Radio rivals agree to differ

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BOTH RADIO stations play classical music, both last week appointed new controllers called Roger - but that, according to the bosses at BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM, is where their similarities end.

The appointment of Roger Wright as head of Radio 3 and Roger Lewis as top man at Classic FM last Tuesday marked one of the most important days in the recent history of classical music radio.

Mr Wright succeeds former controller Nicholas Kenyon, who resigned from the post this summer, two years before the end of his contract. He is thought to have tired of the internal politics at the BBC and had failed to stop the rise of Classic FM, which now attracts more than twice as many listeners as Radio 3.

But Mr Wright, who moves from his position as head of BBC Classical Music, is not concerned about a ratings war, because he believes there is no war. "Classic FM does its job in a way which is very successful. But it is entirely different," he said.

For example, he added, Radio 3 plays entire live or recorded pieces, whereas Classic FM airs short extracts. Radio 3 does not have the advertisements that Classic FM, a commercial station, offers. And a main prong of the Radio 3 package is speech and drama pieces, as well as discussion and debate.

Mr Wright will begin his post as controller of Radio 3 in "a matter of weeks, rather than months", and he has several aims, among them maintaining the quality of the network.

"I will also try to strengthen the credit that the BBC should get for its distinguished broadcasting," he said. "And maintain Radio 3's commitment to commissioning new works, in music, speech and drama."

Ralph Bernard, chief executive at Classic FM, was also quick to point out the differences between the stations. "I will say quite categorically that Radio 3 is not seen as a rival in any sense," he said.

When Classic FM owner the GWR Group carried out research before setting up the station in 1992, it found a hole in the market for popular classical music. "Had we gone along the lines of Radio 3 we would not have extended the choice for listeners," he said. "Classic FM is a music radio station."

Classic FM has attracted more than five million listeners over the six years it has been running, while Radio 3 has maintained a steady increase, thus proving their audiences are different, Mr Bernard said.