FEATURE: Common Sense Against Poor Decisions: Why BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction Cuts and Changes to Its Schedule Will Be a Blow for Musical Diversity



Common Sense Against Poor Decisions


Why BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction Cuts and Changes to Its Schedule Will Be a Blow for Musical Diversity


THERE are not many corners of the dial...

 PHOTO CREDIT: @christianchen/Unsplash

where we can find genuine diversity regarding music. There are specialist stations where you can find your daily dose of Hip-Hop and Pop but what about sounds that are rarely played on the radio – those that often are seen as fringe or are on the rise? I listen to BBC Radio 6 Music and consider that diverse but, in terms of genres, it is not as broad as it could be. I know it is not likely to play Classical music but when you think of the great Experimental sounds and Jazz emerging right now, are they represented as much as they should? I look at the schedules for a lot of the BBC stations and a lot of the shows feel the same. There is this feeling that, if one wants something away-from-the-obvious then they need to turn into a station like BBC Radio 3. I have been dipping into the station for a while and do find it is bolder when it comes to taking risks and putting on shows you would not hear anywhere else. There have already been cuts – and there are more planned – that could threaten the diversity of BBC Radio 3. This article from The Guardian reacted to the decision to cut their popular show, Late Junction. The BBC are planning on cutting the show from three nights per week to a single two-hour broadcast on Friday evening.

This will happen in the autumn and is part of a bid to make savings on the BBC. It is a case of the current Government putting pressure on the BBC and making these cuts – to formats they deem inessential and needlessly costly. One never assumes those in power know much about modern music and shows like Late Junction: maybe BBC Radio 4 would be more up their street and they would be safe. It seems a shame that the more interesting and ‘niche’ avenues of music are suffering. As the Guardian article explains, there is a great demand for Late Junction; its loss (or slow demise) is going to be a big shame for those who like their music more experimental and left-field:

At the end of February, hundreds of people packed into the artfully dilapidated surroundings of Earth, a former art deco cinema in east London, for the inaugural Late Junction festival. Over two sold-out nights, it showcased exactly the kind of programming that makes BBC Radio 3’s flagship experimental music show great: a stunning set by revived post-punk pioneers This Is Not This Heat; the fractured state-of-the-nation techno of Gazelle Twin; the first ever performance by doom-jazz troupe Pulled By Magnets; and a new project featuring singer Coby Sey and Under the Skin soundtrack composer Mica Levi”.

In a music scene and radio culture that seems to play it safe and is not really willing to throw in too many unusual selections; what was the reasoning for such cuts?

It seems that, ironically, this cut has been made so that BBC Radio 3 can continue to offer rich and interesting shows for those who prefer something a little different. It seems a bit ironic that one of their most popular shows is being given less time on air:

In a statement, Radio 3 controller Alan Davey said that the changes to the schedule had been made “to make sure we continue to offer a rich mix of music and culture to existing and future audiences” – Late Junction’s raison d’être. It has recently broadcast incredible sets from its festival, an innovative, spoken-word documentary on Brixton by dub poet Roger Robinson, a set of Somalian disco, a playlist of music for plantsan in-depth interview with composer Laurie Anderson and a show devoted to bagpipe music from across the globe. The slightly woolly promise of a Late Junction replacement in the form of “a new classical music programme designed for late-night listening” summons up visions of snore-inducing Spotify playlists featuring artists like the tasteful yet bland Nils Frahm.

What makes Late Junction so exciting is its presenters’ love for their selections: the programming is never self-conscious or apologetic for its strangeness, as mainstream culture often is when it confronts the left field. In its eclectic broadcasting, jazz sits alongside throat singing, contemporary classical, odd pop, folk and noise. Crucially, this has a huge impact on the diversity of the show’s programming: artists from around the world aren’t pigeonholed into a “world music” ghetto, but treated with the same seriousness as their western peers”.


 IN THIS PHOTO: Holly Herndon/PHOTO CREDIT: Ronald Dick for CRACK

There is nothing new regarding the feeling music is not taking risks and there are fewer spots where one can experiment and take leaps. In a related article, a selection of musicians spoke out against modern music and the fact that it is safer than it used to be. Holly Herndon was one such artist interviewed:

When I was in high school, I went to music for ideas and to understand what my identity could be – and I think that’s shifted. I’m not sure music is the place where radical thought is happening any more. I’m interested in the crypto community, people who are interested in radically changing the infrastructure that organises our society. Those kinds of totally out-there ideas and thought processes I don’t really encounter in music quite so much.

Everything is documented and immediately public now, so I don’t feel like people in the underground have the ability to mess up and experiment in the same way they once did, because there’s such scrutiny on people at a really early stage”.

There has been a reaction to Luke Turner’s article regarding Late Junction and the cuts it will experience. Consider how hard it can be for Jazz and Classical artists to get exposure in the mainstream. One hardly hears them on BBC Radio 1, 2 and, even though it is a broad church, BBC Radio 6 Music merely flirts with a lot of experimental sounds.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Nubya Garcia is one of the finest British Jazz musicians of the moment/PHOTO CREDIT: Mahaneela

Where does one turn if they want to hear the latest upcoming Jazz artists or musicians who are travelling in wonderful and weird directions?! Late Junction, in a sad way, seems to be the only real place that all these wonderful sounds can be heard. Not only is BBC Radio 3 cutting back on one beloved show: there are changes coming in that will sacrifice key Jazz shows that are providing this voice to the new generation. There are booms happening and, as a reactionary article from The Guardian shows, there is a revolution happening:

British jazz is experiencing a renaissance. 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. 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.


IN THIS PHOTO: Musician and D.J., Carla Dal Forno/PHOTO CREDIT: @BBCRadio3

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. 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”.

Given the fact that we may soon be leaving Europe - although this is in the air! - I do wonder whether that will dent the proliferation of influence from the continent. There is not enough Jazz played on a lot of the bigger stations so I do wonder, with these changes and moves, what will happen - whether a lot of the new breed will still get a say and the attention they warrant.


IN THIS PHOTO: Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien is one of hundreds of names that has a signed a letter protesting cuts and schedules changes at BBC Radio 3/PHOTO CREDIT: Dimitri Hakke/Getty  

It is clear shows like Late Junction and Jazz Now give a home to artists that are normally neglected by other stations. That article I have just quoted is actually an open letter that has gathered more than five-hundred signatures. Many across music and broadcasting have added their names to this plea; the need to get BBC Radio 3 to rethink their decisions and keep one of its finest shows as it is (is) urgent. I have heard Late Junction a few times and can attest to its broadness and quality. I hear a few radio stations that are embracing the new wave of cross-pollination and growth of genres like Jazz and Folk. These genres are splicing together and widening: they are no longer as we imagine and it is time for reappropriation! What is the impact of limiting exposure for shows that offer a platform for those who provide us with something genuinely more interesting than what is commonly sold? If we ration shows and stations then, like venues closing, it means artists will struggle to get their voices heard. Unless another big BBC radio station takes on the show or creates an equivalent, what is going to happen? I understand there are equivalents to be heard – Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone is fairly similar – but there is this great love for Late Junction.  The BBC kept BBC Radio 6 Music open when it was threatened with closure back in 2010; one hops that there will be hope Late Junction can remain where it is and not be limited to one weekly slot.

I am worried there is not the sort of variation and boldness on the radio as we need. I know it will be difficult acclimatising everyone to a bit of change but why should we rely on single shows to offer this area for creativity, experimentation and brash expression? I love a lot of the British Jazz coming through and wonder were it not for stations like BBC Radio 3 (and 4, perhaps) whether I would hear it. There is so much out there in terms of choice and sounds and this is not being reflected across radio. Some find the sort of music played on Late Junction a bit dark and stark and not what you’d want to hear during the morning commute. I can appreciate there are some who want something a bit brighter and accessible but, if we integrate carefully and slowly, before long, people will become sued to it and we will not notice the difference – like getting a reluctant child to eat their vegetables; not realising that it is actually good for them. So many young artists are knocking down doors and trying to get their music heard. It is tough if you are producing something not immediately commercial. The underground is an area where we can discover truthful, astonishing and different sounds and, for the most part, artists here struggle harder than those who are delivering music that is less challenging and provocative.

Social media and the Internet allow artists the platform to sell and spread their music but radio is a hugely powerful medium. Often, social media can be a bit restrictive - and people are unwilling to share tunes they like. I have listened to stations and, without warning, been introduced to this great artist that slipped my attention. They might have been grafting on the Internet but, in the tide and sea of other artists, not been able to penetrate everyone’s view. Radio allows music the chance to get by retweets and shares; to instantly hit the masses and deliver that instant punch. So many underground and experimental artists are grafting hard and not getting their dues in the mainstream.

Radio stations are reluctant to play something that is not, in their view, popular and marketable and that is creating a real sense of dread and anxiety. Shows like Late Junction offer a certain sanctuary and golden platform where we can witness the most daring and colourful sounds around. Let us hope BBC Radio 3 reverse their decision to limit Late Junction and the Government do not put too much pressure on them. It would be a real shame to see the move happen and I do wonder how this will affect the popularity and prosperity of underground/experimental music. If one lesson comes out of this controversy then it should be that radio stations need to rethink their approach and accept the fact there are so many great Jazz, Folk; Experimental and underground artists who are creating brilliant and music – a lot of us do not get to hear it. Against the bad decision that has been made and will impact Late Junction (and its listenership) I do hope that BBC Radio 3 listens to the protest – and the open letter that has just been published – and adopts some form of...

COMMON sense.