Radio 3 - 'Every listener won't like every editorial decision'

Independent readers have been critical of Radio 3's treatment of Mozart and Handel. Its controller, Roger Wright, answers them and outlines his plans for live broadcasts

With audience figures up, the overwhelming success of our Mozart festival, Radio 3 has a real spring in its step. Now we are making a bold announcement about our concert coverage, and ready for more exciting programming. However, reading the occasional letters devoted to Radio 3 in the pages of this newspaper, you'd not be surprised to see bemused looks on the faces of my colleagues who run the station. "Once again the tyrants of Radio 3 are to subject its audience to an unbroken period of a single composer...", and "...this suggests that the station is being run as a kind of hobby by those leading it. The listener is no longer a customer; but someone who has to tolerate the self-indulgent behaviour of the station's management".

It may be considered extraordinary that there is this range of personal connection that Radio 3 listeners feel with the station. Of course, not every editorial decision will please every listener, but I do understand and welcome that strong sense of belonging and ownership that our listeners have towards the station – or their station, as they regard it. Radio 3 is the BBC's home of classical music, but it is also much more than just a radio station. It is nothing less than an essential part of the UK's music and arts ecology – and the cultural scene is richer and more vibrant for the presence of Radio 3 in the classical-music market.

Radio 3 remains a high-quality and distinctive station – as some have it, "the envy of the world" – and to be the current caretaker of this jewel in the BBC's crown is a real privilege. It was fascinating – but perhaps not a surprise – to learn from the BBC Trust that there had been 11,000 submissions about Radio 3 to its recent review of the station. Many companies tell us that they would give much for that level of engagement with their customers.

"I think you may have an anti-Handel policy," wrote one listener. "Please reply so I know where I stand." It is a hard accusation to support, not least when we have recently broadcast every Handel opera (more than 40 of them) and lots of his other works. Again though, that sense of a personal service shines through. What we choose to broadcast, how and when, are important decisions for our millions of listeners, as many of them set their clocks by the station and treat it as the background to their lives.

Setting and moulding agendas, not following them, has always been the Radio 3 way. Six years ago, we made broadcasting history by scheduling nothing but the complete works of Beethoven for a week. Since then we have offered Bach, Webern, Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky in this way. Most recently, Mozart was the composer we celebrated, with a 12-day feast. Inevitably there were some listeners who didn't like the idea, but the overall response shocked even those of us in the station who thought that we might touch a particular nerve over the festive period. By a count of around 100 to one, the positive response outweighed any other kind of feedback.

Some other letters on these pages have referred to concerns about the station's breakfast programming. It was with some amusement that I received one complaint that Radio 3 Breakfast was too, well, er, breakfast-y. Why should we not want the station to be welcoming, and reflect in our morning programmes that listening habits and needs vary at different times of day?

In its report, the BBC Trust endorses this strategy and finds no evidence to suggest that Radio 3 is a service without distinctiveness and quality at its core. We are still the most significant commissioner of new music in the world, a regular home for full-length UK radio-drama, and the exclusive broadcaster of all the BBC Proms.

A decade ago doomsday merchants were predicting the death of chamber music and song recitals – how then would they explain the success of Wigmore Hall (and, within the hall's programming, the quality of the Radio 3 Monday lunchtime concerts)? Look at the record-breaking success of the BBC Proms and you realise that classical music is thriving in concert halls and on Radio 3 – with the station's evening concert figures up 10 per cent.

At a time of real concern about public funding for the arts, it is even more important that we exude confidence about the value of classical music and share our passion for it, rather than just count its cost. If you have a passion, it is a natural instinct to want to share it with others – offering high quality and a warm friendly tone are not mutually exclusive.

With our listening at an all-time high for the last quarter of the year, it may be that, after the Proms success, we have attracted new listeners for the station, something that anyone interested in arts and culture should welcome. While welcoming these new listeners, we continue to move confidently through this year and will increase our live broadcasts in the evening to a level never before heard on the station.

One element of the station's distinctiveness is that more than half of Radio 3's music output is not from disc – in other words it is from concerts, operas, recitals and other performances. Now, in an unprecedented move, from May we are going to be offering our millions of listeners the chance to occupy the best seat in the house by having live broadcasts, with the exception of a few weeks a year, every weekday evening.

There'll be more changes later in the year as we build on our recent success – but we have no current plans to do another big composer focus, although listeners are keen to know who the next one might be.

So when listener demand becomes too great, and we do have another composer celebration, I'll be ready to welcome new listeners and expect the brickbats too, but, in the meantime, I'll enjoy the last remaining traditional Austrian chocolate Mozart-balls!

Roger Wright is controller of BBC Radio 3 and director of the BBC Proms

Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
Arts and Entertainment
Crowd control: institutions like New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art are packed

Art
Arts and Entertainment
Cillian Murphy stars as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices