Cumbria Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Andrew Palmer
Group Editor
12:35 PM 27th February 2024

Changes On Radio 3

There’s something in the words of Maya Angelo - “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain” - which I find quite energising.

Why? Well, I can’t change anything to do with BBC Radio 3, but I can change my attitude and, for once, look on the bright side of proposed transmutations.

Sam Jackson, Controller BBC Radio 3 and BBC Proms, is about to change my Saturday mornings, the only morning I am allowed to listen to Radio 3. Initially, when I read that the wonderful Record Review was moving to Saturday afternoon, I heaved a huge sigh. But then I remembered that when I do have to miss it, I always catch up on BBC Sounds while preparing our regular 'Mrs Balbir Singh' Saturday night curries (if you haven’t tried her spices, you have missed out). There’s another reason I can’t complain: I will still be listening because there is an innovation I have been banging on about the need for Radio 3 to do for years, and it is about to happen. Tom Service has been invited to host a new live Saturday morning programme featuring three hours of diverse classical repertoire and interviews. Guests will join him to discuss and analyse the most recent news in the art world. Let’s give it a go and listen to Record Review on BBC Sounds, or, in my case, when I am preparing dinner. People will still order new records via the internet or streaming services. 

The other programme I hate to miss is Michael Berkley’s Private Passions, so much more than Desert Island Discs. Interesting conversations from a presenter who is well-read and well-researched and who makes the art of the interview compelling. He is a consummate presenter. There is so much to learn from his engaging style. More often than not, I am returning home from organ duties at the local church, so thank goodness for BBC Sounds. Private Passions is being extended... hooray! What a treat.

I have changed my attitudes so much so that I don’t sit in the ‘traditional Radio 3 listener box’ anymore, and to be frank it is refreshing. Yes, I have dislikes, such as In Tune's Sean Rafferty, but I am in the minority, as he is apparently popular. I miss the wonderful Suzy Klein presenting Essential Classics; her style is one that should be replicated. There are few people on Radio 3 who actually use the radio technique of sounding like they are talking just to you—better than Klein, if at all.

I miss the old 30-minute interviews that used to appear in Essential Classics under Rob Cowan and Sarah Walker. That feature was appealing, and I would have thought it would make wonderful podcasts to get young people interested in the genre. I have even realised that the lack of cathedral choirs on Choral Evensong is disappointing but necessary, if costs are to be brought down. No need to complain; change attitude.

Everything is subject to change.

There's lots to get excited about. The fabulous Clemency Burton-Hill is returning to Radio 3 with an exclusive interview with Daniel Barenboim as part of a new series celebrating the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra at 25.

And it gets better: In The Land Without Music? The Times’ Chief Culture Writer, Richard Morrison, explores the state of classical music and music education in this country. It would be a much-needed feature if there was one.

Then, violinist and Edinburgh International Festival Director Nicola Benedetti makes her Radio 3 presenting debut in a series focusing on the history and impact of the International Festival in Scotland and beyond.

The populist Sam Jackson has realised that Clive Myrie hosting Music on the Frontline, where he talks to fellow journalists about the way in which classical music has sustained them while reporting on some of the most relevant and challenging news stories of our times, may bring an assortment of people of all ages to the station.

Distinctiveness and ambition are at the heart of the new Radio 3 schedule, as we look to delight our existing audience whilst also offering a raft of programmes that give new listeners a reason to join us. Today, we cement our commitment to live music and take the opportunity to tell powerful stories through the magical medium of radio. This new schedule, coupled with our forthcoming BBC Proms season, which is shaping up to be one of our most ambitious yet, makes this an exciting time for music at the BBC.
Sam Jackson.

I used to co-present a classical music programme on BBC Radio Essex in the 1990s, before local radio weekday evening specialist hour slots were cut. It was a challenge to keep things fresh and appeal to new listeners.

As a classical music reviewer for the p.ublished group of online papers, my preconceived ideas have been challenged, and I have enjoyed listening to things I didn’t think I would. As Group Editor, we have to find new features and keep things fresh. Again, changing attitudes works.

There will be grumblings, mumbling, and commentary about the new BBC Radio 3 schedule, but I doubt revolution as the changes bed in. In introducing transformation as part of his modernisation of the station, Sam Jackson, ultimately, will be judged by the RAJAR figures as a mark of his success.

But for now, let’s give it a go. As Stevens the Butler in Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day said, "Now, naturally, like many of us, I have a reluctance to change too much of the old ways. But there is no virtue at all in clinging as some do to tradition merely for its own sake.”