Friday, October 24, 2014
New BBC Radio 3 supremo is off to a bad start
The first public statement by BBC Radio 3's new controller Alan Davey - seen above - offers little hope for the classical station's future. In an interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme Davey dismissed the station's poor Q2 2014 listening figures saying: "It's one quarter's listening figures we are talking about". Which was a very unwise thing to say: as just hours after saying that the Q3 2014 figures were published and were even worse. Total listener hours for Radio 3 were down year-on-year in Q3 by a disastrous 9.2%, while benchmark station Radio 6 Music increased its listener hours in the same period by 15.5%. Alan Davey's faux pas is particularly surprising as his Today appearance was stage-managed by the BBC PR department, and the BBC would have been aware of the appalling Q3 Radio 3 performance before the interview, as they are briefed by RAJAR - who compile the audience data - ahead of its public release. Davey's statement that the RAJAR figures do not represent "a trend" is also wrong. As regular readers will know, there has been a long term trend of poor audience figures for Radio 3. The equally important trend of a slump in the total audience for classical radio in the UK (Radio 3 plus Classic FM) was also overlooked by Davey, showing that he has no comprehension of the seismic shifts in radio listening.
Leading with a "not dumbing down" message also shows how Alan Davey is out of touch with reality. The rapid and inexorable rise of streaming and other on demand platforms makes the 'dumbing down' versus 'wising up' debate increasingly irrelevant, with 'personalisation' and 'customisation' replacing 'wising up' as listener priorities. In the interview Davey name-dropped Stockhausen's Mittwoch aus Licht to establish his culture cred. But suggesting that the solution to Radio 3's woes is to broadcast Stockhausen and "provide audiences with the context that will help them understand it" is woefully misguided, and shows that the new controller is wedded to the erroneous doctrine of one-size-fits-all radio. There is no mass market for classical music, but there is a large market comprised of discrete and sometime overlapping niches. The audience for Mittwoch aus Licht is totally different to that for My Fair Lady, and Lerner and Loewe fans are not going to stay tuned to Mittwoch aus Licht even if it is embellished with egregious context by Petroc Trelawny or Katie Derham. Classical music's many diverse niche audiences need to be treated with respect, not context.
It is surprising that the designate Radio 3 controller - who has no broadcasting experience at all - has made pronouncements about the station's future three months before he starts work. There is not one shred of evidence in the interview that Davey has any understanding of the deep malaise that is afflicting BBC Radio 3 in particular and classical radio in general. And there is not one shred of evidence that he has any idea of how classical radio can reinvent itself and survive in a content on demand environment. My advice to Alan Davey is to shut up, get his feet under the desk at Radio 3 for an extended period, and only open his mouth again in public when he knows what he is talking about.
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