'Round midnight. Or perhaps not at all

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The Independent Online
Nicholas Kenyon, Controller of Radio 3, is said to have got great pleasure in his youth from surveying the Radio 3 schedules.I know how he feels. I used to too.

I still sometimes get pleasure from it. Most days I look down the list of music to be played on Radio 3 and talks to be talked, and I think: That looks interesting, or, It would be nice to hear that again, or, Mel Smith's programmes on jazz are always thought-provoking so I'll give that a go, and just as often I think, Oh no, I hate that composer, or, Oh God it's live opera all afternoon, give that a miss, or, Hmm, perhaps I should give Liszt another try.

But what I never do is think, Oh, I like that presenter, I'll see what he has to offer, or, I see Adrian Turntable is presenting Rush Hour Muzak today - he's really dishy, I'll listen to him.

Call me old-fashioned, but I turn on for the music. Yet, to judge by recent newspaper features on Radio 3, it is only the presenters who matter. "Is Radio 3 going pop?" they ask. Or, "Down market with Radio 3?"

It always turns out, when you inspect these post-mortems, that it is not the music that is thought to be going down-market, it is the presenters. Out go stuffy old Radio 3 announcers, in comes Paul Gambaccini. Is it the end of the world?

Who cares? say I. Both are as bad or as good as each other. It is only the music that counts. As long as the announcers don't natter (though they do, more and more), I don't care who they are. Like the young Nicholas Kenyon, I just like looking through the Radio 3 schedules, picking out things I like the look of.

Except when it comes to jazz, which I am specially fond of.

I wrote a piece in this space the other day pointing out that Jazz Notes, the only jazz programme that turns up on BBC radio more than once a week, has now been relegated to 12.30am for half an hour a night. 12.30am! Imagine the uproar if a programme called Opera Notes were relegated to a time well after midnight. Imagine the uproar if anything to do with opera were mucked around with, even though it's all music by long-dead composers.

Jazz Notes often presents good stuff by living musicians and composers (such as wonderful recent solo sessions from the pianist Dave Newton and the guitarist Martin Taylor) but I have to get up and work every morning. I can't physically stay up to listen to it at 12.30am. And I don't see why I should have to, or rely on a timed recording.

But there was no way I could have listened to last Thursday's Jazz Notes. This was billed as a tribute to two British jazz musicians who have just reached their 70th birthdays, Don Rendell and Cy Laurie. It did not, however, go out on air, as far as I can make out. It was never broadcast. This was apparently because a concert earlier in the evening overran, thus pushing everything later. Now, I can understand why late running earlier in the evening should make Jazz Notes even later than its already ludicrous timeslot - but why cancel it altogether?

I'll tell you why. Because the programme after Jazz Notes, at 1am, was Night School, the educational strand that goes on so late that all its listeners have to record it while they sleep. So its time can't be changed. So when Radio 3 starts running late, something has to be cancelled, to avoid running into the buffers at 1am. So Jazz Notes gets the chop.

But hold on, why didn't the programme before Jazz Notes get the chop? It was only a repeat, after all. A repeat of This Week's Composer, "Szymanowski", a programme which was all gramophone records and had already been heard. But that was preserved, while the Jazz Notes tribute to two living musicians whose 70th birthday will not come again was pushed into the limbo from which no programme ever re-emerges into a Radio Times billing.

Szymanowski died in 1937 and doesn't really need the kudos. Don Rendell and Cy Laurie are alive and well, and might feel somewhat miffed that a once-in-a-lifetime tribute on Radio 3 was chucked out just because Radio 3 couldn't get its schedules right.

Like Nicholas Kenyon, I enjoy reading the Radio 3 schedules. Unlike him, I get a lot of my enjoyment by looking at the jazz late-night listings and say, "It would have been nice to hear that." Or, indeed, "It would have been nice to hear that, assuming it wasn't cancelled."

I don't think Radio 3 has gone pop. I think it has just fallen into the hands of people who don't know how to run it.