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Radio 3: music for the sake of music

Posted: May 16th, 2008, by Stan Tontas

Heard on the radio earlier today the controller of Radio 3, being told off for declining audience figures. One of the questions was “so as the audience for European classical music declines, you’re happy for your audience to decline?”

The guy’s in an impossible position, between conservative classical fans and market-led demands for a more popular approach. One says: “how dare you play that pop classic rubbish”, the other: “how dare you play that tuneless modern rubbish”. But both of those miss why Radio 3 is important.

The charge laid against classical music is usually that it’s elitist, but that’s doesn’t apply to Radio 3. It costs you nothing to listen to full-length works, that’s equality of access to anyone with a radio. Curious about the appeal of Wagner, Stockhausen, Beethoven but can’t afford to buy? Catch Radio 3 at the right time and you can satisfy your ears. That’s what is important about Radio 3 and it doesn’t apply only to “classical” but also “difficult” (i.e. pretty wild) modern composition, jazz of various stripes, “world” (yuk) music (a multitude of sins, some very pleasurable) and most everything else.

You hear things on Radio 3 that would never get near a commercial radio station and that’s what people who love music should value above all else, whether it’s their thing or not. We don’t have John Peel any more and you can’t stumble upon musical genius online. What we can do is celebrate radio stations that still have space for music for its own sake. Give Radio 3 the credit it deserves.



Stan Tontas

Stan lives in Glasgow.

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