Radio 3 Controller Alan Davey to step down

Surprising news announced today that Alan Davey, Controller of Radio 3, BBC Proms, and BBC Orchestras and Choirs has announced that he will leave the BBC in March 2023 after over eight years in post. The press release states ‘He leaves his role to concentrate on his work supporting arts and music organisations and to pursue his academic interests.’

Alan took on the role of Radio 3 Controller in January 2015 and has played a significant part in the BBC Music Studios project, moving some of the BBC’s cultural output to new premises in Stratford (that replace Maida Vale).

As a listener there’s a sense that Radio 3 has moved away from obvious audience building formats and content ideas and concentrated instead on niche and specialist, acknowledging where Radio 3’s strengths lie in comparison to its only major competitor in the market – Classic FM. In that respect it has always felt to me listening as though what we hear is a reflection of Davey’s interests and commitment.

New shows like Open Ear, Exposure and The New Music Show have made contemporary music and the work of small venues accessible. And although I’m not an especially enthusiastic listener of The Listening Service myself, its clear that its success has been considerable, rapidly turning into a strand that translates well to print, stage and radio (just look at the Proms programme this year both printed and on stage for evidence of that).

Alan has also hooked into a growth area for specialist audio seen across the European networks, specifically ‘Slow Radio’ – a mindful soundscape experience that acts as a tantalising response to our increasingly busy lives. His curated playlists targeted at younger audiences has come under fire from sneery commentators too – always a good sign you’re disrupting things in the Right Way.

And he played a key role in the BBC’s COVID response, commission works, broadcast postponed plays and in partnership with Wigmore Hall, broadcasting the first live concerts whilst restrictions were in place.

Alan Davey remains in post as Controller of Radio 3 and the Proms until next spring.  Who the next boss is will be of great speculation. Radio 3 is a treasured gem amongst a lot of (though not necessarily all) classical music fans. It’s certainly modernised its presentation style a great deal under Davey’s tenure whilst maintaining authority. It’s not an easy ship to navigate by any means.

That the BBC is recruiting another Controller means the network is for the next few years at least still a vital part of the BBC’s activities, which is a relief. But that person will need to be strong-minded, well-connected, assertive, flexible and A Big Radio 3 Fan Too. And who knows, maybe it’s about time a woman took on the role.