New controller defends Radio 3's diversity

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RADIO 3 launched a counter-offensive yesterday to accusations that the BBC is dumbing down as it announced an increase in drama and live classical music.

Roger Wright, the new controller of Radio 3, spelt out his vision for the network, describing it as "the only place you can find such a diversity of top- quality cultural and music programmes".

With Radio 4 constantly accused of downgrading its drama output, Mr Wright announced a Radio 3 season of new plays by writers including Howard Barker and Wole Soyinka as well as a season of classics starring artists including Juliet Stevenson and Cheryl Campbell.

He confirmed that the percentage of speech and drama on the station was increasing. And he announced an increase in the amount of live music, which already accounts for 50 per cent of Radio 3's output. Weekly live opera from the Met in New York will continue. For the first time Radio Three will broadcast Womad, the World Music and Dance Festival from Reading.

Mr Wright detailed changes to the morning schedule from August this year, which include two new strands. A new music performance will run each weekday morning from 11.30am to 1pm, replacing Artist of the Week and Sound Stories. And a new five-minute speech programme scheduled for 10am each weekday morning will have artists such as the actress Fiona Shaw and the novelist A S Byatt talking about their current projects.

There will also be a classical music request programme on Saturday afternoons.

Asked if Radio 3 was challenging Radio 4 as the BBC's cultural station, Mr Wright said: "Radio 3 is classical music and culture together.

"Live music, long-form drama, crafted speech programming and new work lie at the heart of Radio 3's unique service ... the network remains the only place you can find such a diversity of top-quality cultural and music programmes."