BBC Radio 3 is a national radio station operated by the BBC within the United Kingdom. Its schedule covers classical music principally, but jazz, world music, drama and the arts also feature. The calm and informed style of its presenters has been a traditional characteristic, welcomed as a contrast to the frenetic delivery found elsewhere on the airwaves.
Radio 3 is the successor station to the Third Programme
which was originally launched on 29 September 1946. The name changed on 30 September 1967 when the BBC launched its first pop music station, Radio 1
. The three other national radio channels were then renamed Radio 2
, (formerly the Light Programme
), Radio 3 (formerly the Third Programme
) and Radio 4
, (formerly the Home Service
Radio 3 took over the service which had been known under the umbrella title of the Third Network and which included on the same frequency the Third Programme itself, the Music Programme and various sports and adult education programmes.
All the component programmes, including the Third Programme, kept their separate identities within Radio 3 until 4 April 1970, when there was further reorganisation.
Broadcasting in the Seventies
In July 1969, the BBC published the document Broadcasting in the Seventies
, later described by a senior BBC executive, Jenny Abramsky
, Head of Radio and Music, as "the most controversial document ever produced by radio" and "a visionary document". Prompted partly by the problem of rising costs, it had as one of its main thrusts the move towards "generic" stations, each catering for a defined audience. One early option under consideration was the reduction of the four radio networks to three: and "Day-time serious music would be the casualty". Radio 1
, Radio 2
and Radio 4
would broadcast during the day time, while in the evening Radios 1 and 2 would merge and Radio 3 would broadcast on the vacated frequency.
Rumours were circulating that Radio 3 would be abolished altogether, with The Guardian
stating that there was a strong ‘statistical case’ against the station. However, the Director-General, Charles Curran
publicly denied this as "quite contradictory to the aim of the BBC, which is to provide a comprehensive radio service". Curran had earlier dismissed any suggestion that Radio 3's small audience was a consideration: "What is decisive is whether there is a worthwhile audience, and I mean by worthwhile an audience which will get an enormous satisfaction out of it."
In the event, Radio 3 survived, though the separate titles of Music Programme and Third Programme were dropped; factual programmmes, such as documentaries and current affairs were to be passed to Radio 4. The document stated that Radio 3 was to have "a larger output of standard classical music" but with "some element in the evening of cultural speech programmes - poetry, plays".
There remained a question mark over the future of the Third’s speech programmes that were neither drama, poetry nor current affairs: the poet Peter Porter, for example, asked what would happen to "history, literature, travel, reminiscence etc" which had previously featured on the Third. The composer Peter Maxwell Davies and the music critic Edward Greenfield, writing in a feature article in Radio Times, feared that people would lose that mix of cultural experiences which expanded intellectual horizons. However, Howard Newby, the then controller of Radio 3, replied that only the coverage of political and economic affairs would be passed to Radio 4: Radio 3 would keep drama, poetry, talks by scientists, philosophers and historians.
Campaign for Better Broadcasting
Not only did Broadcasting in the Seventies
propose a realignment of the existing radio stations, it also envisaged serious cutbacks in the BBC orchestras. In September 1969, a distinguished campaign group, including Sir Adrian Boult
, Jonathan Miller
, Henry Moore
and George Melly
, was formed to protest against the changes The Campaign for Better Broadcasting (its initials were, felicitously, BBC backwards) objected to "the dismantling of the Third Programme by cutting down its spoken word content from fourteen hours a week to six" and "segregating programmes into classes". Mention of the campaign even reached debate in the House of Commons. The BBC’s Managing Director of Radio, Ian Trethowan, later to become BBC director-general, notoriously dismissed the kind of radio station which the campaign sought to defend as "a private playground for elitists to indulge in cerebral masturbation".
Although the Music Programme - a constituent part of Network Three – had been absorbed into Radio 3 from 1970 onwards, the Music Division continued. This was the section run by specialist music staff with production responsibility for the music programmes (controllers of the Third Programme and, subsequently, Radio 3, tended to be arts oriented).
The head of the Music Division was then William Glock
who had held the post since the Fifties and had also taken over the running of The Proms
in the early Sixties. Hans Keller
and Robert Simpson
were on his staff. Glock was succeeded in 1972 as Controller of Music by the patrician Robert Ponsonby
who himself was succeeded in 1985 by John Drummond
. The Music Division was eventually run down and the separation of the roles became non-existent in 1987 when Drummond took over the controllership of Radio 3 and thus all three responsibilities simultaneously: the running of the station, the music programming and The Proms.
History - The 'arts' controllers, 1967-1987
The first three controllers were very much speech/arts oriented and had little to do with the running of the Proms, whereas the succeeding three were all appointed Proms director/controller, some of the time along with their duties as controller of Radio 3.
Newby was the last controller of the Third Programme and the first of Radio 3, overseeing the transition which resulted from the implementation of Broadcasting in the Seventies
. An author, he published four novels during his stint at the Third/Radio 3, the fourth of these, published in 1969, winning the first ever Booker Prize
for fiction. The innnovations which were to see an increase in the amount of classical music on Radio 3 were due to be completed during the course of 1971. Newby moved upwards in that same year to become Director of Programmes, Radio, without having made any striking changes to the schedules.
Hearst, a Viennese Jewish émigré
, was head of arts programmes for BBC television. According to his own account, asked how important listening figures were he told the interview board that the station was financed by public money and needed to consider the size of its audience; there was a minimum viable figure but this could be increased with "a lively style of broadcasting". Another leading candidate, Martin Esslin
, head of Radio Drama, declared that the great cultural importance of Radio 3 made listening figures irrelevant. . Hearst got the job.
Radio staff tended to view those in television as popularisers, and this turned out to be, in some measure, justified in Hearst’s case. Among early innovations were a prototype evening drivetime programme, Homeward Bound
, which featured sequences of light classical music (and was dismissed by the critic Bayan Northcott as “muzak of the speeding executive” ); and a Sunday phone-in request programme, Your Concert Choice
(“a flabby phone-in chat,” declared the Bristol Evening Post. “What is the BBC up to?” ); the phone-in element was abandoned seven months later.
On the other hand, Hearst launched the arts discussion programme, Critics’ Forum
, which lasted sixteen years, and the series of single-theme evenings and days: French Sunday, Polish Evening, American Sunday etc. . A Saturday night programme, Sounds Interesting
, announced one week “experimental fusions of popular styles”, Terje Rypdal
, songs from Gino Vanelli
and ‘new work from Art Garfunkel
and Prism’ In 1978 Hearst was promoted to controller, Future Policy Group.
After three uneasy years as controller of Radio 4, McIntyre was moved sideways to Radio 3 "to create smoother waters at Radio 4", as Newby put it, but relations with most departments, especially the Music Division, became uncomfortable. Meanwhile, Aubrey Singer
, later described by the music critic David Cairns
as "a dedicated populariser", had taken over as Managing Director, Radio. The possibility that a commercial classical music station with a "streamed format", like the drivetime Homeward Bound
, might poach Radio 3’s listeners was raised in 1979 and Singer felt Radio 3 should get in first, rather than react later. The result was that in 1980 Homeward Bound was replaced by an extended programme called Mainly for Pleasure
, a "sensitively compiled anthology of good music of all types and styles", while Saturday afternoons had a programme of shorter presenter-selected repeats from earlier in the week. As with Homeward Bound
, there were no advance details of what would be played. Keller
complained that every programme "instead of provoking thought" provided merely "thought-killing background".
Financial cuts hit Radio 3 hard in 1980 and an internal paper recommended the disbandment of several of the BBC orchestras. Industrial action by musicians delayed the start of the Proms, there were redundancies in the Music Division which was to be disbanded and morale was low. Concern was expressed that Radio 3 had lost prestige without gaining new listeners. In 1983 The Times devoted a column to Radio 3, outlining the diverse unhappinesses of producers, contributers and listeners. Meanwhile, senior management were dissatisfied with listening figures and Director-General Alasdair Milne suggested that presentation style was “too stodgy and old-fashioned”. In 1987 a decision was taken to merge the positions of Controller, Music (held by Drummond who had also been running the Proms), and Controller, Radio 3 (held by McIntyre). Drummond was appointed and McIntyre soon after left the BBC.
History - The 'music' controllers 1987-present
expressed the view that the controller of Radio 3 should know enough about music to run all aspects of the station, but it was not until John Drummond
was appointed that this came about.
Drummond was not a musician but he had experience of administration, having run the Edinburgh Festival
since 1977. When he took over from Ian McIntyre he effectively had three jobs: controller of Music, directing the Proms
and running Radio 3. He said that to begin with he "nearly killed himself". Like Hearst, Drummond felt that the presentation of music programmes was too stiff and spoke of its "dogged dullness". He set about encouraging announcers be more natural and enthusiastic. Much of the drama output, which was predominantly of new work, he found to be "gloomy and pretentious" and he insisted on more repeats of classic performances by such actors as John Gielgud
and Paul Scofield
. There were features on anniversaries: William Glock
's eightieth birthday, Michael Tippett
's eighty-fifth and Isaiah Berlin
's eightieth; a Scandinavian Season; and an ambitious Berlin Weekend to mark the reunification of Germany in 1990. Drummond came back from Berlin to find that "not one single senior person in the BBC had listened to any part of it". The following year a much praised weekend was broadcast from London and Minneapolis-St Paul, creating broadcasting history by being the first time a whole weekend had been transmitted "live from another continent". New programmes introduced by Drummond included the experimental music show Mixing It
(1990) which he described as a late-evening music strand for genres which fell between Radio 1 and Radio 3: "ethnic music, minimalism, and some kinds of experimental or advanced rock". In this it could be seen as a precursor to the current programme Late Junction
. As far as the station's position within the BBC was concerned, Drummond said that the higher reaches of the corporation showed no interest whatsoever: "I can't remember ever having a serious conversation with anyone above me in the BBC about Radio 3...I would much rather have had the feeling that they thought it mattered what Radio 3 did.
In 1992 Drummond relinquished the post of controller, Radio 3, while retaining the role of Director of the Proms in order to run the centenary season. Meanwhile, a new commercial classical music station, Classic FM
, was about to be launched.
Kenyon came to Radio 3 from being chief music critic of The Observer
, having had training in arts administration and run the South Bank
’s Mozart Now
Festival in 1991. He took up his post in February 1992, with the new commercial radio station Classic FM
due to launch later in the year. One of his first acts was to send three senior producers to study classical music stations in the United States. Kenyon’s view, like Singer
’s a decade earlier, was that Radio 3 had to make changes before the new station began broadcasting, rather than react later. Saatchi & Saatchi
were appointed as the station’s advertising agents. An early controversy was the axing of three popular mainstay announcers, Malcolm Ruthven
, Peter Barker
and Tony Scotland
, as a start to creating a new style since Kenyon, like Drummond, thought the Radio 3 style was off-putting to potential new listeners. On Air
and In Tune
, two new drivetime-formula programmes – an innovation for Radio 3 – were to fill the breakfast and teatime slots. Brian Kay
, late of the King’s Singers
and latterly a popular presenter on Radio 2 and Radio 4, was engaged to front a three-hour programme of popular classics on Sunday mornings. Drama was to be cut by a quarter, news which drew a letter of protest to The Times
, with Harold Pinter
, Tom Stoppard
and Fay Weldon
among the signatories. Few of these innovations escaped criticism from both critics and listeners. Kenyon was nevertheless eager to reassure that all this was not "some ghastly descent into populism": the aim was to create "access points" for new listeners.
Kenyon has admitted that in 1995 pressure was being exerted by senior management for Radio 3 to increase its ratings.
There was "widespread disbelief"when he announced in the summer that a new morning programme would take the 9am spot from the revered Composer of the Week
and would be presented by a signing from Classic FM – the disc jockey Paul Gambaccini
who had started his career with the BBC on the pop station Radio 1. The torrent of criticism, especially once the programme went on air a few weeks later, was so unrelenting that Gambaccini announced the following spring that he would not be renewing his contract with Radio 3.
Aside from the controversies, Kenyon’s controllership was marked by several highly distinguished programming successes. Fairest Isle
was an ambitious project which marked 1995 – the 300th anniversary of the death of Henry Purcell
– with a year-long celebration of British music; Sounding the Century
(1997-1999) presented a retrospective of 20th-century music. Both won awards.
He also introduced a number of well received specialist programmes: the children’s programme The Music Machine
, Spirit of the Age
(early music), Impressions
(vocal music), and the arts programme Night Waves
, among them.
In 1996, Radio 3 became a 24-hour station. From midnight until 6am the programme Through the Night
filled in with radio recordings supplied by participating broadcasters of the European Broadcasting Union
. It still runs, put together by a small BBC team, and is taken by several other European broadcasters under the title Euroclassic Notturno
. In order that live overruns did not create cumulative disruption to the daily schedule, one “fixed point” of 10pm was created which would result, when necessary, in the curtailment or cancellation of items to allow Through the Night
to begin promptly at midnight. Kenyon had in fact earlier declared that he wanted "lots of fixed points" and had already begun to introduce “stripping” – programmes that appeared regularly at the same time each day through the week. Humphrey Carpenter
commented: "Kenyon made no reference to the fact that the Third Programme had been founded under the motto ‘no fixed points’."
Kenyon summed up the perennial problem of Radio 3 as being "the tension between highbrow culture and popular appeal", or "the cost of what we do and the number of people who make use of it".
Radio frequency changes
Following the shake-up of AM
radio frequencies in 1978 Radio 3 moved to medium wave. It left MW in 1992 but kept its FM frequency. Ball-by-ball cricket
, broadcast formerly on Radio 3 medium wave, are now on Radio 4 long wave and digital radio station BBC Five Live Sports Extra
The station has always broadcast mainly classical music, opera, highbrow drama including most BBC Radio Shakespeare productions, and jazz. The station broadcasts concerts, promotes young musicians and commissions compositions. The Proms are promoted and broadcast by Radio 3.
A Radio 3 motto was "As long as it takes", and the station traditionally played works in their entirety. Asked about listeners' perception of an increasing tendency to play so-called 'bleeding chunks', the controller, Roger Wright, replied that Radio 3 would continue to play complete works, although he said that 'as in the past' it was appropriate to play extracts 'when it makes editorial sense'. The exceptions are programmes discussing and comparing pieces or performances, or programmes with a less serious tone.
One of the longest-lasting programmes is Composer of the Week series at noon, with a repeat at 20:45. This consists of five weekdays' worth of one-hour themed shows about a composer. Often, especially when the composer is well enough known not to need introduction, the five days have a theme; a week about Mozart might focus on Mozart the keyboard player. This show has also served, especially on composers' centenaries of birth or death, to heighten interest in their music, with weeks devoted to Edmund Rubbra, Medtner, and Havergal Brian among others.
Another long-running programme is Private Passions, the weekly interview by Michael Berkeley, about the musical passions of notable people.
In recent years, as Radio 2 has come to focus on pop music, Radio 3 has taken over the lead in categories such as folk and jazz. Also, the station has taken on a wide range of new music (including electronic music and experimental music on programmes such as Mixing It) and world music (World Routes, Late Junction and Andy Kershaw's programme). Traditional listeners have levelled much criticism at the introduction of 'World Music', especially where this term means not traditional non-European music (such as gamelan from Indonesia, gagaku, shomyo or nagauta from Japan or traditional Indian music) but music which is can be seen as non-European pop (or pop music played by non-Europeans. Critics say that such non-classical music has come to dominate late-evening slots (Late Junction, etc) and has caused much disgruntlement and a diminution in audiences
An arguably more successful excursion from the late-Baroque to contemporary repertoire has been The Early Music Show. The programme typically takes a theme, such as madrigals, music of the court of Frederick II of Prussia or English viol music, and gives examples of the history, music and lives of composers relevant to the subject. Precisely what 'Early' means is unclear (probably deliberately), since although JS Bach (1685-1750) appeared to make an end to the show's spectrum, there has also been music of the French Revolution, which occurred well into the mainstream period of classical music.
Radio 3 has led the way in many fields. A number of broadcasts are experimental; for instance one play in the late seventies consisted mainly of sound effects, recorded binaurally, to be listened to wearing headphones. Radio 3 was the first channel to broadcast in stereo and in quadraphonic (matrix HJ), a format which enjoyed only a brief success. To improve the quality of outside broadcasts over telephone lines the BBC designed a NICAM style digitisation technique called pulse code modulation running at a sample rate of 14,000 per second per channel. It later designed digital recording machines (transportable) sampling at the same rate.
In 2007, Radio 3 reduced its live transmission of concerts (one big exception being The Proms), with the uncertainty of duration which that brings. Many evening concert broadcasts are now single-take recordings of live performances made earlier. These are often of a public concert, but some are specially commissioned studio recordings of the BBC music.
Radio 3 is now available world wide on the Internet and is broadcast on digital radio in the United Kingdom via DAB, on Freeview, Freesat, Sky Digital, Virgin Media and other subscription platforms.
The Radio 3 debate
Since 1992, the station's commercial rival, Classic FM
, has broadcast a lighter range of music, interspersed with chat and adverts. Occasionally, Classic FM's existence has led some commentators to question Radio 3's continuation, lest it interfere with the workings of the market. However, this argument would appear to apply far more to the BBC's multitude of pop stations (Radios 1, 2, 1xtra, 6 and to some degree the Asian Network) than to a station which has no direct counterpart in the commercial sector (Classic FM might at best be thought of as Radio 3 Light).
Despite early fears that it might seriously damage Radio 3, the two stations seem to co-exist quite harmoniously, and Radio 3 has largely retained its audience. It has broadcast for 24 hours a day since the late nineties, using an automated computer which requires little or no direct human control. However, many feel that the network has lost some of its gravitas, as the station has modified its approach, with more "presenter-led" programming stripped during the week, like commercial stations, and a certain diminution of its core activities, most notably an increase in jazz and other non-classical programming. A campaign group, Friends of Radio 3 (FoR3), has emerged to argue against BBC policies regarding the network.
The RAJAR figures released in August 2005 seem to suggest that the ongoing re-branding of Radio 3 has not been a success. Figures released in March 2008 indicate a further 25% year on year decline, which suggests that, even if people with different musical tastes are tuning into the station (as the BBC claims), the more traditional classical listeners are deserting at a greater rate.
Recently, Radio 3 has been performing a trial where it would offer MP3
files of performances recently transmitted for download
as part of The Beethoven Experience
. It has been successful, and may lead to further performances being distributed in this manner.
Controllers of the Third Programme and Radio 3