MEDIA: Time for Radio 3 to call in the PR professionals

There was a special offer in the Times this week of some media importance.

There was a special offer in the Times this week of some media


The paper was offering new BBC CDs of recordings, representing the best

of Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter from concerts in the 1960s and


Not your cup of tea? Well, the media significance of the offer lies in

the fact that these are the first releases under the BBC’s own classical

music label. After years of negotiation, BBC Worldwide has managed to

take back full control of its archives, stuffed with historic recordings

of concert performances.

In future there will be a principled strategy to exploit its goodies,

but as part of a renewed attempt to market Radio 3 as the nation’s

premier cultural station. Classic FM has already forged the way with its

own record label. So it is a logical step, long overdue, even though the

classical music market is flooded with products, some mediocre. What the

move underlines is that Radio 3 is gearing up in its most determined

effort so far to become accessible. It knows it has to give out far more

information about the music it is playing.

It has a young marketing manager determined to hire professional

expertise to get the network talked about - remember the coverage about

rustle-free cough sweets for Radio 3 audiences, planted to remind people

that the evening schedules are dominated by live events? That was the

first shot in a lengthy campaign due to roll in the New Year.

With weekly audiences stuck at around 2.3 million, a share at just over

one per cent, (one third of Classic FM’s) but with the second highest

programme budget after Radio 4, it has been ordered to broaden its

appeal and clarify its schedules by the board of governors.

Five years have passed since Nicholas Kenyon took over as controller,

and he has made three very public attempts to shake it up and attract

new listeners. It is hard not to feel some sympathy with his frustration

at not having more to show. The style of presenting, while still formal,

is far warmer than the one he inherited. It now broadcasts through the

night and has increased the time given to intelligent discussion.

He is also introducing personalities. In the latest revamp Joan Bakewell

becomes an interviewer/presenter with Artist of the Week, in a daily

format which owes something to Desert Island Discs. Far from being a

dinosaur, protests Kenyon, Radio 3 is ’painfully reformed’.

But the network is paying the price of poor communication. Its

highlights are largely unknown. In fact, it desperately needs more input

from professional communicators. Last week’s shake up of the morning

schedules was attended by representatives from a newly-formed group,

Save Radio 3. They like it just the way it is. That is not an option.

Radio 3 needs more of the people who have flooded to one of its few

successful initiatives, the Proms in the Park.

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