A mostly discerning listener

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The Independent Online
RADIO 3 listeners have recently been marching through the streets, or at least through the correspondence columns, to protest against their treatment by Nicholas Kenyon, the new boss of Radio 3. I would like to get involved, too, as I like a bit of rioting as much as the next man; but I am a little reluctant. Not because I have no views on the subject, but because I am not certain if I am a Radio 3 listener and qualified to go marching and burning.

If anything, I used to think I was a Radio 4 listener. I enjoy words, talk, anecdotage, so I used to switch on Radio 4 and let it wash over me. But there came a time not long ago when I started going through the Radio Times at the beginning of the week and marking programmes I thought would interest me, and blow me down, I found I was marking as much stuff from Radio 2 and 3 as from Radio 4.

I might tick an interval talk on Radio 3, despite the fact that I would have to wade through an over-running concert to get to it. Or a tribute to Billy Mayerl by Steve Race on Radio 2, and an edition of A Good Read on Radio 4, which is almost always good, no matter who's on. I have to admit that I would very seldom tick anything on Radio 1.

I used to think that this liberal outlook on my part (outside Radio 1) was due to the fact that each station had its own flavour. That, for instance, a Radio 2 talk on Billy Mayerl by Steve Race would be very different from a Radio 3 talk on Billy Mayerl. Steve Race would be chatty and anecdotal. A Radio 3 pundit would be sternly analytical, and trace Billy Mayerl's place in the cultural pantheon, his links with show music on one side and the history of piano composition on the other. . . . A Radio 4 talk on Billy Mayerl, again, would totally ignore his music and deal with his tortured (or otherwise) life story, probably in dramatised form.

But now I think I was wrong. You get musical tributes on Radio 2 - by Dave Gelly, for instance - that are every bit as learned in their field as those on Radio 3. I have heard Radio 2 portraits of showbiz people by Michael Alexander - one on Elsie Waters, for instance - which could easily have been placed on Radio 4 . . .

And this is just what is happening. Programmes from one station are cropping up again on other sides. It is quite common to see the rubric in Radio Times to the effect that a programme you have noticed under Radio 4 'was first heard on Radio 2', or, indeed, that something has been sent over from the World Service, which tends to suggest that if something is really good it can go out anywhere.

I find it harder and harder now to remember on which station I heard something first, or to work out why one quiz goes out on Radio 4 when I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue goes out on Radio 2. For instance, I remember distinctly hearing, in a profile of Woody Allen, S J Perelman being asked to say in what way Woody Allen was different from Mel Brooks.

'That's easy,' he said acidly. 'He's funny.'

That was on Radio 3. But does it have the flavour of Radio 3? There has recently been a marvellous series of programmes on different languages of the world. Radio 3? No - Radio 4, with Ray Gosling.

And talking of Woody Allen, I heard a wonderfully surrealistic comedy programme in which at one point the two hitch-hiking heroes got a lift with Mia Farrow, but demanded to be put out of the car again when 'Mamma Mia' tried to adopt them. This was part of a loony series called Nigel and Earl Put the World to Rights, which was wordy enough to be on Radio 4 and clever enough to be on Radio 3, but was actually on Radio 5. Yes, Radio 5, the forgotten land.

So when the call to the barricades comes, and we have to file down the entries marked Radio 1, Radio 2, etc, and resist what they are doing to our station, I won't have the faintest idea where to go. I have no station loyalty. I finally realised this the other day when I was extolling to someone the virtues of an Evelyn Waugh talk, re-broadcast on Radio 3 in pre-Kenyon days, about the novelist Alfred Duggan.

'So you do get some real gems on Radio 3,' I said.

'Well, repeated on Radio 3, yes,' he said. 'But what station did it first come out on?'

I hadn't the faintest idea, of course. So, maybe, when I go to the barricades, I'll put myself down as a Radio 3 (Repeat) listener.