’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
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,
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