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More than 500 arts reps decry cuts to Radio 3 specialist schedule

By | Published on Wednesday 20 March 2019

Late Junction

More than 500 representatives from across the arts have signed a letter hitting out at the BBC’s decision to make cuts to the Radio 3 specialist programme schedule.

This follows the announcement of planned changes to the BBC Radio 3 schedule, as part of ongoing attempts to meet government pressure for the Beeb to reduce its overall costs. Although two shows – ‘Jazz Now’ and ‘Geoffrey Smith’s Jazz’ – are to be dropped entirely, most criticism has been levelled at plans to cut experimental music show ‘Late Junction’ from three nights a week to a two hour slot on Friday nights.

Announcing the wider cost-cutting measures last week, Radio 3 controller Alan Davey said: “In making changes we have tried to enhance the distinctive nature of the network, and to make sure we continue to offer a rich mix of music and culture to existing and future audiences. It’s what makes the network the great thing it is”. And as is so often the case, all of that would seem to encompass exactly the things BBC bosses have now decided to cut.

The new letter, published in The Guardian yesterday, responds to the planned cuts and is signed by over 500 people, including musicians, artists, record label owners, venue owners, festival programmers and journalists.

“British jazz is experiencing a renaissance”, they write. “Folk acts are attracting broader audiences. Electronic and experimental music is thriving, and boundaries between genres, media and scenes are being dissolved and swirled into ever more exciting permutations”.

“It is staggering, therefore, that, in the month of its sold out festival in London, ‘Late Junction’ is being reduced from three shows a week to one” they add. “‘Jazz Now’ and ‘Geoffrey Smith’s Jazz’ are being ‘rested’. ‘Music Planet’, Radio 3’s only dedicated programme exploring music from around the world, is having its running time cut by half. We welcome new show ‘Unclassified’, but it has only an hour in the schedules. This is not enough”.

They then argue: “Our culture benefits so much from these programmes. Music lovers tune in to make new discoveries and build new creative communities. Music makers rely on these shows as lifelines to support and share their music with enthusiastic audiences, nationally and internationally”.

“New works and unexpected collaborations have happened either directly or indirectly due to these shows”, the letter goes on. “This flourishing cultural ecosystem will be damaged, and musicians’ careers profoundly affected, as opportunities for their work to be experienced by the mainstream will be drastically reduced, at home and abroad”.

They conclude by urging Radio 3 to “think again about the changes they are making, and how they will profoundly affect our broader culture”.

As well as this, songwriter group BASCA has published an open letter to Davey, also urging him to reconsider the cuts to Radio 3’s output.

“When questions arise as to whether Radio 3 is ‘dumbing down’, our first line of defence as composers is to site those programmes which uphold the BBC’s mission statement ‘to enrich people’s lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain'”, says BASCA’s letter. “This would include ‘Composer Of The Week’, ‘Hear And Now’, the live evening concerts, ‘Music Matters’, ‘Record Review’, ‘Private Passions’ etc, but particularly ‘Late Junction’ and ‘Jazz Now'”.

“‘Late Junction’ and ‘Jazz Now’ are important”, it continues. “They are varied and unpredictable and explore areas that no other programmes do. They provide exposure to some of the most under represented artists and cultures. ‘Late Junction’ cuts across genres and is gender blind. These last two elements alone are culturally vital at this time and make it a beacon of public service broadcasting”.

“‘Late Junction’ and ‘Jazz Now’ self-evidently ‘inform, educate and entertain'”, it continues, returning to the broadcaster’s core values. “We are therefore particularly concerned to learn of the BBC’s decision to cut the weekly broadcasts of ‘Late Junction’ from three to one and that ‘Jazz Now’ is to be axed. BASCA represents music creators in their totality and no other BBC programmes support such a wide variety of living writers and performers with such consistency and erudition”.

BASCA says it is supporting an online petition to save ‘Late Junction’, which has already gained almost 5000 signatures.

This is not the first time the BBC has attempted to cut programming that differentiates it from commercial broadcasters and in the past public campaigns have been successful in reversing BBC decisions like this.

Most successful, of course, were the campaigns to save BBC Radio 6 Music and the BBC Asian Network in 2010. While the BBC is placed in a difficult position when told by government to save £800 million, making those savings by dropping niche but popular programming that supports the development of new music and emerging music makers always appears counterproductive.