The Radio 3 show dropping from three nights a week to one deprives audiences of musical diversity and removes a vital lifeline for left-field musicians
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.
The festival was a wonderful celebration of a radio programme that, since its first broadcast in September 1999, has placed diverse sounds from across the globe on an unusually high-profile platform. Yet the optimism of those two nights, and the programme’s forthcoming 20th-anniversary celebrations, have been shattered by the news of the BBC’s plan to cut the show from three nights per week to a single two-hour Friday evening slot from the autumn. The cuts are part of the £800m in savings forced on the BBC by the Conservative government; Late Junction, catering to a niche audience, clearly seemed like low-hanging fruit. Yet, surely, broadcasting for audiences who aren’t catered to by the commercial sector is exactly what the BBC should be doing.
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 plants, an 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.