Radio 3


Radio 3
   The main current function of Radio 3, now broadcast twenty-four hours a day, is to carry a very wide range of live and recorded classical music. Radio 3 emerged when BBC radio was reorganized in 1967, but its origins lie in the celebrated, often controversial, Third Programme established in 1946 and described by then Director General William Haley as the apex of a cultural pyramid, above the Home Service and still more the Light Programme. The Third Programme was dedicated to the full range of the arts, including music but also drama, features, discussions of science and much else, though with a distinctive style of presentation leading to much praise for, and mockery of, the station as demanding, intellectual and ‘highbrow’.
   Since in its early years the Third Programme was sometimes hard to receive and attracted only a small (at times almost invisible) audience share, it has over a long period been seen as public service broadcasting at its most dedicated or, alternatively, its most costly, off-putting, even absurd. However it has been continuously central to British cultural life, and especially classical music, particularly as a musical patron. Half its output at present is live or specially recorded, while the BBC’s own and other orchestras, and many smaller groups and soloists, gain from its dedication to a wide classical repertoire. This reaches a climax in the summer BBC Promenade concerts (‘the Proms’), which have become increasingly adventurous and are carried live on Radio 3.
   The station still has critics since, despite some airtime for jazz and other forms, Radio 3’s version of cultural value is confined mainly to music within the western classical tradition (with an important commitment to living British composers). Speech programmes have largely migrated to Radio 4, while drama, science and discussion of other arts have become much scarcer in the schedule.
   On its central territory Radio 3 faced a particular challenge with the appearance of Classic FM in 1991, a commercial station broadcasting CD extracts in a new, populist format with approachable presenters. The station’s success and the debate about Radio 3 elitism led to some uneasy but still evolving attempts to extend its core audience beyond typically older and (to some extent) more educated and professional listeners.
   Further reading
    Carpenter, H. (1996) The Envy of the World, London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson.
   MICHAEL GREEN

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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