How Radio 3 and Classic FM perform in RAJAR Q3 2018

For those that don’t know, RAJAR is the way in which radio listening is measured and reported on. Data is released on a quarterly basis.

There’s a lot of analysis about it by people who are very good at what they do. I can’t claim to provide forensic analysis in this post – instead I’ve pointed to those industry commentators.

But I thought it might be interesting to hone in on Classic FM’s and Radio 3’s performance, how each broadcaster has referred to their station’s performance, and reflect on my own listening experience in comparison.

What the BBC says

The BBC leads on 5 Live Sports Extra and 6 Music as their strong performing brands. Radio 3’s audience is below 6 Music’s

BBC Radio 3’s audience was 1.93 million (from 1.91m last quarter and 1.96m last year) and its share was 1.2% (1.1% last quarter and 1.1% last year).

BBC Media Centre, Thursday 25 October 2018

They’re also emphasising ‘BBC Podcasts’ which I think I’m right in saying includes any radio content which can be downloaded for post-broadcast catch-up (rather than only specifically produced podcasts). That hints at the direction of travel (flagged in a previous post of mine about BBC Sounds).

What Global Radio says

Global loves big figures. It’s not a bad figure either. It looks good. It sounds solid. And there’s a nice implicit comparison with the kind of figures we hear a lot about in relation to television. So, even though’s no useful comparison for the average punter, it’s a figure that reinforces Classic’s ongoing success. 

What the commentators say 

I read Adam Bowie’s post and Matt Deegan’s blog. Respected industry chaps who regularly post about radio and stuff. 

Adam Bowie

Radio 3 got its Proms bump with reach up 1.4% to 1.9m (down 1.5% on the year). Hours were well up this quarter – up 10.3% on the quarter and up 13.7% on the year. I hate to disappoint Radio 3 listeners, but the jump looks a little too good to me, so expect some “correction” next quarter.

Adam Bowie, Thursday 25 October 2018

Matt Deegan

Matt has an interesting breakdown on London listeners during the summer months. The gap between Classic and Radio 3 is stark. The proximity of Classic to other commercial brands is impressive. In Manchester Radio 3 doesn’t feature on the list at all. 

In his overview, Matt highlights a perspective on digital listening I hadn’t appreciated before now about the rise in popularity of smart speakers (eg Amazon Echo) amongst users listening journeys. That reminds of the point I was flagging post-CMIC2018 about how broadcasters and record companies are now competing as distribution platforms.

From a classical music perspective, making the core content more easily findable/retrievable to fans or connoisseurs like me presents itself as a priority; any editorial context put around that content or related storytelling needs a strong recognisable and searchable brand name.

Matt’s post also flags the limitations of the RAJARs accounting method – recall – and how its challenged by specific metrics obtainable from streams and downloads in comparison. Makes the BBC’s emphasis on podcasts appear like an attempt to lead the industry towards a more useful method of measuring success. Maybe. 

My thoughts and listening experience

I’m hardly representative – but its interesting to reflect on my own listening experience against these figures. 

My radio listening has dropped considerably in the past 8 months. I rarely switch on in the mornings. I often get annoyed when I’m listening to speech.

A caveat applies here I think: I still wonder whether there’s a hangover present from being a BBC-staffer recognising things I don’t especially like and opting for near-wholesale avoidance as a self-preservation strategy in a new freelance and brand-agnostic life. 

Of those things I do listen to – World at One, PM (despite Eddie Mair’s departure), The Archers, Any Questions, and more 5 Live than Radio 3.

Over the summer I listened to the BBC Proms on-demand more than I did live. My listening has dramatically dropped off post-Proms. I suspect this is more to do with discovering the appeal of unmediated classical music recordings and live streams, me gaining in confidence exploring the subject on my own, and reconnecting with the joy of self-discovery. 

Importantly, I’ve moved away from Radio 3 since I’ve noticed a change in on-air presentation style. This isn’t me falling into the bracket of people who decry the dumbing down of the airwaves by the way. Rather in my case,  I’m not warming to some styles of delivery. Some of the newer voices indirectly (and probably unwittingly) present more of themselves rather than mediating, facilitating or contextualising in the way I used to seek Radio 3 out for a few years ago. 

The stats and the commentary remind me that Classic and Radio 3 aren’t competing as they’re appealing to different audiences with different content.

It also makes me think that Radio 3 is reasonably robust meaning it has a surprising amount of editorial freedom to tweak schedules and introduce change compared to a few years ago.

The data also serves to remind me that the world I choose to write about really isn’t that big at all. 

How BBC Sounds signals how the BBC describes its output and better aligns it with competing streaming services

I’m planning on saving my notes and reflections from yesterday’s marvellous Middlesex University/PRS Music #CMIC2018 classical music conference until later in the week, once I’ve got some paid out of the way first. 

But a recent change to the BBC website – the roll-out of the web-based ‘BBC Sounds‘ experience – presents an opportunity to share one of the ways attending #CMIC2018 has shifted my perspective. 

‘BBC Radio’ now becomes ‘BBC Sounds’

First, the website change. In some respects its a minor affair. it’s the first change in a longer-range strategy I remember people talking about when I was working at the BBC – shifting audience perceptions by changing the label from ‘Radio’ to ‘Sounds’. 

I despise the word ‘Sounds’ (I’d much prefer them just call it ‘Audio’) but I get the strategy behind it. ‘Sounds’ describes the content whereas ‘Radio’ describes how that content is distributed. 

And that distinction is important right now.

At #CMIC2018 one quote flashed up on the screen during Sara Lambrecht’s paper on the shifting role of classical music recordings – the idea that record companies had acknowledged how their identity had changed in the music sphere – formerly sellers of products, in 2018 record companies saw themselves as media organisations distributing content.

This may seem like a subtle point to get excited about, but it means to me that in some respects record companies are competing with broadcasters whose dominance of the content world has historically been underpinned by their USP: linear broadcasting. 

The live experience acquires importance, perhaps even urgency, when there’s an event attached to it – a news event for example. The rest of a broadcaster’s content – that which doesn’t need to be ‘live’ – is just the same as an album track on Spotify.

Now that on-demand is less of a culture and more an expectation (like getting running water when you switch a tap on), broadcasters need to align their product with the other streaming services available to audiences. That means user experiences online have to be similar to meet the implicit expectations of those users the likes of the BBC depend on. 

And that means stopping referring to radio as radio.

I have a fairly good hunch that also means no longer making schedules available online. It means changing the way users access the actual content, signposting types of content as opposed to a point in a schedule. The latter demands newcomers to a platform already possess an implicit knowledge of the schedule. What the BBC wants to do now is fuel discovery with more useful signposting, cutting across traditional schedules and conventional brands to create a content experience that more realistically reflects a user’s mixed range of interests. 

BBC Sounds is the first stage in what could broadly be seen as an attempt to break down content silos, acknowledging that its audience likes different stuff and that the only way of meeting that need is to move away from conventional radio stations and pursue a potential listener’s implicit or explicit needs. 

And to do that means focusing on a user experience both on the BBC Sounds website and in the accompanying app. And aside from the fact that I hate the name of it, I think the content strategy works because it groups BBC content (by which I mean programmes, tracks, features etc) around themes. 

The curated running orders – clips, music and features and stuff. Surprisingly good.

The Fall Into Autumn ‘Must Listen’ (I hate ‘Must Listen’ too – quit being directive – I’ll listen if I want to) is a good example. Things grouped around the idea of there having been a change in season, drawing me in with evocative imagery. It’s clickable in itself and there’s the promise of a range of content that I perhaps wouldn’t otherwise have considered seeking out. 

And in that way, the BBC is positioning itself alongside streaming services and recording companies, conscious that it has a wealth of content in its databases that it wants users to be able easily access. 

And that means that each piece of content the BBC makes available has the same potential as a single track available on Spotify. 

As much as I’m sad about the first step in the demise of radio, I’m pleased to see they’ve cottoned on to what the recording industry figured out (and acted upon) a few years ago. 

But in terms of my primary destination – classical music – I suspect the change may confirm that the path I’ve already set down is the right one for me. I spent most of the summer only listening to live broadcasts on-demand, preferring instead to listen to tracks and albums via streaming services.

I suspect that while the new BBC Sounds aims to attract the new and the curious, it will only compliment my preferred method for discovery online. Mind you, I imagine they probably didn’t implement it for someone like me anyway.

I’m also wondering whether – and this is just a hunch – whether there will come a time in seven or eight years time when the Charter is up for renewal again, that the only way to access the BBC’s audio on-demand will be to pay a subscription for it. In fact, I might even put money on it. 

Winners at BASCA Composer Awards 2018

A funny thing happens when you see the human being responsible for new unfamiliar music. Sounds you assumed would alienate you when they are first introduced are given more of a fighting chance.

Tonight’s BASCA awards celebrating new music is a case in point.

Forget everything you’ve been conditioned to think of as music, and marvel at the living breathing entities who have conjured up the art they unleash.

Through their creations we hear an entirely different world: a personal statement on the world as they experience it.

I think most of us overlook that kind of achievement.

It’s not that I want to compose or write lyrics. I don’t envy these people. Instead I want to explore what it is that motivates them, learn how they translate their inspiration into something tangible, and what it feels like when they hear their creations played back to them.

OK. Fair enough. Maybe if I’m going understand that, I’m going to have to write something myself.

Before tonight’s awards at the British Museum I spent 45 minutes interviewing one of the recipients of this year’s British Composer Award for Inspiration. I’ll put the unedited interview up online early next year (my laptop died directly after the interview).

But, what I recall from the experience with Nigel Osborne was his spirit, determination, and effortless charm. A man with a gentle voice and an incredibly warm heart. One who loves his work, believes passionately in the impact of music on all of us, and who made me wish just a little bit that I had been better at composition than my embarrassingly imitative GCSE coursework turned out to be.

“What I do is capture the feelings I’m experiencing in a moment and communicate them through music so that others experience a similar emotion.”

That’s (basically) what Nigel said. All matter of fact. Like he was reminding me it was quarter past four on a Wednesday afternoon.

That’s the pitch. That’s every composers pitch to their audience. The challenge to their listener: listen to my representation of the world as I hear it and experience the world as I do.

That makes new music a tantalising opportunity, one that transcends the preoccupations of the mainstream hand-wringing classical music sector biting their bottom lip about ticket sales for performances of standard repertoire.

The winners of the BASCA Composer Awards 2017 were:

Solo or Duo: Deborah Pritchard for Inside Colour
Choral: Andrew Hamilton for Proclamation of the Republic
Community or Educational Project: Brian Irvine for Anything but Bland
Chamber Ensemble: Rebecca Saunders for Skin
Wind Band: Kenneth Hesketh for In Ictu Oculi
Amateur or Young Performers: Kerry Andrew for Who We Are
Small Chamber: Robin Haigh for Feyre Foreste
Contemporary Jazz Composition: Cevanne Horrocks-Hopoyian for Muted Lines
Sonic Art: Kathy Hinde for Luminous Birds
Stage Works: Philip Venables for 4.48 Psychosis
Orchestral: Emily Howard for Torus (Concerto for Orchestra)
British Composer Award for Inspiration: Nigel Osborne MBE
British Composer Award for Innovation: Shiva Feshareki

Listen to the awards on BBC Radio 3 on Sunday 10 December from 7.30pm and 30 days after broadcast.
See the full list of BASCA 2017 Award Nominees

Rob Cowan to leave BBC Radio 3 and join Classic FM in 2018

News from BBC Radio 3 tonight is that Essential Classics presenter Rob Cowan is to leave the radio station.  Cowan, who’s presented a variety of programmes during his 17 years with the BBC currently presents the weekday mid-morning programme Essential Classics. He joins Classic FM in the new year.

Replacing Cowan on Essential Classics is station favourite Ian Skelly who makes his first appearance as co-anchor with the marvellous Suzy Klein in a live Christmas Day broadcast.


Advent can start now

Sometimes when I listen to Choral Evensong I wish believed in God. That way I wouldn’t feel like quite such an imposter. Especially during Advent.

Friday 1 December this year saw a flurry of music-related promises spat on social media to get your Christmas sorted with the ‘perfect’ playlist.

Christmas music served up like medicine. Pah.

I’m wrong. I forgot about the Advent Carol Service from St John’s College Cambridge broadcast on Radio 3 this afternoon.

The Advent carol service is the opening salvo for an epic tale. You may not believe, but the story is tantalising. That’s reflected in the grand harmonic progressions, mysterious drama, and absorbing theatre.

Like the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve, the Service for Advent is a broadcast moment and, despite my lack of belief, remains for me the first day of my festive season.

This year’s service is a corker. From the epic O Come O Come Emmanuel to Swayne’s dark and mysterious Adam lay iBounden.

Advent is underway. All other playlists pail into insignificance.

Listen to the Advent Carol Service from St John’s College via BBC Radio 3. Follow the order of service here.