Who wants to listen to Radio 3, then?

On Friday, the Guardian‘s Charlotte Higgins wrote on the dilemma and plight of Radio 3 (After 70 years, Radio 3 needs a rethink. It’s time to unleash the composers), which she summed up as:

Should Radio 3 appeal to the many or the few? To what extent should it reach out to capture new audiences? What if that attempt is seen as a dereliction of its duty fearlessly to bring listeners the best, no matter how “difficult” it is?

Radio 3 is faced with the Catch-22 of supporting a difficult artform with minority appeal, while trying to avoid charges of elitism and license fee profligacy. Yet it has repeatedly failed to answer this question, she argues, because it is approaching the debate from the wrong direction. Composers themselves, she says – particularly those under 50 – don’t think of Radio 3 as their natural home. They (and their music) might occasionally appear on the station, but they don’t tend to listen to it. And if composers – presumably the most clued-in, open-eared of all Radio 3’s target demographics – don’t listen, then why would anyone else?

Higgins’ article has prompted a number of letters to the paper, some of them printed here. I rather like one or two of the ideas suggested: moving Hear and Now out of the graveyard slot, for example, or greatly increasing the number of living composers featured in Composer of the Week. The suggestion of creating a new channel devoted to the broadcasting of live music of all types also strikes me as the kind of imaginative rethink that may be needed to get the BBC’s music broadcasting out of its R1, R2, R3, R6 boxes.

Not every response is quite so creative. One reader writes:

If we hand over Radio 3 to the composers, perhaps there should be a discrete programming time for them, as there is for jazz. If we have enough notice, we music lovers can then switch off and turn to our CD or vinyl collections for the duration.

Of course! What sort of classical music lover would have an interest in what the composers of today think about or enjoy or would like to share?

I don’t pretend to have the solution to the ails that Higgins identified in her original article, but I dare say this sort of thinking lies at the root of the problem.


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