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Opinion

Paul McNamee: Dial down your BBC griping

Don’t let it be said the BBC doesn’t offer something and add to the national sense of who we are

Last week radio stations across Britain revealed how many of us tune in to them. Two big climbers were BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM. Radio 3 had its highest figures since 2016 – more than two million a week. Classic FM did even better. They had more than 5.4 million listeners

You can make any number of reasoned arguments why this might be.

Alan Davey, the boss of Radio 3, talked of “having a place where you can take time out from the world, listen to something in depth and get a new perspective”.

And while executives announcing good news can get a bit platitudinous, there is some truth to what he says.

In the deep, dark trenches of the Brexit debates last year, an alternative was present. Why listen to a minor government minister repeat a line they barely believe themselves when you could stop for 10 minutes in your kitchen and be surrounded by a Bach mass?

With Classic FM, you get comfortable repetition. You can’t switch on for more than 10 minutes before you’re hit by Holst’s Planets or Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia On a Theme by Thomas Tallis. And while both are a welcome break from circular discussions about trade tariffs, sometimes you need more.

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It’s the accidental discoveries that spin you around on Radio 3. The broadcast of Choral Evensong will, at least once each time, stop you in your tracks. Private Passions will introduce something you realise you love but had simply not been introduced to. Algorithms that claim to understand what you’re looking for and build on what you’ve gone to before are no substitute for years of human knowledge that can curate and create.

The BBC is under intense pressure at the moment. The argument that other means of received audio-visual entertainment on subscription exist, scrapping the need for a BBC, is one the organisation is having difficulty shaking. And because of the need to retain balance they cannot bullishly come out fighting.

Why listen to a minor government minister repeat a line they barely believe themselves when you could stop for 10 minutes in your kitchen and be surrounded by a Bach mass?

There are issues with the BBC, as with any huge company. At times it can feel staid and establishment. But that mustn’t allow a politically motivated desire to bin it – driven by either by ideological or commercial desires – to become a normalised and accepted move.

Pretty much everybody will have views on how the BBC should operate, on who and what it is for. Like the NHS. And like The Big Issue. This is not a bad thing at all. When there is personal and emotional investment in any organisation, the reasons will be personal and emotional.

I like the news reporters on the BBC. I tend to like news reporters wherever they are. They do a tough job and are frequently vilified for it. I like The Shipping Forecast. I like Mrs Brown’s Boys. I like the jazz show and Off The Ball on Radio Scotland. I like the football commentary on Radio 5 Live. I like the dependably simplistic events of Death In Paradise and the incredible curios, like immersively flying with an eagle around the isle of Mull.

You may disagree with this collection. I’m sure you will have your own, equally broad, list.

It’s unlikely the BBC will, in the long term, remain in its present form. But don’t let it be said it doesn’t offer something and add to the national sense of who we are. And some great tunes.

Paul McNamee is editor of The Big Issue

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