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The 1 Percent Audience

Old broadcasting hand to new producer: "You think you can do shows that improve people's lives, but you can't. There's no audience for it." This line from a recent telemovie echoes what mass-media types, even idealistic ones, have said ever since media became mass. "When we do give them something good, nobody tunes in."

Once, about 40 years ago, the Monitor asked a US network executive: "But what about the BBC's 'Third Programme,' nothing but classical music and other cultural enrichments?"

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"Proves my point," came the reply. "It gets about 1 percent of the audience."

But that 1 percent was very happy, responsive to the British Broadcasting Corporation's efforts to be a "civilizing" force after World War II. The "Third" and other BBC programs offered encouraging examples for the US public broadcasting stations that have given so much unsullied pleasure and enlightenment over the years.

There have been disappointing if understandable signs of public broadcasters dabbling in the ratings game, adjusting programming for the larger audience supposed to be hungering for less nutritious fare.

We're delighted to hear that the uncompromising original, the BBC's "Third" (Radio Three), has recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, honored by a day of special concerts. The audience remains about 1 percent, and on our dial Britain remains a civilizing force. It sees that you don't have to count the house to decide some things are well worth doing and worth doing well.

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