts). Four years later: TA-DAH! Roll up! roll up! never been done before: live concerts five nights a week! Then there was the cunning plan to move the live Choral Evensong from Wednesdays to Sundays (with the explanation that this was a ‘prime slot’). And then move it back to Wednesdays again 18 months later. Oh, and the cunning plan to move Composer of the Week from midday back to 9am, dropping the late night repeat - remember that, August 1999? And the other cunning plan to move it back to midday and restore the midnight repeat. Oh, and the cunning plan to drop the Sunday night choral programme (with the explanation that limiting it to just choral music made the schedule a bit inflexible); and the other cunning plan two years later to introduce a new choral music programme on Sunday nights.

It makes it worse that the explanations for the original changes always turn out to be phoney. It looks very suspicious even if we have no idea what to suspect.
Jul 15 2012: Scheduling matters
At least, it matters to BBC managers, so that it even seems at times that scheduling matters are more important than the content of the programmes.

It has been announced in certain quarters that the live broadcast of Choral Evensong is on the move again. Apparently, then, at 4pm on a Wednesday afternoon it gets in the way of Radio 3's drivetime show which was recently brought forward to 4.30pm to accommodate the new live evening concerts. Except on Wednesdays, when it had to wait until 5pm and the end of Choral Evensong.

Perhaps we're speculating and getting it wrong. Perhaps the Controller has been inundated with complaints from listeners saying, 'Look, if In Tune is to begin at 4.30pm, let it be at 4.30pm every day. Stop messing it up with that singing programme on Wednesdays.'

There does, though, seem to be a question about priorities if the choral foundations are going to have to start their broadcast preparations and rehearsals even earlier in the day (most seem normally to have their service of Choral Evensong at 5pm or 5.30pm) so that In Tune can begin at its new time.

Was there any consultation with the foundations? Or was this considered unnecessary since no concerns would take precedence over Radio 3's 'scheduling needs'?
Jun 16 2012: Cuts of another sort
In this case, we mean editorial cuts.

FoR3 is due to make its first appearance on radio tomorrow on the Radio 4 Feedback programme. The feature focuses on Radio 3's Live in Concert series, the new evening concert, broadcast from venues in the UK and abroad, and launched with great fanfare at the beginning of last month.

We are very happy to add our voice to those applauding the achievement; just about every aspect of the programmes is such an enormous improvement on the old Performance on 3:

  • the excitement of live music-making, the sense of occasion
  • the variety made up of orchestral concerts, chamber recitals, choral events - and perhaps other possibilities later
  • the quality and interest, thus far, of the music itself

And we don't forget the 'proper' concert start time, usually of 7.30pm, which gives listeners enough time, jobs done, to settle down comfortably for the evening.

All this, five nights a week. Splendid.

But we were also encouraged to bring up our queries and concerns. So we gathered together a few points mentioned by forum members, apprehensions, suggestions. How long could Radio 3 afford to continue with five-a-week live concerts? Would they be abandoned as unexpectedly as they had been announced? Will they be able to keep up the interesting programming? We said that many radio listeners preferred the presenter to speak directly to them, rather than being up on the stage addressing the audience in the hall and chatting to performers. We now wait in trepidation to discover how much of our fulsome appreciation will be aired and how much will focus on our mean-spirited suspicions and churlish nit-picking ...

So just in case there's any doubt: we think this is the best thing Radio 3 has done in years!
May 15 2012: Essentially Classic
We were promised changes up ahead, and a few of them - like the live evening concerts - have already become part of the regular schedule. We've now learned of a significant change for the autumn season, when the Proms finish in mid-September. The morning programme Classical Collection is to be dropped and a new 'strand' is to take its place, starting at 9am instead of 10am, and lasting three hours.

Judging from the commissioning brief it could be one of the dullest programmes currently on offer, incorporating a number of the most tiresome clichés of Radio 3 broadcasting. Too many incidentals being given precedence over the content. The guidelines are almost entirely non-musical, non-artistic and non-educational. So what ambitious plans will the programme have?
  • to hang on to as many Breakfast listeners as possible
  • to attract new listeners over from Radio 4 when the Today programme ends
  • a presenter who is 'key' in appealing to these listeners
  • a guest who will request a piece of music of personal or topical relevance
  • listener interaction (is that us sending in emails and text messages?) around requests or recommendations
So far, then, it's sounding like a bit of tired old tat. What about the substance of the programme - the music? Well, it'll be CDs of 'mainstream classical' (working title appears to be Essential Classics), which sounds like a continuation of Breakfast with everyone's favourites played at regular intervals - although we are assured that the longer programme will 'allow' [sic] the playing of complete works, and some longer pieces. However, the brief specifies that the programme should be 'without in-depth musicological or complicated biographical detail'. What! Not even complicated biographical detail! Certainly not - that is best dealt with on Composer of the Week. It says.

It all reminds us of Paul Gambaccini's short-lived morning programme, back in 1995: "I had a specific mission," he said, "to invite Today listeners to stay with the BBC rather than go to Classic FM." Ah, Classic FM. Is that the Classic FM which last year also changed to a 9am start, with a high profile presenter who is key to appealing to listeners, playing Classic FM's unmistakably essential classics from the Hall of Fame? So, all Radio 3 will be missing is the Classic FM presenter, then. (A case for Classic FM of 'Lock up your stars', perhaps?)

But why not let the audience for Classic FM's music switch over and listen to it? Why not do something completely different on Radio 3, cater for a different audience, one that might know a little about classical music and cope with the odd bit of in-depth musicological or complicated biographical detail?
May 12 2012: Sonys les matines…
Broadly translated, this should mean that the Sony Radio Awards are held one night and dismissed by the next morning. In most cases, quite rightly.

This year Radio 3 had a mere two nominations, though both were recognised: a Gold for Jazz on 3 and a Silver for the Between the Ears feature 'The Haunted Moustache'. As for Radio 3's attempt to emulate its success of 2009 in winning the UK Station of the Year, the less said the better: the title was awarded, unanimously, to talkSport.

Why was a station which only managed two nominations considered for UK Station of the Year anyway? Perhaps Radio 3's gallantry citation yields a clue:

What the Judges said:

"Radio 3's entry impressed with its range and quality of programmes. The Judges noted how Radio 3 continues to evolve and has the genuine ability to surprise the audience with thought provoking and stimulating programmes. The momentum of the previous year has been maintained and improved on and shows a station with ever growing confidence."

So who were these judges? Crumbs. There seem to have been 134 of them. And they 'unanimously' voted for talkSport? There must be some Byzantine procedures here which we aren't privy to: most of these judges won't have heard of Radio 3, still less have had a clue about what it does. Still even less found it personally appealing. Is this why Radio 3 received not a single nomination for its drama output (whereas Radio 4 had a total of four nominations), in spite of a string of productions of modern and classic works from Webster, Goethe, Beaumarchais, Chekhov, Wilde, Shaw, Lorca and Friel? Where do these nominations come from? And, if it comes to that, why do the classical music programmes seldom get a look in, whereas jazz, world and sundry features keep the Radio 3 flag flying? Does the BBC pick the programmes that won't make the judges' heads ache?

Right. Now to RAJAR listening figures, published today for Quarter 1, 2011. Smashing for Radio 3, sensational. But pretty much everyone else's seem to be as well. Breaking all records. The only thing we can spot at first sight is that Breakfast hit an all time high - up by 85,000 quarter on quarter - whereas Classic FM's breakfast show lost 111,000. Could it be the weird similarity now between the two shows: the bleeding chunks, the snippets, the familiar tunes, the emails, the chat…?

But let's finish on a positive note: the evening concerts have returned to their live format at 7.30pm. Hooray! The BBC Trust appeared to disregard most of what we said in our submission to their review on Radio 3. Perhaps they felt it incumbent to respond to at least one of our requests. If so, thanks to them. If not, thanks to someone else.
Apr 27 2012: No need to know
Last month the BBC published its new television (or Vision, as it's now called) 'cross-platform ratings metric', dubbed "Live + 7". This combines the ratings for live television broadcasts plus their repeats, iPlayer views and recorded viewings for seven days after transmission.

Unless we have misunderstood it, the press office figures (now to be released each month) present the ratings in terms of the increase the top programmes have over their overnight live viewing figures. It sounds like good PR because all programmes will show an increase and the highest increases (mainly digital channel programmes) provide the highlights of the report. Junior Doctors (BBC Three 29.03.11) up 235% to 3.6m, Agony & Ecstasy: A Year With The National Ballet (BBC Four 22.03.11) up 172% to 1m. And so on.

Later in the year, we learn, the audience appreciation figures are also to be released. At least, that may not be quite true: what the press release actually says is that the BBC 'has confirmed plans to publish audience appreciation information later this year'. This could, of course, just mean that they will publish figures about the most popular programmes, the ones that get the highest approval scores. Again, excellent PR.

So why all the coyness about releasing listening data about radio programmes when requested?

'Coyness' is a euphemism: we mean, downright refusal, even of requests made under the Freedom of Information Act. We asked for two pieces of information about Radio 3 listening figures and the reply was that to disclose this tiny portion - minuscule to the point of near invisibility - from the vast sea of data published quarterly by RAJAR could threaten the commercial survival of RAJAR. For two years we battled through the Information Commissioner's Office who finally persuaded the BBC to give us the information informally, outside the Freedom of Information Act (thus setting no precedent). But without telling us (or, apparently, the ICO) the BBC 'changed their mind'. They discovered 'editorial concerns', even about information that by now was three to four years out of date.

Three years later we have 'no need to know', other than out of curiosity, since both the editorial decisions which we were querying have been reversed. The live broadcast of Choral Evensong which was moved from a Wednesday afternoon to a Sunday was moved back to Wednesday after 18 months. And in just under a week's time the evening concert will return to 7.30pm, and the recorded chunks with their dull studio-based presentation will be replaced by real live broadcasts. We had wondered whether these two bad decisions had lost listeners for the programmes. The answer, presumably, was Yes.
Mar 19 2012: Radio-ho-ho-ho!
For some reason Radio 3 has gone overboard for comedy. A Christmas quiz show with five comedians - with a laugh track, a Radio 3 presenter trying his hand at being a stand-up comic - with a laugh track, a Total Immersion day devoted to Comic Relief (well, it was a relief when it ended, ho-ho-ho!) and, coming up now on Breakfast, a brand new feature as from next week, 'well-known personalities from the world of… comedy' appear as guests to select their musical choices. There's a fair dollop of posh, Oxbridge educated people, though, and hopefully it won't be too funny. First up, Rory Bremner (who lists opera among his recreations). Alexander Armstrong is a fine singer. Less promisingly, Miriam Margolyes lists 'reading, talking, eating, Italy', and John Sessions 'dinner parties'. But what's the point?

Well, it certainly makes Radio 3 distinctive from Classic FM - a comedy classical music station, for people who like comedy and classical music. 'If it's laughter you're after…' And when they run out of comedians, 'well-known personalities from the world of soap opera', 'well-known personalities from the world of pop music', 'well-known personalities from the world of sport', perhaps.

This seems to be the first sign of the all-out attempt to attract a 'wider audience', to be more accessible and welcoming. This is Radio 3 with a human face, albeit twisted into the gruesome rictus of a grin. The quid pro quo for serious music enthusiasts is the return of live evening concerts. But should Radio 3 really enter the world of 'personalities' (aka celebrities) in order to lure people in to classical music? Or is this an exercise in audience management - not just who you attract to the station but who you can persuade to go away?
Feb 17 2012: Hats off to 3!
Never mind the Mozartfest which undoubtedly had a bigger impact on the media world and the public at large, today's announcement from Radio 3 that, as from early May, most evening concerts will be broadcast live is a bigger story for Radio 3 listeners.

We've all been looking for the weasel words, the words that sound like one thing but turn out to mean something else. But, no: from May 3 there will be a live concert broadcast five nights a week, replacing the current studio-introduced recordings. The evening concert was once the jewel of Radio 3's schedule and, for the coming year at least, it will be again.

Perhaps we ought to just accept this piece of good news for what it is and not bother to puzzle over the timing, the unexpectedness, the motive.

But last August we said in our submission to the Trust's review:

"The evening concert: In 2007, the start time of the evening concert was brought forward to 7pm from 7.30pm (or later). This is too early for many radio listeners, who are either not home from work or involved with their evening meal, and too early for the concert-goers themselves. Live concert broadcasts are now mainly limited to those by the BBC orchestras where Radio 3 can dictate the start time. There is evidence that the concerts themselves have been less well attended. This is certainly so in the case of the BBC Philharmonic concerts in Manchester, where the orchestra management has publicly confirmed that concert-goers prefer the later start.

Ten years ago it was acknowledged that Radio 3’s evening concert (live or recorded) was the most popular programme of the evening. It distinguished the pattern of daily listening on Radio 3 compared with other stations where listening drops off as people turn to television for their evening entertainment. It also had one of the largest audiences of the whole day. The negative effect on listeners of the changes to the evening concert (both the earlier start time and the ending of on-site presentation) has, in our view, been seriously underestimated by management. We have tried to discover whether these changes have had an effect on listening figures but the BBC steadfastly refuses to disclose the information.

The concert has been the most valued programme in the schedule. We urge a return to the 7.30pm (or later) start, and to on-site presentation for deferred transmission concerts."

We repeated this point when we met the Trust shortly afterwards. We hope that the new live concerts will begin no earlier than 7.30pm, but this point is not yet clear. If it is the case we shall have obtained what we asked for, and more. And will be duly grateful.

However, can we make one more plea? Classic FM has an evening programme, The Full Works Concert, from 8pm to 10pm. It can't hope to compete with the massive resources which Radio 3 will put into its evening concert programme. Can Radio 3 not make this the first step in a return to what it once was: an incomparable broadcaster of classical music and the arts with highly knowledgeable presentation throughout its schedule? Give up the competition with Classic FM: allow them to cultivate the 'wider audience' which you're trying so hard to capture with your morning programmes.

We hope that the evening concerts will convince the BBC that there is a strong audience for such high quality classical music and it's the one which should be targeted with straightforward, expert presentation: no hype, no gimmicks, no trivialisation. Radio 3 - it doesn't suit you.
Feb 12 2012: Missing the target
The BBC Trust published its review of Radio 3 four days ago. It has taken us a while to decide how to respond: sorrow? anger? insults? Briefly, it was our view that Radio 3 had been trying to attract new listeners, especially newcomers to classical music, at the expense of its special interest audiences, and to the detriment of their listening. The Trust, on the other hand, after an extended public consultation, has pronounced that there are further opportunities for Radio 3 to widen its audience and that it should do so.

We have read the ‘supporting evidence' which presumably informed the Trust's conclusions – or why solicit it? – and note:
  1. That the public responses, especially from Audience Councils, include views from people ‘who do not listen to Radio 3 at all' (while no evidence is supplied that they wish to do so); and from new listeners ‘to whom classical music didn't appeal'. Unsurprisingly such listeners find the station itself ‘inaccessible' but are impressed by the level of presenters' knowledge. This evidence weights the argument in favour of the BBC's existing view.
  2. A high proportion of Radio 3 respondents (40%) had negative comments but the review paid scant attention to what they were saying, and then only to dismiss it. Instead they highlighted approval scores; but a high approval score can nevertheless hide important failures in a service.
  3. There are innumerable listener references to Classic FM and the fact that listeners do not want Radio 3 to follow the route of popularisation or for the station to change; there is evidence from RadioCentre, the commercial broadcasters' organisation, from the Voice of the Listener and Viewer and from Friends of Radio 3, citing examples of Radio 3's imitation of Classic FM. The Trust brusquely rejected this saying that there was ‘no compelling evidence' of loss of quality or distinctiveness. (Nelson, of course, famously could ‘see no ships' …)
  4. The suggestions offered by organisations, including possible changes to the schedule and service licence, appeared to find no favour with the Trust at all.
  5. The entire review repeats the term ‘(high-)quality' 119 times and ‘distinctive(ness)' 54 times. No attempt is made to assess them or relate them to the content of Radio 3. They are vague assertions, constantly recurring because they figured in the survey questions and consultation guidelines, and hovering between truth and meaninglessness.
  6. The most important piece of evidence, the formal submission from BBC management, has not been published and the Trust says there are ‘no plans' to do so. A suspicion that the Trust has simply rubber-stamped management's proposals while selectively highlighting the supposed approval levels must remain that … only a suspicion. FoR3 has requested a copy of the submission under the Freedom of Information Act but, going on past experience, it will be refused.
Both Radio 3 and Radio 4 have been told to pursue a strategy of ‘extending their appeal to audiences that are currently being underserved'. Underserved? They aren't being served by Radio 2 or Radio 5 live, Radio 1/1Xtra or 6 Music, or BBC local radio?

There is one grain of hope in this review (it may even derive from our submission): the Trust recognises that ‘there are limits to broadening the appeal of the station without compromising its quality and distinctiveness. So we have asked the BBC Executive to consider how Radio 3 can work alongside other BBC services and events to better deliver classical, jazz and world music to all licence fee payers.' This isn't quite as clear-cut as our submission – that there should be proper, regular coverage on mainstream broadcast services, regardless of what Radio 3 is doing.

Radio 3, and to some extent Radio 4, suffer from the fact that the BBC has long been run by business-oriented philistines. This is now aggravated by the statistical probability that their younger back-up staff will listen to 6 Music and Radio 5 live. But there are people more closely connected with programming who ought to know better. For some reason they don't seem willing to make a stand when it comes to treating culture and the arts seriously.

Isn't it time someone at the BBC realised that some things aren't supposed to be ‘accessible', that we all have to work at them – and that this enhances their value to us?
Feb 3 2012: A successful quarter
The RAJAR listening figures released today showed that Radio 3 had maintained its reach, even improving on last quarter's very good figures - the Proms quarter. This was the third highest reach, at 2.216 million, since comparable records began in 1999.

The Breakfast programme also maintained its reach, only negligibly short of the previous quarter's all time high. However, this would indicate that it did not profit from the station's quarter on quarter increase in the most recent figures: i.e. it did not show a similar increase, so reach increased in some parts of the schedule but not at breakfast time. The programme still has some way to go before it achieves the highest reach attained by its predecessor, Morning on 3, axed in 2007.

The more problematic figure remains the listening hours, where the average weekly hours per listener is about as low as it's ever been at 5.5 hours. There is a tendency for a higher reach to depress the average listening hours, but compared with similar figures for reach, this quarter's figures are certainly low:

Dec 2003:
Population 48,384,000 Reach 2.192m
Average hours per listener 6.7 Total listening hours 14,635,000 Share 1.40%

Mar 2004:
Population 48,384,000 Reach 2.290m
Average hours per listener 5.9 Total listening hours 13,502,000 Share 1.20%

Dec 2010:
Population 51,618,000 Reach 2.216m
Average hours per listener 5.5 Total listening hours 12,206,000 Share 1.20%

Given that one of the key aims of management over some ten years has been to increase the amount of time listeners 'spend with the station', this aspect must give pause for thought in spite of the good figures for reach.

The change to the Radio 3 schedules back in 2007 triggered some of the worst listening figures ever. There have been no further significant changes so the reason why the figures have begun to improve is rather obscure. However, it can't be doubted that the BBC learned a lesson over its proposal to shut down 6 Music. The explosion of publicity brought about an almost 60% increase in the station's ratings virtually overnight, an increase which has now been maintained for four quarters. From the audience's point of view, Radio 3 now seems to lurch from one publicity promotion to the next, 'getting the station talked about'. Has this attracted the casual listener who tunes in for half an hour in the morning and evening?

And in all this euphoria, let's not lose sight of the fact that there has been no perceptible increase overall in Radio 3's reach: it has simply recovered from its slump.
Jan 17 2012: Trust in the Trust
We understand today that the BBC Trust is aiming to publish its review of Radio 3 around the beginning or middle of February.

The same review covers Radio 3, Radio 4 and Radio 7 and there were over 18,000 responses to the public consultation – a great deal to be considered.

It’s clear that there has been a significant quantity of response from Radio 3 listeners and others – such as RadioCentre and Classic FM – which has been gently pressing the view that Radio 3 has been going downmarket and populist. In some cases, we understand, the responses have been not quite so gentle.

How will the Trust respond? What is certain is that there will be strenuous arguments from BBC radio management, reproducing all the compliments and omitting the harsher criticism. Any suggestion that Radio 3 is moving towards the style and content of Classic FM will be rejected indignantly, with examples – look at the Mozartfest: would Classic FM do anything like that? And yet, only last week The Independent produced a thoughtfully damning article by Nicholas de Jongh, Radio 3 - Low-brow, lightweight and losing its way? Is it really as bad as that? Well, the only answer must be: yes, sometimes it is. Is it enough regularly to produce some high quality programmes, when others sink so abysmally low? What are they trying to do?

Experience suggests that BBC management usually gets what it wants. It puts forward arguments that the rest of us never see and are therefore in no position to refute. There will be evidence of ‘success’, of overwhelming approval for this, that and the other from listeners, of the crusade to bring classical music to a wider audience, to cast off the image of ‘elitism’. And the questions posed by the critics will be fobbed off.

If all concerns are ignored, it will be a sad day for those who want a quality arts station which eschews lollipops and late-night dedications programmes for the demanding, the controversial and the strange. And the least we would want is a very full explanation as to what the Trust’s – and the BBC’s – priorities are.