BBC Radio 3

From Academic Kids

BBC Radio 3 is a domestic UK BBC radio station, which devotes most of its schedule to classical music. It was launched as The BBC Third Programme in 1946. Its name was changed on 30 September 1967 when, with the launch of BBC Radio 1, the three other national radio channels were also given numbers and, logically enough, Radio 3 was launched. It incorporated a service on the Third Programme's wavelength which had previously been known successively as Network Three, the Third Network and the Music Programme, which tended to play less challenging music than the Third Programme and did not include the Third Programme's speech output. Radio 3 also absorbed the adult education material previously carried on the frequency under the name "Study Session", and the Saturday afternoon sports coverage which was known as "Sports Service", although this was moved to Radio 2 in April 1970.

The Third Programme, however, retained its separate identity until April 1970, when it was absorbed into Radio 3. Until 1992 Radio 3 broadcast on FM and medium wave, but since 1992 it has been FM only, with the cricket commentary which was formerly on Radio 3 medium wave now broadcast on Radio 4 long wave.

The station has for its entire life mainly broadcast classical music, opera, "highbrow" drama, including most BBC Radio Shakespeare productions, and jazz. The station plays a central role in classical music in the UK, broadcasting concerts, promoting young musicians, and commissioning compositions. The Proms are promoted and broadcast by Radio 3. More recently the station has tackled a wide range of new music (including electronic music and experimental music on programmes such as Mixing It) and world music (World Routes, Late Junction and Andy Kershaw's programme).

The calm and informed style adopted by the majority of the station's presenters is to many of its listeners a welcome contrast to the frenetic delivery found elsewhere on the airwaves.

One of their longest-lasting programs is the Composer of the Week, or COTW, series which now airs at 1200 UTC, with a repeat of the preceding week's program at midnight. This consists of five weekdays' worth of one-hour themed shows about the music of a composer; often, especially when the composer is well enough known already as not to need introduction, the five days themselves have a theme, so that a week about Mozart might focus on Mozart the Keyboard Player, to give an example. This show has also served, especially on composers' centenaries of birth or death, to attempt to heighten interest in their music, with weeks devoted to Edmund Rubbra, Medtner, Havergal Brian, among others.

Since the 1990s the station has had a commercial rival called Classic FM. The newer station broadcasts a lighter range of music, interspersed with chat and adverts. Despite early fears that it might seriously damage Radio 3, they seem to co-exist quite harmoniously, and Radio 3 has retained a large audience.

See also: List of BBC radio stations


  • Humphrey Carpenter, The Envy of the World: Fifty Years of the BBC Third Programme and Radio 3 1946-1996, Weidenfeld and Nicholson 1996

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