Rajar: Listeners keep deserting BBC Radio 3

Rajar: Listeners keep deserting BBC Radio 3


norman lebrecht

February 08, 2019

Figures for the last quarter of 2018 show Radio 3 with just over 1.8 million listeners and a reach of three percent.

Classic FM has 5.3 million listeners and a ten percent reach.

Radio 3 is down around 20 percent in two years.

Now why would that be?

Well, put a former Labour apparatchik in charge of BBC Radio and his former chief civil servant at the head of Radio 3 and they are bound to do wonders for creativity and public appeal.

Well done, Tony Hall.

Jolly good show.

UPDATE: A BBC Spokesperson said: “We always fluctuate around the 2 million mark – we are delighted that audiences are listening longer with the highest figures in 2 years at 6hrs and 34m this quarter, along with an increased share of 1.2% – this is in line with our strategy to encourage audiences to take time out to listen to full-length classical concert broadcasts and slow radio.”

Straight from W1A 1AA.


  • Paul Brownsey says:

    I sometimes wonder whether, in trying to broaden Radio 3’s appeal, the BBC is losing some of its core audience. Some of the presenters these days–not Handley or Trelawney but the ones who witter on about so-and-so’s “iconic” symphony–can be wince-making to listen to. I remember Elizabeth Alker, after playing a choral work for advent by Victoria, telling us that advent was the other Christian festival associated with chocolate.

    Oh, and Breakfast, at least, contains numerous of trailers for other programmes, which are tedious to listen to.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    People can stream radio from all over the world now. The choice is staggering and that’s reflected in a diminution of audiences for the local product. Inevitable.

  • Gregor Tassie says:

    Radio 3 has been going down the toilet for years especially when they decided to ‘compete’ with Classic FM. Their constant advertising of programmes with Classic FM style gushing voices puts many dedicated listeners off. Most people want relief from life’s sorrows just to listen to quality programmes of classical music, jazz, and intelligently produced cultural programmes. Sadly with most of the current batch of vulgar and intellectually challenged presenters (with one or two exceptions), the listener numbers are going to continue to decline. Thankfully there are alternatives.

    • Derek says:


      Which alternatives do you recommend?

      • Derek says:

        Don’t know why the “thumbs down”. This is a genuine interested enquiry.

      • crayfish says:

        Swiss classique

      • Gregor Tassie says:

        Its easy enough done, skip the ‘adverts’ and recruit new presenters, there are more than enough talented people with musical backgrounds to announce and discuss Radio 3 programmes, it would be great just to get rid of Tom Service for a start…They should also reconnect with contemporary music.

      • David Murphy says:

        Try Resonance FM it’s not all to everyone’s taste – but some of the shows are inspired and presented by people who clearly believe and enjoy what they are doing. Unlike on BBC Radii which is ticking boxes or audibly strained – as with the tecent PJ Harvey All About Eve program. Talk about both tedious and contrived! William English is my favourite on the community broadcaster Resonance.

  • Eric says:

    And wait until Scala Radio launches next month. It may dilute CFM’s listenership to some degree.

  • David Murphy says:

    Well I don’t think it’s anything to do with politics. If anything, the prevalent “Girls School” tone of BBC Radios Four and Three. That was George Orwell’s description – qualified by a mixture with an “asylum”.
    Indeed, from a cursory research, most of the presenters seem to have been educated in fee paying private single sex schools. As only 7% of the population can boast that privileged start in life it is not surprising much of the potential audience for either station is moving away.
    The arrival of Nick Luscombe# at the rather tenuous Late Junction seems to coincide with an Arts Council mania for “Gigs” as per the Southbank’s “Concrete Lates” held in the far from concrete white marbelled ultra cool 1970s elegance of the Queen Elizabeth Hall foyer – a desecration equal to the erection of the trendy Bill Viola video installations inside St Pauls Cathedral.
    Whole time slots on Radio Three are now given over to groups of wittering youngsters and nondescript sound bites accompanying their chatter which redefines the term “bland and shallow”.

    When one uses the BBC complaints system, either online or by post, to rail against poor quality and lack of depth, one is met with an instantaneous pro forma dismissal of one’s communication (not one’s specific points which are only addressed in a jumbled deliberately confused fashion) and if you follow it up not much better. * There is a studied insularity and “we know best and keep your nose out” attitude about the whole organisation which stems directly from the way it is funded.
    I see no future for this broadcaster in the future.
    #Luscombe eagerly crossed over from Resonance FM the magnificent London community radio station as the least representative of the truly “alternate creative” vibe of this broadcaster when compared with such meaningful and culturally expansive presenters as William English. The hand fits the glove?
    * as I found when I complained about Samira Ahmed’s 15 minute interview with the author of “The Cut Out Girl” on “Front Row” being more a plugging exercise between two Oxford grads for a new book with cheap throwaway insults about Dutch collaboration during the War without any effirt at context, historical (with the Hunger Winter of 44/45 or brave Dutch resistance) or literary persoective with any mention of Harry Mulisch’s 1982 award winning best selling novel De Aanslag (The Assault) translated into 35 languages with an Oscar and Grammy winning film adaptation. That’s what I meant by a cosy plugging exercise of a book in a shallow chat conjured up over a telephone call and cups of coffee in the BBC canteen.

    • Minutewaltz says:

      ‘As only 7% of the population can boast that privileged start in life it is not surprising much of the potential audience for either station is moving away.’

      Presumably the percentage of privately educated presenters hasn’t changed over the years so why should that be the reason for the audience moving away now?

      • David Murphy says:

        When a service is funded more or less entirely by a regressive tax more medieval than modern that falls hardest on the poorest, it is a bit rich to stock its jobs vacancies with the mainly white privileged middle class. In fact it’s a disgrace that doesn’t fit with the modetn world.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          On the one hand you condemn the BBC for being vacuous and trendy, on the other for being middle-class and elitist. Make your mind up.

          Personally I find your argument vacuous, trendy, middle-class and elitist all at the same time.

  • Michael Turner says:

    I despair at how Radio 3 has ended up. As a youngster, I loved the fact that you had, in the Radio Times, a list of what was being programmed. From there you could actively seek out and listen to “that piece” that you’d been interested to hear. Or, if you heard something new (which would usually be programmed complete) you could then look it up. Now it’s like a poor pick and mix. I find it unbelievable that intelligent presenters have to come up with links (but sometimes simply don’t bother, which is better) to take the listener from the last movement of Brahms’s Violin Concerto to a piece of piano music by Billy Mayerl. That these poor folk are reduced to introducing musical slots (such as those on Essential Classics) that are so banal is ludicrous. Surely it can’t be long before we have Suzi Klein telling us that it’s time for “The favourite colours of the great composers. Today, Shakespearian actor Simon Russell Beale tells us why Zemlinsky loved mauve”.

    Add to this the interminable, saccharine-coated ramblings of those who’s name cannot be uttered in the Turner household (for example, the one who insists on pronouncing the name Claudio Abbado like they’re a waiter in a 1970s Italian restaurant but then can’t actually follow the idea through to a logical conclusion by pronouncing Leonard Bernstein like a guy from downtown New York) and you’ve got a good idea as to why I find myself looking to Classic FM in the hopes of getting something better.

    Radio 3 still has the opportunity to rescue itself from the abyss. I’m not saying that we have to return to the scheduling format and style of presentation adopted when Michael Oliver, Peter Barker and Cormac Rigby were announcers but there is a need for Radio 3 to have its own voice, rather than trying to ape Classic FM badly.

  • I get to review audio systems worth many thousands of dollars, yet I still remember listening to fabulous Radio 3 on a tiny transistor Radio in my grandmother’s kitchen. It was always a wonderful musical experience.

    A shame it’s losing its lustre.

  • Steve says:

    Radio 3 has become unbearable, all those nice little chit-chats lol… Please just get on with the music.

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    This comparison with Classic FM is fatuous. The breadth of material on R3, both musical and spoken far exceeds anything on ClassicFM in both quality and quantity. Radio3 is certainly no Third Programme but then the audience of today is different to that of 1946 to 1970. If R3 were to win audience share from ClassicFM it would be accused of dumbing down. It is not the station but the audience which listens to it, or not in this case. If audiences are happy to listen to snippets in between adverts fine, but it is Classic FM that sets the bar that R3 is measured against, and it is a pretty low one.

    • David Murphy says:

      I am afraid my comments stem from Radio 3 now and as it was – and I referred to Resonance FM that seems to do far more than anything on BBC Radio with a slither of the funding as a community broadcaster. Try it.

    • Eric says:

      As you probably know, Classic FM has adopted a playlist model (used by commercial pop stations), meaning that the same few tried and tested pieces are trotted out repeatedly, with the odd slot for something new from time to time. This avoids the risk of alienating any listeners. On the whole, it also avoids the possibility of seriously engaging anyone remotely interested in the broader classical repertoire. Thankfully R3 hasn’t gone down this playlist route. I really hope that time never comes.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Exactly. I call it “the McDonald Hamburger Effect”: high on calories, low on nutrition and never fills you up.

      • David Murphy says:

        So the excessive playing of Benjamin Britten on Radio Three, out of all proportion to his importance as a composer, which has been criticised by many noted critics and reviewers yet continues unabashed, and the total blacklisting (even after all these years) of Alan Bush and Robert Simpson, let alone Michael Tippett, Malcolm Arnold, Hans Werner Henze, Karl Hartmann or Arthur Honegger NEVER get played at all or extremely rarely. I once counted five Britten broadcasts in one week on Radio 3 randomly across its schedule. To say this station does not operate a “playlist” is ridiculous – it is in fact even more insidious than any commercial playlist (as originally devised by Robin Ray) in that it is based on the British deep state and cultural propaganda of which the BBC is an intrinsic part.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          Playing Britten five times in a week can hardly be called excessive. I am not particularly a fan of Britten’s music, but he is surely a more important composer than “Malcolm Arnold, Hans Werner Henze or Karl Hartmann”.

        • Simon Barrow says:

          Tippett was actually Composer of the Week last month (sshh… don’t tell Norman L!). That said, I agree that his work is under-represented. Simpson certainly deserves much more attention.

  • Professor Higgins says:

    Why are Oxbridge graduates so determined to drop their “t’s”? Sara Mohr-Pietsch – please try to speak more slowly and clearly.

    • David Murphy says:

      Why is it that the majority of Radio BBC 3 and 4 presenters are privately educated in single sex school then go up to Oxbridge is a travesty of real equality of opportunity ((forget about geneder or ethnic issues!) when the equivalent proportion in the population at large is much less than the 7% for private education. Surely the taxpayer and Licence Fee payer is deserving of a public service that recruits from a wider pool of young talent in this country. For this reason alone – as it is a good example of the self perpetuating class system – it should be abolished. I am not even interested in the standards anymore. That went years ago. The crucial test is fairness in the modern world and the BBC ain’t it.

    • sdg says:

      Sara Mohr-Pietsch? She’s fine, but what about a certain recruit from Classic FM who so swallows her words, particularly at the end of a sentence, and whose pronunciation is so execrable that often you cannot tell what performer she purports to be announcing?

    • David Murphy says:

      Ban Oxbridge on the BBC, “jobs for the boys and girls”, and recruit from a wider pool that realistically represents the population as a whole rather than a privileged white middle class. There is a lot of talent out there and it doesn’t have to be drawn from the increasingly bland and shallow wells of tradition and deference.

  • Will Duffay says:

    This is all a bit silly. R3 is attacked for apparently copying Classic FM, and apparently loses listeners for apparently doing what Classic FM does to get listeners.

    And yet: you listen to R3 outside the morning commuter hour and it’s still very serious, and plays whole pieces, challenging pieces, long pieces, and often has serious discussions about music and performance, and broadcasts vast amounts of live music. R3 is worth listening to for evensong and for Words and Music alone. The latter is a glorious, genius programme.

    So those who boringly attack R3 for what it does and doesn’t do should listen again to it, and really think about how it geniunely compares with a market-driven, short attention space commercial radio station.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Yes, your comments have provided some real context of what the alternative might look like! People seem to forget that.

    • David Murphy says:

      The main criticism on this page is not a direct comparison between public and commercial broadcasting, that is like comparing onions and apples. The comparison is between Radio Three then and now. If you are old enough you will know that standards across the board have declined over past ten to twenty years. Whether this has anything to do with the concurrent collapse in the classical recording industry due to the rise of digital technology, or similar decline in classical concert going (eg Lieder recitals) and interest I do not know. But it is very clear cut.

    • David Murphy says:

      You are wheeling out the usual customary critcisms of commercial radio without due thought. Much of BBC radio is dreary and shallow whatevet the time period involved and seems to have collapsed into petpetuation of programmes that had well and truly had their day like Desert Island Discs and Thinking Allowed with awful presenters on the one hand and boring trendy imported new shows and equally uninteresting behind the curve on trend YouTube “stars” such as Jacob Collier. Music is NOT “Sounds” BBC Radio Three! Wake up.

    • David Murphy says:

      A song recital based wholly around “womens words” by a “new generation” artist as advertised on Radio 3 as a forthcoming Lunchtime Broadcast isn’t patronising of the educated listener, gratuitous, effortlessly grivelling towards the gender busting policies at the BBC, uncalled for in the BBC’s charter, and demeaning of the whole art form of the classical song recital, is just one example of why audiences are sayinf goodbye and good luck.

  • David Murphy says:

    The reduction of the high art of German Lieder which was taken to the heights by past generations of great singers as worthy of whole concerts and evenings, by the BBC to the level of parlour singing on a daily basis, is just one aspect of Radio 3. I offer last Saturday’s “Building a Library” subject Schubert’s Schwanengesang hosted by Natasha Loges dutifully ticked the HIP box (Pregardian) and the gender box (Fassbaender) with instantly forgettable recordings. Rushing over Fischer-Dieskau, still regarded the most accomplished German Lieder singer since the War, almost apologetically for having to mention his name. With no mention of Hermann Prey, a specialist in this cycle, whose recordings are noted and readily available on DVD and CD including a splendid live recording from the Salzburg Festival on Orfeo. Very poor. Very shallow. Very typical.

  • Neil Thompson Shade says:

    If you complain about Radio 3, try listening to the short list of classical ‘greatest hits’ that are played on virtually every US classical music station. I know because I do a lot of travel in the US.

    I listen to Radio 3 at work all day and enjoy the content, particularly the live lunchtime and evening concerts. I have been exposed to a large number of composers and music that would never make airplay in the US, and I am grateful.
    Some of the radio personalities can be a bit tedious and the in-studio guest interviews not particularly enlightening, but it could be a lot worse for this US listener.

    • David Murphy says:

      Again comparisons with either Classic FM or US radio is not valid. The critcisms are about falling standards within Radio Three over a period of time. Many of these lost listeners, like myself, probably are not switching, but just not listening to music on the radio when once they did.

  • David A. Boxwell says:

    Radio 3 isn’t “soothing” enough, nor can I use it to “escape from the stress of life.”

  • Chris says:

    Can any of your erudite Radio 3 listeners enlighten me as to why Radio 3 has introduced the feature which requests ‘suggestions’ from listeners as to what should be ‘paired’ with a particular piece about to be, or ust having been played? It seems confined to morning programmes, particularly the slot around 8am which is rapidly approaching a ‘Radio 3 listeners’ choice’ type affair, but also later on, after 9am, there comes the ‘what do you think should complement, or contrast with’ the piece being played.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      I agree, it irritates the hell out of me. I have no interest in what other listeners think: the presenter and editor are being paid and should be choosing the music themselves.

  • CRMH says:

    When Gennadi Rozhdestvensky was appointed Chief Conductor of the BBCSO, the announcers were given lessons in how to pronounce his name. Nowadays, Petroc Trelawney cannot even say Bach. So, we are subjected each morning to ‘Bark before seven’. No wonder I switch off after the seven o’clock news.

    • Henry Gilchrist says:

      Agree totally. I remember Radio 3 breakfast programme in the 1980s and early 90s, presented by Andrew McGregor, and which was ‘just’ music with news headlines once an hour. No trailers, no listeners suggestions and no bl**dy twitter – just lots of music with a much greater variety of composers than we get now. Now, I too switch off around 7 am. Through the Night is fantastic – old style R3 quality with someone announcing the music, not trying to ‘build a relationship’ with the audience.

  • cefranck says:

    I’ve given up on Radio3. 1) is their unabashed prejudice toward Malcolm Williamson, 2) [not unrelated] is that vomit producing sycophant Sean Rafferty. I simply cannot abide his fawning and stupidity.

    • David Murphy says:

      A good example of a dinosaur at the BBC who will embrace any live act for his program and tell us efulgently how great it was, when the evidence of our own ears tells us it was mediocre at best or wooden and awful at worst.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Sean Rafferty.

      Look, the kind of magazine programme he runs, interviewing the major musicians passing through London, and giving a push to new names (helping them sell some tickets), has a useful function. Given the guests are not being paid much more than expenses, it really is difficult to get anyone to appear on that kind of programme. They wouldn’t appear at all if they were being “grilled”. And he is much better than the others who present that programme; he at least gets the guests to relax and say something.