Beats 1: The future of Radio? (And why I love Zane Lowe)

Since the launch of Apple Music’s Beats 1 radio service almost a month ago, it seems to be all anyone in music can talk, tweet or blog about. Why? Is it just another way for Apple to corner the market in all things music and technological as many thought it would be? Not this time. I think that Beats 1 might just be the most important thing to happen to music, and in particular radio, for a very long time. Over the past month, a few pessimists have argued that actually, far from revolutionising radio, Beats 1 has made it redundant.  You only have to tune in to see how wrong that is. The new radio service not only reaches worldwide, spreading the tendrils of radio further than they’ve ever really been, but its soul seems to lie in helping the listener to explore music.

Of course, a huge part of why many people (myself included) initially tuned in was for Zane Lowe. Having grown up listening to Lowe on Radio 1, who introduced me to more new music than I knew what to do with, I was very much looking forward to having him back on the airwaves and he did not disappoint. Choosing to launch his first show with Spring King’s ‘City’ fastened Lowe in place as someone who really is all about the music. Prior to this, Spring King were a band who were building a reputation that was very much under the radar: the unsigned Manchester four-piece are a raucous, frenetic breath of fresh indie-rock air who have subsequently been fired, by Lowe, into the limelight. It is things like this that I think will help Beats 1 to flourish – Lowe takes a risk on who he champions, pushing only those he believes deserve to be heard and not what he thinks will sell. Sure, it takes a certain amount of time before you can get to a place with that amount of freedom, but the point is that I think that was always his vision. This is the main thing I have always admired about Zane Lowe: the fact that he takes risks. Although Beats 1 has it’s spread of star presenters, it would be exciting to see if the station will take a chance on young, unknown presenters, as well as musicians. Someone who works at the BBC told me recently, that I was unlikely to be a presenter on Radio 1 or 6Music unless I was already ‘famous’, in some way.  What happened to just pure passion for, and knowledge of music?  An aspiring radio nerd like me can only hope that Lowe and Beats 1 might be prepared to take a risk and listen to the voices of the young and unknown.

Part of the attraction of Beats 1 is in the expert curation of music that it offers, with highly respected artists such as St Vincent and Ezra Koenig hosting shows. Yet so many of the articles I read surrounding the launch of the station speculated that it’s failure would be that ‘radio listeners are not very cutting edge’, meaning they don’t care about finding new music, or what St Vincent thinks is good; they want to listen to what they know, and what they know is Radio 1. Perhaps I’m being naïve, but this strikes me as patronising: people are interested in more than idle prattle, and to say otherwise is to assume a lack of musical curiosity in the listener. Lowe and the rest of the gang appear, at least at the moment, to be concerned with pushing the listener to broader musical horizons. I don’t think the aim was ever to ‘steal listeners from Radio 1’ or beat the station in any way as many suggested. Elements of Radio 1 remain a fantastic platform for emerging talent, but challenge is good as it makes competitors strive to be better and the launch of Beats 1 should keep Radio 1 from getting lazy.



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