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Sean Rafferty to leave Radio 3 after nearly three decades



Sean Rafferty to leave Radio 3 after nearly three decades

By Mark SavageMusic Correspondent

BBC Sean RaffertyBBC

The broadcaster, who was born in Northern Ireland, was adopted as a child

Sean Rafferty is to leave Radio 3 next April, the BBC has announced.

His departure will bring to an end a 28-year tenure on the station’s flagship programme, In Tune, which he first presented in 1997.

In a statement, the Northern Irish broadcaster said he would “truly miss” hosting the show, with its mixture of interviews, live performances and classical repertoire.

He will be replaced by Petroc Trelawny, who is currently the voice of BBC Radio 3’s breakfast show, alongside current co-presenter Katie Derham.

Announcing his departure, Rafferty said: “I shall miss the truly remarkable and life-enhancing musicians, many coming to the studio ever since they began their careers: A joy.

“And to be able to share it all with the listeners at home: A privilege. They’ve been like family.”

Born in Belfast, Rafferty was adopted as a child and grew up in Newcastle, County Down.

His mother introduced him to music, encouraging him to accompany her on the piano by singing traditional Irish songs.

However, music was not considered as a worthwhile career option, and he studied law at Queen’s University in Belfast, before becoming an accountant.

He got into broadcasting by accident. Having heard that BBC Northern Ireland needed a researcher, he left his job and ended up working on Gloria Hunniford’s Sunday afternoon show.

“One day, the producer suddenly said, ‘Oh God, we’re short, you’ll have to go on’,” he told The Spectator in 2009. “And the next thing I knew I was in front of the camera in a fur coat, on live television, doing an item on Christmas presents for men — how ridiculous is that?”

Throughout the 1970s and 80s, he was a familiar face on local television and radio, becoming one of the main presenters of the local news programmes Scene Around Six and later, Inside Ulster.

In 1990, he launched the Radio Ulster interview programme Rafferty, where his guests included the recently-released Beirut hostages Brian Keenan and John McCarthy.

He also presented arts shows including Prospect and 29 Bedford Street, before leaving Northern Ireland to work at BBC Radio 3.

Sean Rafferty interviewing Italian opera singer Cecilia Bartoli in 2012

Rafferty interviewing Italian opera singer Cecilia Bartoli in 2012

Known for his erudition, composure and deep knowledge of classical music, he quickly became a mainstay of In Tune – a programme whose eclectic mix of live and recorded elements requires a confident and fleet-footed host.

But his self-deprecation and droll one-liners were the ingredients that really endeared him to listeners.

“I am a reluctant and absolutely ludicrously unlikely broadcaster,” he said in a BBC profile, recorded in 2010.

In the same interview, he discussed how music had been a lifeline “when there were bombs going off around the corner” during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

“I suspect it must have been what it was like in the Blitz, where you didn’t know what was going to happen the next day, so there was an edge to your appreciation.”

An amateur violinist, he brought his musical knowledge to interviews with world-class musicians like Yo Yo Ma, André Previn, Daniel Barenboim, Nicola Benedetti, Lang Lang, Cecilia Bartoli and Dame Janet Baker.

But he always said his biggest pleasure was introducing listeners to new talent.

“You see them at the beginning of their career – the young string players and the young singers – and you just know they’ve got something special. And to be however small a part in disseminating what they’ve got to offer is really incredible.”

Rafferty was awarded radio presenter of the year at the 2004 Broadcasting Press Guild Awards, and was appointed MBE in 2017 for services to Broadcasting.

In a statement, Petroc Trelawny paid tribute to Rafferty’s warmth and humanity on the airwaves.

“Sean has stylishly and wittily helmed In Tune for three decades, creating a very special space for musicians to perform and share rich insights into their work and their lives.

“That artists, singers, conductors and composers so relish appearing on the show is in a big part thanks to Sean’s personality; his long stewardship of the programme has made it a vital place to celebrate many forms of music making.

“Alongside Katie, I will be working hard to ensure we maintain the rich jewel of a programme he invented.”

Tom McKinney will become the new host of Radio 3’s weekday breakfast show, which will move to Salford in 2025.

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