BBC Radio 3 need to do much more to attract young people than just hiring Jess Gillam

Photograph: Kaupo Kikkas

Photograph: Kaupo Kikkas


BBC Radio 3 have just announced a big schedule shake up, and have offered 20 year old saxophonist Jess Gillam her own show to attract young people and millennials to tune in.

Full disclaimer, I think this is an inspired move. Jess is a fantastic character and an amazing musician who I’m sure will come across great on radio (she’s also an awesome person – big fan). The rest of this is in no way a reflection on her, but is 100% a reflection on BBC Radio 3.

The move not only reeks a little of desperation in reacting to the launch of Scala Radio, but also is a prime example of how BBC Radio 3 has continually missed the point on how to attract and connect to young people and is now possibly too late to the party.


The main issue here is that Radio 3 seem to think that all they need to do is change their programming and all will be miraculously fixed. What actually needs to happen is for them to realise that they need to do so much more in addition to broadcasting to communicate with their audience.


If you’ve ever spent any time with a teenager, you’ll know that they are largely on their phones. 99% of young people in Britain use social media once a week or more, spending on average 2 hours 26 minutes a day


Young people and millennials now see social media as a primary form of information and entertainment. Not only that, but they are used to “YouTubers” and “internet celebrities” connecting with them on multiple channels. They expect the people they follow to be posting engaging content on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube etc. 


While other brands, organisations and businesses worldwide have realised that social media is an obvious place to connect to young people, BBC Radio 3 has not. At best they lack a social media strategy, and at worst they have their head in the sand.


BBC Radio 3 has been woefully poor on social media for years now. Actually, since social media started. For example, Instagram has over 1 billion active users worldwide, and around 70% of those are under 35. Despite this, BBC Radio 3 have not posted on Instagram since September 2014. That’s coming up to 5 years ago! On top of that, days pass between posts of Facebook and Tweets are mainly listings for programmes and not treating social media users as an audience who want engaging content.


As much as the appointment of Jess should attract young people, it's unlikely they may even notice as the announcement has only been made in newspapers, and not where their attention actually is.

There so many great content ideas that BBC Radio 3 are missing or choosing not to do, such as film the interviews in Music Matters and upload to YouTube or Facebook just like Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo have done on BBC Radio 5 live for the Film Review (both now going to Scala Radio). Or have guests create short videos for #365daysofpractise on Instagram. Or Tweet something that isn’t’ just an advert for a programme. It feels like they have zero for creating good or engaging content

What infuriates me is that it’s not like they don’t have the knowledge or the resources in house to do this. Both BBC Radio 1 and 2 are doing this already, and doing it incredibly well. Surely it can’t be that hard to have the same standard of output on BBC Radio 3?


Let’s say for argument’s sake they don’t have the knowledge or resources to do this. We now live in a world where anyone with a smart phone can thrive on social media. We’re seeing it time and time again across all sectors where people are developing into global stars from their bedrooms. This is also happening with people in classical music, so if they can do it, why can’t BBC Radio 3?


This does lead me on to my next thought. If you’re really wanting to connect with young people, why not also hire someone who is thriving as a self-made classical music social media star? 


Yes Jess is a great shout, but she is very much from the BBC family. As a former BBC Young Musician finalist, she has also performed at the BBC Proms, been interviewed on BBC Proms extra, hosted the BBC Proms Podcast… that’s a lot of “BBC” for one sentence.


If young people are discovering classical music through streaming, it’s incredibly unlikely they’ll have switched on BBC 4 to watch the Proms Extra programme.


In addition to hiring Jess, why not hire someone who is thriving on social media and connecting to people outside of the BBC’s traditional bubble. If we’re going for young music student who’s still studying, why not also hire someone like Esther Abrami for example?


Esther has 176,000 followers on Instagram (Jess has 7,800), her International Cat Day video received over 13 million views on Cole & Marmalade’s Facebook3 million views on Classic FM’s Facebook and over 1.5 million on 9GAG’s Facebook


Putting those figures in context, BBC Radio 3 brings in 1.8 million listeners a week… which means that Esther’s Instagram alone would add 10% to the radio’s audience!


There are lots of other people to choose from. Whether it’s TwoSet violin (625k on Facebook) or Lindsey Stirling who has 211 million views on just one of her Youtube videos, BBC Radio 3 could think outside the box, be adventurous and hire someone in addition to Jess to help connect to a different audience outside the BBC bubble.


I will continue to maintain that Jess’ appointment is fantastic and that she’s an incredible musician, but my main worry is that BBC Radio 3 aren’t going to put in the extra work with social media to actually connect with young people. With Classic FM being lightyears ahead and Scala Radio already looking at connecting with a younger audience, I think anything now will be a case of too little too late.

ThoughtsDavid Taylor