Radio 3 chief denies `dumbing down'

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The Independent Online
Every time the BBC changes Radio 3 there are cries that the barbarians are at the gate. Paul McCann, Media Correspondent, hears the BBC say that easier-to-find programmes need not mean easy listening.

The BBC denied yesterday that it was "dumbing down" Radio 3 when it announced a new schedule that puts Joan Bakewell, Richard Baker and Peter Hobday at the heart of its output. Nicholas Kenyon, controller of Radio 3, said the changes were designed to make it easier for listeners to find programmes and told his critics that it was "insane" for the station to stand still.

Programmes will be given regular start times and more signposting so listeners can find what they want. There will be regular programmes every morning hosted by Bakewell, Baker and Hobday, and more specialist programmes are being moved to the evenings.

Mr Kenyon denied that the changes were about "chasing numbers" and instead said he wants Radio 3's 2.5 million listeners to increase the amount of time they spend listening.

Baker rejoins the station after leaving the BBC in 1995 to work for Classic FM. He will present a daily programme, Sound Stories, which will use linked themes to explain the background to pieces of music. Bakewell will present a daily slot, Artist of the Week, that will concentrate on the work of one musician over five days, while Hobday has had his 9am show extended by 90 minutes.

Responding to the Save Radio 3 lobby group, Mr Kenyon said: "It would be an insane person who did not commit themselves wholeheartedly to change. We have to respond to the way people live their lives now. Our aim is not to increase the number of listeners but to increase the amount of listening they do."

Stephen Follows, chairman of Save Radio 3, said: "This is the start of a drip-drip process. They are playing more CD music and easy listening music. In the end you will be left with a bland 24-hour drive-time sound. They are getting away from specialised music to try to appeal to an idealised general audience that doesn't exist."