Happy 70th Birthday BBC Radio 3

Dear Radio 3

It seems a little odd emailing a radio station.

A radio station is far more than what I hear coming out of my earbuds or my Bluetooth speakers. You’re not just the radio on my bedside table; more than the DAB in the kitchen. A radio station is more than the sum of its parts. Letters should – basically – be addressed to one person. And yet I’m writing this with one person in mind, even though I know that’s rather stupid because what I’m really doing is sending a letter to a state of mind.

Let’s get the obvious thing out of the way first. Happy Birthday. Cheers. Chink. Pat on the back, etc. You’re the best, you really are.

Not everyone agrees. I sat next to someone at work yesterday who told me he’d never listened to you. I looked at him in disbelief. But then, that’s the kind of thing you are. And if I’m going to be really honest, between you and me, I don’t really care what the others think. Because you’re mine, all mine.

You’re there throughout my day, like someone who knows exactly what’s on the shelf, effortlessly pulling out things from the archive I have forgotten I bought. You introduce me to unexpected finds and recommended-listens. You test the water with your selections. I like that about you.

I did the same with my partner during the ‘early days’. I played him Shostakovich’s Lenningrad, blew him away with Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht, after which I pushed him further than he was prepared to go with the first Chamber Symphony. I persuaded him using Brahms’ first Symphony and Rachmaninov’s secondonly after he’d introduced me to Stephen Sondheim (via Into the Woods and Sunday in the Park) and Stevie Wonder’s timeless Songs in the Key of Life.

That was hard work now I come to think of it. I couldn’t sustain that kind of pressure night after night. Love kicked in soon after, followed by the reassuring glow of years of familiarity. I wouldn’t want it any other way. He listens now. He doesn’t make a point of tuning in. If pushed, he wouldn’t know exactly what’s on when. But he does listen.

I feel like I have a connection with you. There are times when it feels like you’re my best friend. There are other times when it feels like you have another best friend. No matter. The point is, I know the schedule inside out. That says we’re close.

Know too that I appreciate what qualities each presenter brings to each part of the day. I know their specialisms, appreciate their insights, and know their individual passions. They are experts who want to share their knowledge. They and the music they share rub off on me. It’s never really felt like their presence is about them, only that they’re introducing things and leaving me to get on with getting acquainted with a whole host of still unfamiliar repertoire.

I’m hoping you might be interested in reading how I was introduced to you and how I stuck to you too. If you’re not, please skip this bit. You are very busy, after all.

It was about ten years ago thereabouts. I worked in a place with a jaw-droppingly decent internet connection, where my line manager wouldn’t threaten to scan the firewall logs to see how I was clogging up work bandwidth. During a mid-afternoon lull, I ‘listened in’ live to Brian Kay’s Light Programme. Kay presented an unapologetic celebration of light music composed during the post-war period. It was a miraculous programme. The kind of thing that made me think, ‘Do the people at Radio 3 even know he’s putting this out? Are they all on a late lunch?’

I quickly cottoned on to what Brian Kay was doing and why his natural home was on the network: Kay had identified something of value which deserved to be celebrated, something the majority may unwittingly dismiss but which more of us should take notice of. No surprise then that in the years that followed more and more orchestras ended up recording albums of Light Music. Kay legitimised the musical form and in the process gave those of us with a weakness with rose-tinted nostalgia an opportunity to indulge on a Wednesday afternoon.

From there on it was Choral Evensong – a blissful escape from the humdrum of the day to day, the end of day jollity that spilled out from Sean Rafferty and In Tune, the chance to listen in on orchestras up and down the country play their weekday concerts live on-air every night, and then the opportunity to sit in on a weighty discussion on this or that. This wasn’t radio I had on in the background I was vaguely aware of. This was carefully curated stuff I was actively engaged in.

I’d been aware of you before 2006, of course. The fact that you broadcast every single Prom live on the network seemed like the kind of miracle a classical music fan might be in danger of repaying with nauseating gratitude. Now, ten years on, I still see it as something far too many of us take for granted.

You’ve changed a little over the past ten years, but your enduring appeal is how you’ve remained the same. I love you for the fact that I can look back over ten years and see the similarities and the differences at the same time.

I know you won’t want to make a fuss, not on your 70th. My parents stopped complaining about me missing their birthdays when they passed their 60th. I know you won’t want cake or balloons. You won’t want fizz. You won’t want a trip out or a special meal. You’ll probably just want the moment to pass so that you can look at the birthday cards in private.

So be it. Know this. I absolutely couldn’t do without you. I’ve learnt more about classical music listening to you than I did studying for a music degree at university or playing clarinet in Suffolk Youth Orchestra. We’ve been together so long now I can’t imagine us ever splitting up.

PS I’ve completed the Presenter Pod experience at the Southbank. I think you’ll have an MP3 of it somewhere as the system emailed me a copy. Just wondering whether that might count as an audition? Could you get back to me?

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