Apple, Beats 1, and the future of radio

Zane Lowe, Apple, Beats 1, radio, Alex Veeneman, Kettle Mag
Written by Alex Veeneman

When Apple announced earlier this year it had hired the veteran Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe to work on iTunes Radio, there was a rumour frenzy as to what the next steps would be for the technology company. What exactly would this entail? Is Apple developing something a service that says more about iTunes, the platform it introduced over a decade ago?

At its Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco on Monday, the company finally laid out its plans. Apple had introduced Apple Music, but as part of the service, a new radio station came with it. That station was Beats 1, and Lowe would be a star figure on that station, presenting a programme from Los Angeles, with the focus solely on the music.

“What I love is watching a group of people react to a great record for the first time,” Lowe said introducing the station. “When I play that record on the radio, the audience tell me. The timelines light up. My friends tell me. My phone lights up. They love it or they hate it, but it creates a debate. That’s what good music on the radio does.”

Fierce competition

Lowe said Beats 1 would be run by real music fans, real music DJs, and artists, and Apple was the only place that something like this could be done.

Two other DJs were confirmed to present on Beats 1 in addition to Lowe. Julie Adenuga of Rinse FM will broadcast a programme from London and the American DJ Ebro Darden will broadcast from New York, according to a report from the BBC.

As Beats 1 prepares to enter the music scene, it enters amid competition, most notably competition against Radio 1, as the BBC station looks to keep up with younger audiences in a digital age, as the loss of listeners to Nick Grimshaw’s breakfast programme became a significant talking point during the release of the last RAJAR ratio ratings.

Miranda Sawyer, radio critic of The Observer, reached by email, said with the three presenters announced, Beats 1 looked to make itself distinct from the mainstream.

“Beats 1 is trying to get people like me: people who are interested in and motivated by music, people who switch between Radio 1 and 6Music, Rinse FM and Spotify, who check out specialist music shows on Soundcloud,” Sawyer said. “These people are not mainstream, they are proper music fans, and that sends a message. Beats 1 hasn’t recruited “presenters”, it has recruited DJs, who know what they are talking about.”

Yet, Sawyer says, while anyone can listen to music radio at any time, Beats 1 does send a warning signal to the BBC.

“The BBC, with its reach and reputation, has sent its radio far across the world for a long time,” Sawyer said. “But, due to its public funding, it has struggled when it’s tried to expand that reach to take on what listeners want today.”

Different takes

Sawyer says that Playlister was an attempt by the BBC to do what Apple had been doing, yet they had to direct listeners to Spotify. There are also concerns for digital station 6 Music, which listeners have accused of being too focused on indie music, and the recruitment of music makers as DJs is a direct steal from the network, Sawyer says, whose line-up includes Iggy Pop, Cerys Matthews and Jarvis Cocker.

“Many people like alternative music as well as hip-hop/grime/dance music: 6Music has become just a little too indie-ghetto,” Sawyer said.

Sawyers says that there will be ways that Beats 1 will attempts to cut into their specialist programmes, as well as programmes on its sister station 1Xtra, which usually attract top audiences, as well as reports that Apple poached some of Radio 1’s top producers, which could be an attempt at taking the best of the station.

Yet, Sawyer says, there are things that Radio 1 does well, and while the results of Beats 1 remain to be seen, there are advantages that Radio 1 has that can make it hard for Beats 1 to duplicate.

“Radio 1 is great at what it does though, it’s moved quickly with the times and its social media/YouTube offer is excellent, plus its daytime presenters know what they are doing, they clip jokes and talk about each other and keep everything Radio 1-focused, so its listeners feel part of a gang,” Sawyer said. “That will be hard for Beats 1 to do.”

What do you think? Can Beats 1 be a success? What will this say about prospects for stations like Radio 1? Have your say in the comments section below.