|Broadcast area||United Kingdom and Internationally via Satellite and BBC Sounds|
|Format||Classical, jazz, world music, drama, culture, arts|
First air date
|30 September 1967|
Former call signs
|BBC Third Programme|
|648 MW (1967–1978)|
1215 MW (1978–1992)
BBC Radio 3 is a British national radio station owned and operated by the BBC. It replaced the BBC Third Programme in 1967 and broadcasts classical music and opera, with jazz, world music, drama, culture and the arts also featuring. The station describes itself as "the world's most significant commissioner of new music", and through its New Generation Artists scheme promotes young musicians of all nationalities. The station broadcasts the BBC Proms concerts, live and in full, each summer in addition to performances by the BBC Orchestras and Singers. There are regular productions of both classic plays and newly commissioned drama.
Radio 3 won the Sony Radio Academy UK Station of the Year Gold Award for 2009 and was nominated again in 2011.
According to RAJAR, the station broadcasts to a weekly audience of 1.7 million with a listening share of 1.3% as of September 2022.
For a chronological guide, see Timeline of BBC Radio 3.
Radio 3 is the successor station to the Third Programme which began broadcasting on 29 September 1946. The name Radio 3 was adopted on 30 September 1967 when the BBC launched its first pop music station, Radio 1: 247 and rebranded its national radio channels as Radio 1, Radio 2 (formerly the Light Programme), Radio 3, and Radio 4 (formerly the Home Service).
Radio 3 was the overall label applied to the collection of services which had until then gone under the umbrella title of the Third Network, namely:
All these strands, including the Third Programme, kept their separate identities within Radio 3 until 4 April 1970, when there was a further reorganisation following the introduction of the structural changes which had been outlined the previous year in the BBC document Broadcasting in the Seventies.
On 10 July 1969 the BBC published its plans for radio and television in a policy document entitled Broadcasting in the Seventies. Later described in 2002 by Jenny Abramsky, Head of Radio and Music, as "the most controversial document ever produced by radio", the document outlined each station's target audience and what content should be broadcast on each channel. This concept went against the earlier methods laid out by the BBC's first Director General John Reith and caused controversy at the time, despite laying out the radio structure that is recognisable today.
At the time of the review, Radio 3 faced several problems. An early option to cut costs, required under the proposals, was to reduce the number of networks from four to three, so that Radio 3 would not broadcast during the day and would use the frequencies of either Radio 1 or 2 as the two stations would merge content. However "Day-time serious music would be the casualty" of these proposals and caused some controversy.: 249 A further rumour was expressed that Radio 3 could be closed altogether as a strong statistical case existed against the station according to The Guardian.: 251 However, the Director-General, Charles Curran, publicly denied this as "quite contradictory to the aim of the BBC, which is to provide a comprehensive radio service".: 251 Curran had earlier dismissed any suggestion that Radio 3's small audience was a consideration: "What is decisive is whether there is a worthwhile audience, and I mean by worthwhile an audience which will get an enormous satisfaction out of it.": 251
As a result of Broadcasting in the Seventies, factual content, including documentaries and current affairs, were moved to BBC Radio 4 and the separate titled strands were abolished. The document stated that Radio 3 was to have "a larger output of standard classical music" but with "some element in the evening of cultural speech programmes – poetry, plays".: 253 Equally, questions were being asked by the poet Peter Porter about whether other spoken content, for example poetry, would remain on the station. These concerns also led to the composer Peter Maxwell Davies and the music critic Edward Greenfield to fear that "people would lose the mix of cultural experiences which expanded intellectual horizons". However, Radio 3 controller Howard Newby reassured these concerns by replying that only the coverage of political and economic affairs would be passed to Radio 4, and Radio 3 would keep drama, poetry, and talks by scientists, philosophers and historians.
The Broadcasting in the Seventies report also proposed a large cutback in the number and size of the BBC's orchestras. In September 1969, a distinguished campaign group entitled the Campaign for Better Broadcasting was formed to protest, with the backing of Sir Adrian Boult, Jonathan Miller, Henry Moore and George Melly. The campaign objected to "the dismantling of the Third Programme by cutting down its spoken word content from fourteen hours a week to six" and "segregating programmes into classes". Mention of the campaign even reached debate in the House of Commons.
From the launch until 1987, the controllers of Radio 3 showed preferences towards speech and arts programming as opposed to focus on classical music and the Proms. The first controller, Newby, made little contribution to the station, focusing on the transition from the Third programme to Radio 3 and as a result of the Broadcasting in the Seventies report.
The second controller, Stephen Hearst who assumed the role in 1972, was different. As Hearst had previously been head of television arts features his appointment was seen with scepticism among the staff who viewed him as a populariser.: 269 According to Hearst when interviewed for Humphrey Carpenter's book, the main rival candidate for controller Martin Esslin, head of Radio Drama, had said to the interviewing panel that audience figures should play no part in the decision making process over programming.: 268 Hearst said he responded to the same question about this issue by commenting that as the station was financed by public money it needed to consider the size of its audience – there was a minimum viable figure but this could be increased with "a lively style of broadcasting".: 268
Hearst attempted to make the content of the channel more accessible to a wider audience, but his efforts, which included the evening drivetime programme Homeward Bound and Sunday phone-in request programme Your Concert Choice (the former an uninterrupted sequence of musical items identified only at the end of the programme; the latter a resurrection from the old Home Service), were criticised.: 289, 296 However, during this time the long running arts discussion programme Critics' Forum was launched: 290 as well as themed evenings and programmes of miscellaneous music including Sounds Interesting.
In 1978, Ian McIntyre took over as controller of Radio 3 but quickly faced uncomfortable relationships between departments. At approximately the same time Aubrey Singer became managing director of Radio and began to make programming on the station more populist in a drive to retain listeners in face of possible competition from competitors using a "streamed format".: 304 An example of this is the replacement of Homeward Bound in 1980 with an extended, presenter-driven programme called Mainly for Pleasure. The same year an internal paper recommended the disbandment of several of the BBC's orchestras and of the Music Division, resulting in low morale and industrial action by musicians that delayed the start of the Proms.: 306–307 Senior management was also getting dissatisfied with listening figures leading to the Director-General Alasdair Milne to suggest that presentation style was "too stodgy and old-fashioned".: 313
In 1987 the positions of Controller of Music and Controller of Radio 3 were merged, and with it the operation of the Proms, under the former Music Controller John Drummond. Drummond, like Hearst, believed that the music programmes' presentation was too stiff and formal: 326  and he therefore encouraged announcers to be more natural and enthusiastic. Repeats of classic drama performances by the likes of John Gielgud and Paul Scofield were also included because, in his view, newer drama was "gloomy and pretentious". He also introduced features and celebrations of the anniversaries of famous figures including William Glock, Michael Tippett and Isaiah Berlin. Drummond also introduced the show Mixing It which targeted the music genres that fell between Radios 1 and 3, often seen as a precursor to the programme Late Junction.
During Drummond's time, Radio 3 also began to experiment with outside broadcasts, including an ambitious Berlin Weekend to mark the reunification of Germany in 1990, and a much praised weekend of programming that was broadcast from London and Minneapolis-St Paul – creating broadcasting history by being the first time a whole weekend had been transmitted "live from another continent".: 331 However, Drummond complained about the former that "not one single senior person in the BBC had listened to any part of it",: 331 reflecting his general feeling that the BBC senior management paid little attention stating: "I can't remember ever having a serious conversation with anyone above me in the BBC about Radio 3 ... I would much rather have had the feeling that they thought it mattered what Radio 3 did.": 328–329
Drummond's successor was Nicholas Kenyon, previously chief music critic of The Observer, who took over in February 1992 and was immediately faced with the looming launch date for commercial competitor Classic FM who were, and still remain, Radio 3's biggest rivals. Kenyon, similar to Singer a decade earlier, believed that Radio 3 had to make changes to its presentation before the new station began broadcasting rather than react later.: 304, 339 As a result, three senior producers were sent to study classical music stations in the United States: 339 and the station hired advertising agents Saatchi & Saatchi to help improve public perception. Kenyon's tenure was to meet with much controversy: in attempts to update the station's presentation, popular announcers Malcolm Ruthven, Peter Barker and Tony Scotland were axed as well as drama being cut by a quarter, resulting in a letter of protest to The Times signed by Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard and Fay Weldon among others;: 342 two new programmes for drive time, entitled On Air and In Tune, were launched: 341 and a new three-hour programme of popular classics on Sunday mornings fronted by Brian Kay was also launched.: 342
These moves were defended by Kenyon who argued that the changes were not "some ghastly descent into populism" but were instead to create "access points" for new listeners.: 341 However, there was still "widespread disbelief": 357 when it was announced in the summer that a new morning programme would take the 9 am spot from the revered Composer of the Week and would be presented by a signing from Classic FM – the disc jockey Paul Gambaccini. The criticism, especially once the programme went on air a few weeks later, was so unrelenting that Gambaccini announced the following spring that he would not be renewing his contract with Radio 3.: 357
However, Kenyon's controllership was marked by several highly distinguished programming successes. Fairest Isle was an ambitious project from 1995 which marked the 300th anniversary of the death of Henry Purcell with a year-long celebration of British music and the programme Sounding the Century, which ran for two years from 1997, presented a retrospective of 20th-century music. Both won awards. He also introduced a number of well received specialist programmes including children's programme The Music Machine, early music programme Spirit of the Age, jazz showcase Impressions, vocal music programme Voices and the arts programme Night Waves.
BBC Radio 3 began nighttime transmissions in May 1996 with the introduction of Through the Night, consisting of radio recordings from members of the European Broadcasting Union and distributed to some of these other stations under the title Euroclassic Notturno since 1998. The introduction of 24-hour broadcasting resulted in the introduction of a fixed programming point at 22:00 so that if live programme overran, later programming could be cancelled to allow Through the Night to begin promptly.
In 1998, Roger Wright took over as controller of the station. Soon after his appointment some changes were made to showcase a wider variety of music; a new, relaxed, late-night music programme Late Junction featured a wide variety of genres; programmes focusing on jazz and world music were given a higher profile as were programmes presented by Brian Kay, focusing on light music, and Andy Kershaw, whose show was previously dropped by Radio 1. In these changes, Wright believed that, in the case of the former, he was addressing "this feeling people had that they didn't want to put Radio 3 on unless they were going to listen carefully" and in the latter cases that he was "not dumbing down but smarting up" the programmes.
By 2004, Radio 3's programming and services were being recognised by the Corporation at large, as seen in the 2003/4 Charter renewal application and the Annual report for the year which reported that Radio 3 had "achieved a record [audience] reach in the first quarter of 2004", and by the government: the Secretary of State's foreword to the government's Green Paper in 2005 made special mention of "the sort of commitment to new talent that has made Radio 3 the largest commissioner of new music in the world" as a model for what the BBC should be about.
By 2008, however, the station faced pressures to increase its audience by making programmes more accessible while loyal listeners began to complain about the tone of these new changes. Presentation was described as "gruesome in tone and level" and global music output was mocked as "street-smart fusions" and "global pop". At the same time RAJAR began to record lower listening figures and decisions on policy were being changed resulting in the children's programme Making Tracks, experimental music programme Mixing It, theatre and film programme Stage and Screen and Brian Kay's Light Programme all being dropped, a reduction in the number of concerts and format changes to several other programmes. In spite of the changes, figures still continued to fall.
The mid- to late 2000s did, however, offer new projects undertaken on the station: The Beethoven Experience in June 2005 saw the broadcast of his works broadcast non-stop for six days. A similar project occurred six months later when A Bach Christmas was run for ten days in the lead to Christmas and in February 2007 when a week was similarly given over to the works of Tchaikovsky & Stravinsky, and Schubert in March 2012. As part of the original Beethoven Experience, the BBC trialled its first music downloads over the internet by offering free music downloads of all nine symphonies as played by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra under Gianandrea Noseda. The stated aim was "to gauge audiences' appetite for music downloads and their preferred content, and will inform the development of the BBC strategy for audio downloads and on demand content". The experiment was wildly successful, attracting 1.4 million downloads but was met with anger from the major classical record labels who considered it unfair competition and "devaluing the perceived value of music". As a result, no further free downloads have been offered, including as part of the BBC iPlayer service, and the BBC Trust has ruled out any classical music podcasts with extracts longer than one minute.
In 2007, Radio 3 also began to experiment with a visual broadcast as well as the audio transmissions. In October 2007, Radio 3 collaborated with English National Opera in presenting a live video stream of a performance of Carmen, "the first time a UK opera house has offered a complete production online" and in September 2008, Radio 3 launched a filmed series of concerts that was available to watch live and on demand for seven days "in high quality vision". This strategy was also introduced to some of the BBC Proms concerts.
By the latter years of the 2000s, Radio 3's prospects were improving. The year 2008/9 saw the introduction of more concerts and other innovations had introduced Radio 3's largest event to a wider audience. The introduction of family orientated concerts to the BBC Proms, which are broadcast live on Radio 3, helped the station to introduce itself to a younger audience. Innovations of this type began in 2008 with the introduction of a concert celebrating the music from the television programme Doctor Who as composed by Murray Gold and was later followed by a further Doctor Who prom in 2010, a free family prom in 2009, another free Horrible Histories prom in 2011 and a Wallace and Gromit prom in 2012. These particular concerts were introduced by Wright, who became Proms Director in addition to his duties at Radio 3 in October 2007, and many were also televised for broadcast at a later date. The mix in these proms of classical music to combine with music of a classical nature from the programmes was hoped to introduce a much younger audience to the genres catered for by Radio 3.
As of 2014[update] Radio 3 was having to undergo further changes as a result of recent findings from the BBC Trust. In the station's latest service review, carried out in 2010, the Trust recommended the station become more accessible to new audiences, easier to navigate through the different genres and to review the output of the BBC's orchestras and singers. Soon after this verdict, the license fee was capped and the BBC given more services to pay for with the same level of income. As a result, the corporation had to reduce its costs. In the proposal entitled Delivering Quality First, the BBC proposed that Radio 3 contribute by broadcasting 25% fewer live or specially recorded lunchtime concerts and reducing the number of specially recorded evening concerts. The Trust did recognise, however, that "Radio 3 plays a vital role in the cultural and creative life of the UK" and as a result, the report did agree to reinvest in the Proms, to retain the long dramas found on the station and to continue to broadcast a new concert live each evening.
The current controller of Radio 3 is Alan Davey, since January 2015. In September 2022, the BBC announced that Davey is to stand down as controller of BBC Radio 3 in March 2023.
BBC Radio 3 broadcasts from studios inside the 1930s wing of Broadcasting House in central London. However, in addition to these studios, certain programmes and performances are broadcast from other BBC bases including from BBC Cymru Wales' Cardiff headquarters and BBC North's headquarters at MediaCityUK, Salford. The BBC also has recording facilities at the Royal Albert Hall, the Royal Festival Hall and the Queen Elizabeth Hall which can be used to record and broadcast performances at these venues.
BBC Radio 3 is broadcast on the FM band between 90.2 and 92.6 MHz, on DAB Digital Radio, the digital television services Freeview, Freesat, Sky, Virgin Media, TalkTalk TV and Virgin Media Ireland and on BBC Sounds both online and on the app, where Radio 3 programmes can be listened back to.
On its FM frequencies, the station uses less dynamic range compression of the volume of music than rival station Classic FM. On DAB it uses dynamic range control (DRC) which allows compression to be defined by the user.
The station also uses a BBC-designed pulse-code modulation digitisation technique similar to NICAM, which is used for outside broadcasts running through a telephone line. This runs at a sample rate of 14,000 per second per channel. A similar technique was later used for recording at the same rate. In September 2010, for the final week of the Proms broadcasts, the BBC trialled XHQ (Extra High Quality), a live Internet stream transmitted at a rate of 320kbit/s, instead of Radio 3's usual 192kbit/s, using its AAC-LC 'Coyopa' coding technology. This technology was later developed further, and Radio 3 became the first BBC Radio station to broadcast permanently in this High Definition Sound (as it has been termed) format.
Main article: Choral Evensong (BBC)
The Anglican service of sung evening prayer is broadcast every Wednesday at half past three during the Afternoon Concerts block on Radio 3 live from cathedrals, university college chapels and churches throughout the UK. On occasion, it broadcasts Choral Vespers from Catholic cathedrals, (such as Westminster Cathedral), Orthodox Vespers, or a recorded service from choral foundations abroad. Choral Evensong is the BBC's longest-running outside broadcast programme, the first edition having been relayed from Westminster Abbey on 7 October 1926. Its 80th anniversary was celebrated, also live from Westminster Abbey, with a service on 11 October 2006.
When Choral Evensong was moved from Radio 4 to Radio 3 with effect from 8 April 1970 and reduced to just one broadcast per month, the BBC received 2,500 letters of complaint, and weekly transmissions were resumed on 1 July.: 262–263 
In 2007 the live broadcast was switched to Sundays, which again caused protests. The live transmission was returned to Wednesdays in September 2008, with a recorded repeat on Sunday afternoons in approximately the same time. Choral Evensong forms part of Radio 3's remit on religious programming though non-religious listeners have campaigned for its retention.
Main article: Composer of the Week
Composer of the Week was launched in the BBC Home Service on 2 August 1943 under its original title of This Week's Composer. From 15 December 1964 the programme became a regular feature in the schedule of the newly established daytime "Third Network" classical music service, the Music Programme (later to be absorbed into Radio 3).: 231 The programme was renamed Composer of the Week on 18 January 1988.
Each week, in five daily programmes, which air at midday, the work of a particular composer is studied in detail and illustrated with musical excerpts. Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart and Handel have all featured once most years, a different aspect of their work being chosen for study each time. However, the programme also covers more 'difficult' or less-widely known composers, with weeks devoted to Rubbra, Medtner, Havergal Brian, Kapralova, and the Minimalists among others. The programme is written and presented by Donald Macleod. On 2 August 2013, in honour of the station's 70th year, listeners were asked to nominate a composer who had never before been featured for a special broadcast at Christmas. The composer listeners chose was Louise Farrenc.
These two programs showcase live or recorded performances from venues across the country. Lunchtime is from 1 to 2 pm and Afternoon is later on until 5 with presenters being rotated weekly for the latter program. The live Monday edition of Lunchtime is repeated on Sunday at the same time.
The Early Music Show presents European music dating up to the time of Bach, broadcast at 2 pm each Sunday. Episodes cover the music, the performers, and occasional discussions of musical style. Regular presenters include Lucie Skeaping and Hannah French.
Main article: In Tune (radio programme)
In Tune is "Radio 3’s flagship early evening music programme". It was first broadcast on 13 July 1992 and was launched in response to the forthcoming launch of the competitor radio station Classic FM. Since 1997 the programme has been presented by Sean Rafferty and (since 2017) Katie Derham, and features a mix of live and recorded classical and jazz music, interviews with musicians, and arts news. The show is noted for its relaxed, convivial style of presentation.
Jazz Record Requests was the first weekly jazz programme on the Third Programme. First presented by the jazz musician Humphrey Lyttelton, the 30-minute programme was launched on 12 December 1964 and is still running. Now an hour long, it was broadcast on Saturdays, usually in the late afternoon, until October 2019 when it moved to Sunday afternoon. Presenters on Radio 3 have included Ken Sykora, Steve Race, Peter Clayton, Charles Fox and Geoffrey Smith. Alyn Shipton became the presenter in May 2012.
Pied Piper was a children's programme, presented by early music specialist, David Munrow, with the sub-title Tales and Music for Younger Listeners: 265 and ran from August 1971 until 1976. Lively and varied, it was aimed at the 6–12 age group, though much older children and adults also listened.: 266 The programme ran for five series and a total of 655 episodes until Munrow's death in May 1976.
Broadcast on Saturday nights between 6:30 and 10 pm, featuring live performances by the Metropolitan Opera from the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.
The annual BBC Proms concerts are broadcast live each summer on Radio 3. Broadcasting the Proms began in 1927, when the Third Programme transmitted the Thirty-Second Season of the Promenade Concerts live from the Queen's Hall, conducted by Sir Henry Wood. The BBC's involvement with the Proms led to the creation of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Wireless Orchestra to perform music. Television transmission began in 1947 and today, selected concerts are also simulcast on BBC Four. Promenade concerts are centred on the Royal Albert Hall with broadcasts from other venues around the UK.
Radio 3 in Concert (originally Live in Concert) is a weeknight programme, broadcast between 7:30 and 10 pm, with recorded concerts from various venues around the country and Europe. Regular presenters include Nicola Heywood Thomas, Martin Handley and Petroc Trelawny. The last broadcast with the Live in Concert name was on 15 July 2015.
Main article: Record Review (radio programme)
Record Review is a Saturday morning programme (usually airing from 9 am to 11:45 am) dealing with recent classical music releases, topical issues and interviews. The programme title is a return of Record Review which was broadcast on Network Three occasionally from 1949, then weekly from 1957. As of October 2020[update] the regular presenter of Record Review is Andrew McGregor.
From 1998 to 2015 it became CD Review, until on 2 January 2016, its title reverted to Record Review to reflect the diversity of media proliferating (CDs, downloads, streaming, and so forth).
It includes the feature Building a Library which surveys and recommends available recordings of specific works.
The show broadcasts for 6 hours, beginning weekdays at 0:30 and weekends at 1 in the morning. It currently has three regular presenters: Catriona Young, John Shea and Jonathan Swain. The show is a national version of the BBC's Euroclassic Notturno.
This show, presented by poet Ian McMillan, is described as a "cabaret of the word, featuring the best poetry, new writing and performance". It broadcasts for 44 minutes at 10pm on Friday nights.
BBC Radio 3's remit focuses mainly on music and the arts, and news is a minor part of its output, though the station does provide concise news bulletins every half hour from 06:30 to 08:00 throughout the Breakfast programme and also at 13:00, 17:00 and 18:00 to give listeners the chance to switch to a more news-oriented station should they want more details about a particular news item. Following the Delivering Quality First proposals, it was suggested that Radio 3 share bulletins with Radio 4, so that the same bulletins would be broadcast on both channels. During weekdays the 1 pm, 5 pm and 6 pm news bulletins are read by a member of the Radio 4 presentation team.
From 30 March until 12 July 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Radio 3 bespoke bulletins were replaced by network news bulletins from BBC Radio 2. These were broadcast at 08:00, 13:00 and 18:00 on weekdays, and at 08:00 and 13:00 on weekends. This format came back into effect from 24 December 2020 until 4 April 2021.
Main article: BBC Orchestras and Singers
Much of Radio 3's orchestral output is sourced from the BBC's Orchestras and Singers. These groups are:
In addition to the BBC's own orchestras it also has broadcast commitments to the BBC Big Band, which is externally managed, and also broadcasts some works of the Ulster Orchestra, which it part funds.
Controller Nicholas Kenyon summed up the perennial problem of Radio 3 as "the tension between highbrow culture and popular appeal …the cost of what we do and the number of people who make use of it":: 364 elitism versus populism (or 'dumbing down') and the question of cost per listener. This argument has included members of the BBC, listeners and several different protest groups.
In 1969, two hundred members of the BBC staff protested to the director general at changes which would 'emasculate' Radio 3, while managing director of radio Ian Trethowan described the station in a memorandum as "a private playground for elitists to indulge in cerebral masturbation".: 255 Later, former Radio 3 controller John Drummond complained that the senior ranks of the BBC took no interest in what he was doing.
In 1995/6 listeners and press critics protested against the introduction into a slot formerly used for Composer of the Week of a programme presented by Paul Gambaccini, a former Radio 1 and Classic FM presenter. This was seen as part of a wider move towards popularisation, to compete with Classic FM and to increase ratings.: 357–358 Gambaccini is quoted as saying: "I had a specific mission to invite [Radio 4's] Today listeners to stay with the BBC rather than go to Classic FM."
Several groups were formed to protest against any changes to the station. These have included:
In March 2019, more than 500 signatories including Jarvis Cocker, Shabaka Hutchings, and Norma Waterson called on the BBC "to think again about changes to its schedules", as a result of proposed cuts to specialist music programming on the station.
What's very important is just to give them when they come to Radio 3, to give them a sense if there is something they would actually want to develop further on Radio 4, on 5Live or on a BBC local radio service, then they can go elsewhere and get that news.