Monday, July 10, 2017

Never sit in the comfy chair

Travelling round Northern France, I found myself listening to France Musique. Frank Bridge. Arnold Bax. And the incomparable performance of In a Summer Garden by Barbirolli . Presented in a way that suggested the presenter knew what he was saying.... Cf Petroc Trelawny
That comment was added by a reader to a recent post. By coincidence it was awaiting moderation when I returned from driving from Cahors in the Limousin region of south-west France to the Channel port of Caen, during which drive I too found France Musique's output unusually satisfying. When I cleared the UK border control at Portsmouth and turned onto the M27 I tuned in to Martin Handley on BBC Radio 3. In the past Martin Handley was one of the station's more erudite presenters, but I quickly switched back to the SDHC memory card in my car's audio system. Because Handley's presentation style has descended - or more probably has been forced to descend - into 'Jack and Jill radio' which treats its audience as though they are, and will forever remain, young children. Jack and Jill radio was, of course, was pioneered by Classic FM, then hijacked by Roger Wright - RIP the Aldeburgh Festival - for Radio 3, and taken to its curremt Olympian heights by Petroc Trelawny.

A recent post advocated yet again that classical music should pursue a 'minds in gear' as opposed to a 'bums on seats' strategy. BBC Radio 3 has for years unashamedly chased bums on seats in pursuit of Classic FM. But the latest official RAJAR listening figures show quite objectively that this is not working: in the quarter ending March 2017 Radio 3 had an audience of 1.8 million listeners, down from 2.1 million in the same quarter the previous year. This is a lot less bums on seats than Classic FM, which had an audience of 5.3 million in Q1 2017. So BBC Radio 3 is failing to deliver the holy grail of a big audience; but neither is it - as the comment above confirms - engaging brains, despite new controller Alan Davey's professed dumbing-down lite policy.

My varied reading while in France included Jake Humphrey's The Inside Track. Jake Humphrey who is only 38 fronted BBC TV's Formula One coverage; he then moved on to present BT Sport's football programmes and is co-owner of Whisper Films which currently provides Channel 4's F1 coverage. At first glance Formula One and classical music may appear to have little in common. But in fact Formula One is a cash-hungry big business masquerading as sport, while classical music is a cash-hungry big business masquerading as art, and there is much that classical music can learn from how BBC TV engaged the brains of its Formula One audience.

In his book Jake Humphrey explains how Formula One was very successfully repositioned from 'wallpaper TV' to 'appointment-to-view TV'. Appointment-to-view/listen is where the important loyal and knowledgeable audience is, yet classical radio is still being repositioned with a notable lack of success as wallpaper listening. Jake Humphrey advocates that decision makers in the media and elsewhere should never sit in the comfy chair. Which very precisely nails classical music's current problem: its movers and shakers refuse to move from the comfy chair, and instead spend their time providing even more luxuriously upholstered seats for their dwindling audience.

Header photo of street art was taken by me in Cahors. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

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