Much has been said about the BBC’s launch of a new, all-encompassing strand to promote our musical heritage. On paper, BBC Music has much to celebrate – a new annual award support by the main radio networks, and a mission to reconnect schoolchildren with classical music. And the strategy has been shaped in no small way by the success of BBC Introducing – the strand which has given a platform to new talent, including Jake Bugg.
So it’s perhaps somewhat saddening to learn that from October, the BBC’s biggest music network, Radio 2, is effectively dropping half of its live overnight programming. The decision has no doubt been tough, against the background of budget cuts. But it takes away one of radio’s best-hidden talents at what many have come to know and love as the Best Time of the Day”.
Alex Lester’s show (or shoe as he likes to pronounce it) has also been championing new music for years – many of the tracks first aired on Lester’s Library (at 3.45am) have since become huge hits. And while much of the programme comes across as a cosy club for truckers and shift workers, it’s the kind of club where newcomers are warmly welcomed and quickly feel at ease.
Some fans have argued that Lester has too often been overlooked by Radio 2’s bosses for a more prominent time slot. And yet the content, tone and style of what many would shun as the “graveyard” shift is done with as much flair and passion as anything you’d hear from Chris Evans or Ken Bruce. And is often more original.
So whilst it’s easy to argue for cuts at what is decidedly off peak, it also seems strange that a national, 24 hour, inclusive, successful network would choose a relatively inexpensive show to be replaced with repeats. Someone else will be able to tell us when Radio 2 last “closed down” in such a fashion.
The counter arguments are that commercial stations like Heart and Smooth are already super-serving any void that might be left between 3 and 5am. Why should such an insignificant slot really matter. What’s more, the “Dark Lord” will still be on air some nights of the week, sharing the post-midnight show with Janice Long.
Alex Lester’s last show may not get as much publicity as Paxo’s final Newsnight. But for those in the know, it’s the end of an era.