Conflicting Wavelengths: Judgement By Listening

I’ve always been slightly alarmed by the attitudes which prevail when it comes to listening to classical music on the radio, especially when it comes to the two big national stations in the UK: BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM. Over the years, I’ve heard such assertions as “Proper musicians listen to Radio 3”, “You can’t know very much about classical music if you only listen to Classic FM”, and “Someone of your musical calibre should be listening to Radio 3!”.

It might surprise you to hear, that I predominantly listen to Classic FM. As I type that, I can hear the gasps of surprise ring out around the country. On the basis of much of what I read online, I must not be a proper musician (whatever that is). I must somehow be suffering from limited intelligence to have lowered myself to such depths. Quite frankly, I don’t really care what other people think, but it’s clear from the frequent bouts of Classic FM-bashing which appear online, I would be looked down upon.

Don’t get me wrong, I listen to Radio 3 too. But I tend to tune into particular programmes: I still listen to Choral Evensong each Wednesday afternoon, mum still listens to Private Passions. Perhaps Radio 3 comes into its own during the Proms season, with an almost constant stream of live performances across all styles and genres of music. Radio 3 isn’t immune from this ‘online bashing’; from what I read, many people have reservations about it too, though more often about the format and presenters than the music itself.

Thing is, the way we consume music these days has changed dramatically. We can call up and play virtually any piece from anywhere, anytime, at the touch of a button. Above all though, music is music. The idea that there is ‘Radio 3 music’ and ‘Classic FM music’ is fairly ridiculous. Music is about so much more than that.

That said, it’s worth noting that last year, the under-25 listenership for Classic FM increased by 30%. Read more here.

I think we need to be careful about the way we talk about radio stations such as these, and especially the language we use. If people of any age are tuning in to the radio to listen to classical music, I consider that a good thing. If I might quote Andrew Eales, who writes:

‘The two channels have different target audiences, and both have much to commend them in that context. That said, it delights me that in the age of instant streaming so many still enjoy radio, and the educational aspect it brings to listening. Bravo to both stations for their ongoing success in the current digital age!’

I would hate for anyone to feel looked down on, or belittled because of the radio station they choose to listen to. That’s not what music is about. I for one will continue to enjoy listening to bits and pieces from both, plus an almost exhaustive range of material online.

So, let’s enjoy music however it comes. None of us has a monopoly on dictating how good, musical or intelligent a person is based on the radio station they choose to listen to. There’s enough hurt, conflict and division in the world already. Time to move on.