HEADLINER: Classically trained radio boss with an ear for what’s popular - But Roger Lewis upset the BBC by accepting Classic FM, Eleanor Trickett writes

’The BBC has made a right Horlicks of this,’ Ralph Bernard, the chief executive of the GWR group, declares as he unravels the events of the past week.

’The BBC has made a right Horlicks of this,’ Ralph Bernard, the

chief executive of the GWR group, declares as he unravels the events of

the past week.

This is the tale of two Rogers: Roger Wright and Roger Lewis. The former

is the new controller of BBC Radio 3, the latter the new managing

director and programme controller of Classic FM. The problem is that an

awful lot of people have been confused over which is which.

The Roger who aroused Campaign’s interest is Roger Lewis, Classic FM’s

new top dog, who, after a week-long public brawl in the broadsheets with

the BBC, is understandably keeping himself to himself until he takes the

helm of the UK’s largest commercial radio station in November.

Uncertainty surrounding his appointment seems to have stemmed from

stories leaked by the BBC last weekend, which claimed Lewis was to be

the new controller of Radio 3, chosen from a shortlist that also

included Wright.

This was, according to Lewis, news to him and, although he had been

offered the job, he had made no noises about accepting it.

The BBC then implied it had turned Lewis down and that he had then

accepted the Classic post as second best. Lewis and his new bosses

maintained he never intended to take the BBC job. ’Roger is rather

bemused and disappointed,’ Bernard reports. ’He believed he had been

offered the job. We are talking about a man of very high integrity.’

However, everything is now in its rightful place and we don’t have to

dig far to see that Lewis is more suited to Classic than to Radio 3.

Most recently the worldwide president of Decca Record Company, Lewis is

a man used to selling classical music to a wide audience.

No snob, Lewis brought Vanessa Mae to the people (although he is at

pains to add that the wet T-shirt phenomenon was not his idea). And

although many would rather throttle than thank him for that, it cannot

be denied that this move consolidated the principle that the masses were

ready for classical music. It is precisely this sort of commercial nous

that made Bernard determined to acquire Lewis for Classic.

A few changes have been made to the job description since Murray Dudgeon

left the managing director’s chair at Classic for a media role at

McCann-Erickson in New York (Campaign, 17 July). Dudgeon was a

consummate salesman, instrumental in setting up Opus, GWR’s in-house

sales operation. Lewis’s history is more programming-based and his

skills will be tapped by a station hungry to take the next step after a

hugely successful period of growth - more than five million listeners

have been tuning in each week for two successive Rajar periods.

’GWR’s programming team wouldn’t claim to have a detailed knowledge of

classical music,’ Bernard adds, ’but Roger can turn the ratchet up a

notch. I’m not sure that you’ll see many programming changes at this

stage but you will see a greater emphasis on music.’

Lewis’s time at Decca, and EMI before that, has furnished him with the

commercial knowledge to tackle anything Classic may throw at him. But

what he also brings to the job is an encyclopaedic knowledge of

classical music - gained not least when he studied the French horn at

the Welsh College of Music - and a healthy knowledge of the radio

industry combined with a natural empathy for what’s popular. During a

spell at Radio 1 - when he was promoted to head of music and,

effectively, acted as its controller - he produced shows for the

middle-of-the-road DJs, Simon Bates and Dave Lee Travis.

At Radio Tees in the early 80s, Lewis presented a couple of ’lite’

evening programmes, Street Level (new bands) and Soft Touch (mellow

jazz). Each evening he took over the mic from the drivetime presenter,

Paul Robinson, now the general manager of Talk Radio. ’He is very softly

spoken and very Welsh,’ Robinson says of his former colleague. ’But as

well as being a fantastic diplomat and a very capable and bright

manager, he has a ruthless streak.’

Their paths crossed again when Robinson replaced Lewis as the head of

music at Radio 1. ’He hasn’t worked in commercial radio for 13 years and

things have changed a lot since then,’ Robinson says.

However, Bernard adds: ’There is not much of relevance in commercial

radio that will have escaped him, as he has never been more than one

step away from the industry.’

The Lewis file

1977   Avon Touring Theatre Company and Scottish Ballet Workshop,

       music director

1981   Radio Tees, presenter

1984   Capital Radio, producer

1985   Radio 1, producer

1987   Radio 1, head of music

1990   EMI Records UK, director of classical division

1997   Decca Record Company, worldwide president

1998   Classic FM, managing director


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