Wednesday, April 15, 2015
This is my radio
Three months into the role, the new controller of BBC Radio 3 Alan Davey has revealed his vision to rejuvenate the station and make it relevant in an age of multiple media. At the centre of his vision is bringing back the Pied Piper programme last heard in 1976, and winding back the clock on the breakfast programme by dropping the vox pop contributions from listeners. When I explained last year why classical radio must change or die, I incurred the wrath of the Friends of Radio 3 by suggesting they advocated that Radio 3 presenters should once again wear dinner jackets while on air. It now seems that my misunderstood joke will backfire on me, and that Alan Davey will soon be announcing the return of formally attired presenters.
At this point let's make one thing clear. I was a huge fan of David Munrow's Pied Piper programme, have probably written more about him over the years than any other music journalist, and my interview with Munrow's mentor, the EMI producer Christopher Bishop, is one of the few first hand accounts of Munrow's career - listen here. But reheating the Pied Piper format for an age where every variable in classical music broadcasting has undergone a paradigm shift is a ludicrous concept, and it simply underlines that Davey - who has no broadcasting background - is struggling to come up with original ideas. BBC Radio 3's new controller has also missed the point that the original Pied Piper led the kids away, for them never to return.
Among other headlines from the interview with Alan Davey, which was published in the Sunday Times, is - as predicted here - an emphasis on sound quality to differentiate the station from Classic FM, and a move away from patronising its listeners, aka dumbing down. Like his earlier BBC Radio 4 interview Alan Davey has obviously written his latest script specifically to satisfy the Friends of Radio 3. Although the Friends of Radio 3 and On An Overgrown Path have both pointed out in the past that Radio 3 has got it badly wrong, I now view the activities of this pressure group with considerable nervousness. They claim to be non-prescriptive; so by default they have opened the door for the winding back of the clock strategy that Alan Davey is now unveiling; in fact, they have publicly expressed approval of his early plans.
The paradigm shifts in culture and technology mentioned earlier mean that any winding back of the clock at Radio 3 is doomed to failure. The Friends of Radio 3 is headed by the well-intentioned and very likable Sarah Spilsbury, and its online forums are a valuable resource. But the group's membership is statistically unrepresentative of the Radio 3 audience, it has no constitution or election of officers, and there is no rigorous methodolgy for checking that the views it expresses represent those of its members, yet alone all Radio 3 listeners. But the Friends of Radio 3 has the ear of the reactionary media, which means it also has the ear of the BBC. There are regular meetings between the Friends of Radio 3 and senior BBC executives; in fact Alan Davey met with the Friends of Radio 3 before he took up post - see Dec 5 2014. The Friends of Radio 3 regularly supplies soundbites to the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph; so, with a license fee and charter negotiation looming, keeping the pressure group onside is a high priority for the BBC and Alan Davey.
In the Sunday Times interview Alan Davey says: "If you set out to chase ratings, it's quite hard to succeed". I am a lapsed Radio 3 listener, which means that I am an unrepresentative sample of the thousands that Davey needs to woo back to his station. My header photo shows the alternative to Radio 3 that currently satisfies me: it is not a single station but a mix of media across a mix of sources. To win me back, Alan Davey needs to put his money where his mouth is and stop chasing ratings. He needs to create radio that is relevant, stimulating, dangerous, enlightening, challenging and new. I don't want programming by pressure group, Petroc Trelawny without the phone-ins, or a reincarnated Pied Piper with James May as presenter.
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