Radio daze: Classic FM grabs record wiz from Radio 3

December 6, 2017 by norman lebrecht


BBC Radio has lost Rob Cowan, its most knowledgeable presenter of classical records, to its commercial rival.

Rob is part of a general talent and producer exodus from Radio 3.

The station will replace him on Essential Classics with Prince Charles’s speechwriter, Ian Skelly.



Comments (37)

  1. Will Duffay says:

    He might as well chuck out 90% of his record collection now.

    1. ROB COWAN says:

      As it happens Will I’ll now need it more than ever …. I have plans to pursue a pretty broad repertory brief even though the tried and tested will have its place.

      1. Elizabeth Smith says:

        That’s brilliant Rob!

  2. Henry Rosen says:

    Let’s hope Classic FM are going to allow him and his taste in music to be continued to be broadcast. Already, their online presence is fantastic and doing so much for the promotion of Classical Music and serious classical performers..good on them!!

  3. Jackyt says:

    But why is he leaving? I was just listening to his interview with Tony Pappano this morning on Essential Classics. Radio 3 without Rob Cowan – unthinkable!

  4. Robert King says:

    A real shame for BBC R3 to lose someone so unique, with such an encyclopaedic knowledge of classical music, whose enthusiasm for music comes across so warmly, and who can interview so well. Rob will be a big loss to R3’s listeners. That said, in our household (amazingly enough, our children usually turn on R3 of their own volition, so we hear a lot of it) Ian Skelly is one of the R3 presenters we all really like.

    1. Alan says:

      I’m afraid to say I won’t miss him at all.

      1. Geoff says:

        Nor me. I can’t stand the way he talks down to the listeners as if we are six year olds.

        1. ROB COWAN says:

          You must know some pretty bright six-year-olds Geoff if they’ve heard of Klemperer, Hartmann, Ligeti, Bartók, Golovanov and Svetlanov, and what made them tick. Still, maybe it was in their genes. Best. Rob

          1. Geoffrey Bernstein says:

            I was referring to your presentation as being appropriate to six-year olds, not the content

        2. ROB COWAN says:

          Regarding the six year old theme – in a way, you’re right, I mean me being like a kid let loose in a sweetshop. That’s how I feel, and maybe that’s how I sound – ebullient and wanting to share. In that sense you’re better off with middle-aged sobriety, of which there is a great deal to choose from elsewhere … much of it excellent.

  5. Alan Turtle says:

    You all seem to be forgetting that Rob Cowan co-presented the weekly Classic FM CD review show for several years in the 1990s before he went to Radio 3.


    1. moonpavilion says:

      My first thought

  6. Yossel Murphy says:

    Much joy!! At last!!

    1. Nik says:

      That statement is a bit puzzling in isolation. Are you pleased that R3 is rid of him or that CFM has him? And why?

      1. Yossel Murphy says:

        I’m ecstatic he’s leaving Radio 3 and couldn’t care less about him moving to Classic FM, as he’ll still be a pain on that station and I rarely listen to it anyway. As soon as RC comes on, it’s enough to make you fall asleep…….he’s an utter bore! Is that clear enough for you?

        1. ROB COWAN says:

          I wish it was clear to me Yossel! 🙂 Might be helpful …

        2. Hilary says:

          He’s brilliant.

  7. Rog says:

    The news about Rob Cowan is confirmed by press releases from both Classic FM and Radio 3. I have mixed feelings about it. Mr Cowan, for all his encylopaedic knowledge of classical recordings, has never struck me as particularly discriminating, and I find his broadcasting style increasingly grating (in contrast to that of Ian Skelly, in fact) – though of course this is a matter of personal taste.

    Your suggestion that ‘Rob is part of a general talent and producer exodus from Radio 3’, however, is unevidenced by you, and I can only suspect you of mischief-making, given the extraordinarily and inexplicably spiteful animus that you directed towards Alan Davey on his appointment.

    1. norman lebrecht says:

      Alan Davey obtained his last two jobs by means of patronage. That is not spite; it’s fact. As for the Radio 3 defectors, I may compile a list.

    2. norman lebrecht says:

      Alan Davey obtained his last two jobs by means of patronage. That is not spite; it’s a matter of public probity. As for the Radio 3 defectors, I may compile a little list if I can spare the time.

      1. Rog says:

        A matter of fact, or a matter of public probity (whatever that means), Mr Lebrecht? Make your mind up.

    3. Jackyt says:

      Where is the press release from BBC about Rob Cowan leaving? I have hunted on the BBC website, and on the Radio 3 website and not a mention. I, for one, will miss his warmth, knowledge and enthusiasm greatly.

  8. Peter Phillips says:

    “Most knowledgeable presenter”? What about Sarah Walker with her PhD in performance practice? Or the excellent Martin Handley, a professional musician?
    I will not miss Rob Cowan’s unctuous tones, nor his indiscriminate over praising of everything he plays, though he is not alone in that.

  9. ROB COWAN says:

    Thanks for your responses, both favourable and unfavourable. As for myself, I’m looking forward to bringing both rarities and tried and tested greats to CFM though I shall miss R3 and the wonderful team that works there.

    Rob C

    1. John Groves says:

      Looking forward to hearing you on Classic FM, Rob! You will be a loss to R3, but at least you are being replaced by someone who is knowledgeable and has an excellent ‘radio voice’!

    2. Ruth says:

      I remember being introduced to all sorts of interesting repertoire on your programme in the early days of CFM. I appreciate your dignified response to some unkind comments posted here and wish you well in your new role.

      1. ROB COWAN says:

        Thank you Ruth and everyone else. I so appreciate your positive remarks. Regarding Mr. Philips, and in spite of his justifiable praise for Sarah and Martin, both of them first-rate presenters, I might point our that aside from my journalistic work I have lectured on performance practice at Trinity, the RAM, and the Guildhall, as well as giving pre-concert talks on the same subject (Barbican, RFH, Wigmore). I may have been a poor cellist and violinist, but I did at least have a bash and I regularly find my way around full scores. No I’m not an academic but I’ve been listening to classical recordings for some 55 years which I hope lends my views some credibility. I suppose you can’t please – or convince everyone – but I thank most people here for their kindness and generosity.

      2. Professor Richard Goldberg says:

        Spot on Ruth. Rob is the most outstanding classical music broadcaster of his generation. I feel shocked to read some of the gratuitously nasty remarks of some on this thread. It reminds me of inadequate sophomores bitching about their lecturer in a questionnaire.

        1. ROB COWAN says:

          Thank you Professor Goldberg. I can never understand that sort of attitude.

    3. Professor Richard Goldberg says:

      I have you to thank for my enriched love of classical music over the last 20 years, whether on the Radio or reading Gramophone magazine. So I’ll be listening in to you on Saturday evenings in the same way as I have done CD Masters and Essential Classics all these years.
      All best wishes to you on this new venture
      Professor Richard Goldberg

    4. Mr Waggles says:

      Is the Classic FM pay and conditions way better than R3? Pension or have you it all offshore?

      1. ROB COWAN says:

        nothing to do with that (same difference) and the only thing I have off shore is a toy boat I sailed as a kid

  10. Andrew Smith says:

    Just why are you leaving, Rob? My wife, though she of course wishes you well in your new role at Classic FM, is devastated by the news of your departure. We both have fond memories of meeting you at the pop-up studio at the Royal Festival Hall a few years ago.

  11. C Porumbescu says:

    An engaging presenter, a thoroughly nice person and a mine of expertise, freely shared with his colleagues and audience. As to the question of how “discriminating” he is, I’d only say that the role of a professional radio presenter is not, necessarily, to act as an unbending arbiter of taste: they’re a chairman, not a judge. And I’d add – from personal experience – that when you discuss music with Rob one-to-one, his judgements are firm, fair and grounded not just in an extraordinary depth and breadth of listening experience, but a profound musicianship. Radio 3’s loss is Classic FM’s gain.

  12. Stephen Munslow says:

    I shall miss Rob Cowan, because apart from his taste in music, he just seems a good-natured, down to earth, unpretentious, friendly bloke.
    I turn over to Radio Orfei – a Russian classical music internet station – more often now, because I’m tired of R3’s increasing SJW flavour, where it frequently stated that such and such a composer is this ethnicity, that gender, that skin colour, this sexuality and so on. I’m not interested in all this – I just want to hear classical music. With Rob Cowan gone, I’ll be switching over even more frequently

  13. Rob says:

    Hi Rob, wish you well at CFM. I remember you there in 1992, infact somebody played all the movements of Rattle’s new Mahler 7 over a period near that time, perhaps it was you?

    I hope you get round to listening to a new recording of Louis Glass’s 5th Symphony conducted by Daniel Raiskin on the CPO label. It’s excellent! The symphony has a subtitle: “Svastika”, but it has nothing to do with the Nazis. Norman, how about a review from you too?

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