The enduring value of live radio
Director of Audio & Music
It is rare that passionate radio listeners overwhelmingly and immediately support the scheduling changes that we makeÂ to aÂ well-loved BBC radio station. However,Â having just announced thatÂ Radio 3 will broadcast live concerts every weekday at 7.30 p.m. for 46 weeks of the year, the reaction has beenÂ almost universallyÂ positive. It isÂ welcomeÂ newsÂ for UK performing groups andÂ listenersÂ who will enjoy an invitationÂ toÂ so many outstanding classical performances. What is perhaps less apparentÂ is that it represents aÂ deliberate move across BBC radio to keep building the percentage of live output that weÂ air on our stations. For some, this approach may well seem counter-culturalÂ as it comes at a time whenÂ digital evangelistsÂ continueÂ to predictÂ theÂ mediaÂ will move inexorably to time-shifted, on-demandÂ content. This is true but, paradoxically,Â this very trendÂ is driving the value of liveÂ experience.
Of course, on-demandÂ does offer benefits, such asÂ making availableÂ valuable archives like the In Our Time back catalogue,Â or a chance to catch-up on recent programmes,Â but surely it is time to declare thatÂ the appeal of liveÂ radio is not only here to stay but is going to grow. Even beyond radio, live seems to be where the action is. Whether we are watching an X-Factor final,Â the One ShowÂ or attending a concert, live seems to be a common factor in so many recent triumphs in areas thatÂ have been consigned by many to a future of inevitable decline. Radio is particularly advantaged by this trend as so much of what makes it successful isÂ theÂ drama andÂ immediacy of live broadcast.
In what some see as a gravity-defying performance, radio listening remains buoyant and in the latest listening figures, it was 5 live that hit new record numbers. The thrill ofÂ England keeping theÂ Ashes combined with a busy news agenda providedÂ a steady flow of compelling live stories. Also, over Christmas we deliberatelyÂ focusedÂ on ensuring many of our broadcasts remained live rather than playing pre-recordedÂ programming while the nation indulged itself.
Behind these successes, there mayÂ lie aÂ deeper and more enduring need for wider communal experiences. The explosive growth of computers, tablets andÂ smartphonesÂ has leadÂ to a huge amount of solo activityÂ with either no interaction, orÂ communication beingÂ restricted to a small group of friends. LiveÂ broadcast experiences, although not offering the visceral experience of a live event, still offer a chance to be connected to something much bigger than a social network.
You may be listening alone but you know that thousands of people are connected together in one story. This is nothing new. I remember hearing my neighbours screaming with joy when Dennis Taylor sank that black in 1985, or looking into another car as IÂ saw someone as emotionally moved as I was by the story of the collapse of theÂ BerlinÂ Wall on the radioÂ news. For programme makers and presenters,Â liveÂ tends to bring out the very best.
It is interesting that while BBC executives like myself are often thought to beÂ intent on limiting risk and prefer the control of pre-recordedÂ output, the truthÂ tends to beÂ the opposite. This is not to say that the art of pre-built radio in genres such as current affairs and dramaÂ is not to be nurtured as a precious skill, but even in theseÂ areas, live output can play an exciting and growing part.Â So while you will see the radio industry ensuring that it is part of the on-demand revolution, we remain champions of the wonders of live. On May 3rd, we begin our Radio 3 broadcasts. As the musicians begin to play,Â I hope that you will be there, at home,Â next toÂ them.
Tim Davie is Director of Audio & Music at the BBC
- The picture shows I AM KLOOT performing live on Steve Lamacq's 6 Music show at the Lowry Centre in Salford in October 2010.
- Edward Blakeman, an Editor at Radio 3, wrote about the station's new committment to live performance on the Radio 3 blog.
- BBC media correspondent Torin Douglas interviewed 5 live Controller Adrian Van Klaveren about his station's improved RAJAR figures on the 5 live blog.
- Tim responded to the public reaction to the BBC Trust's recent report about Radio 3, Radio 4 and Radio 7 in The Radio Times yesterday.