LSM-ONLINE-LOGO2JPG.jpg (4855 bytes)


Back Issues
LSM Issues
LSV Issues
Throat Doctor
Concert Reviews
CD Critics
Books Reviews
PDF Files

About LSM
LSM News
Guest Book
Contact Us
Site Search
Web Search

The Lebrecht Weekly


Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]

Living on the edge - Reputations are on the line as audience opinion goes live on Radio 3


By Norman Lebrecht / September 6, 2000

WITH a week to go before the series goes on air, nothing has been fixed and no participants booked - which is just as I intended., the new freespace on BBC Radio 3 for contentious issues in the arts, is designed to cut against the grain of all the over-scripted, pre-recorded, corporately manacled and politically neutered talk slots that clutter the public-service airwaves.

Live, in my view, ought to mean live. In cultural radio, it is more often euphemistic, a cover for institutional cowardice. So-called "live" concert commentary, for instance, is typed up hours ahead for approval by presentation editors. Even colorific remarks about the red-hatted lady in row four have to be vetted in advance.

Arts producers are terrified of uttering anything that might offend artists and their agents, or sound remotely spontaneous. Imagine a sports commentator having to run each "They think it's all over" past Big Brother before addressing the mike, and you have a whiff of the truss that constricts cultural liberties on radio.

In my studio, by way of novelty, there will not be a scrap of paper. Improvisation is the highest form of art. Phone and e-mail interjections from listeners at home and abroad will feed live into the proceedings, taking the agenda out of any putative control that the presenter might seek to exert, while the producer watches, mute and disarmed, from behind a glass panel. is (among other things) the cultural audience's opportunity to bite back, challenging makers and manipulators of art who may, or may not, join me in the studio. The show will go out live on the internet in webcam vision, drawing in an international public to a forum without frontiers.

For openers, I propose to ask: are we being served? Do the arts give us good value? Are concerts, opera, ballet and drama put on at the right place, the right time and in the kind of comfort that we have a right to expect, given the prices we pay, both in tickets and in subsidy?

While others argue about elitism in the arts, my concern is that a mighty swell of populist feeling is perpetually ignored by the state or self-appointed custodians of public enlightenment. One purpose of this programme is to enfranchise audiences and encourage them to spit back the stuff they are spoon-fed. Another is to give the genteel norms of cultural discourse a jolly good shaking.

There is too much niceness around, too placid an assumption that "we in the arts" are all on the same side. My show will not involve host and guests but disputants, dispensing with the conventions of courtesy in the interests of clarity. Reputations are up for the rumbling. The ascendance of star presenter over stubborn creator will be dissected in the coming weeks, along with the sacred cows of public subsidy and the education industry.

The risks of setting free the bugbears are considerable. They are borne partly by the show's presenter but primarily by the Radio 3 controller, Roger Wright. When Wright took command two years ago, after a spell in the disintegrating record industry, he asked me one morning over breakfast whether the polemical and investigative edge of this weekly column could be transferred to radio.

My response was that it would be possible only if the BBC could guarantee the same freedoms of speech as The Telegraph did, and if listeners could be turned into live participants rather than passive patients on a programmed drip. Wright explained that he was hoping to counter the canned titbits of Classic FM with a surge of live music and a leavening of raised voices.

Deciding that we had synergy was one thing. The next was to accept, in all humility, that Radio 3 could never be the same again. This was, after all, the network that once made a virtue of "deliberate dullness" and hitched itself to Boulezian severities. Under its last controller, Radio 3 stooped to hire a pop DJ but refused to relax its censorial controls as ratings neared a danger-line one per cent. is but one strand in Wright's quiet course of radical change, which has embraced world music and children's corners, live poetry and the occasional laugh. Ratings are up and a perception is dawning that a purpose has been rediscovered for the BBC's minority network - not as a classical-music ghetto but as a cultural colloquium of international consequence.

Whether my show hits or misses, Radio 3 is now on a wholly new wavelength.

  • '' starts next Wednesday at 7pm. You can call in on 08700 100444 or e-mail

    Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]




  • (c) La Scena Musicale 1999