The “Apple crumble”, as it is known along BBC corridors, recently saw Zane Lowe and four key production staff give a thumbs down to Radio 1 and a high five to Apple.
At the Worldwide Developers’ Conference on Monday 8th June, Apple revealed that they were to launch an internet radio station — Beats 1 — as part of their Apple Music package. And who is the Beats 1 star turn? One Zane Lowe, formerly of the Radio 1 parish.
Beats 1, according to the tech giant’s execs Jimmy Iovine and Eddy Cue, will bring a “human touch” to music streaming. It will be an “ecosystem” rather than a “platform”. In other words, it will be Apple’s version of an old-fashioned radio station, relying on humans not algorithms, such as Lowe, to select and curate content.
So does this momentous move in audio broadcasting spell the end of Radio 1?
I doubt it. At least not in the coming decade. Technology develops 50 times faster than the medium it is trying to change. We are still, after all, waiting for the great digital switchover when the last crackling sounds of FM radio disappear into the ether forever.
Radio 1 cannot bury its head in the sand and ignore the launch. It needs to develop in line with these sorts of industry changes. That’s what they are doing, because their hands are commercially tied — no listeners, no advertising revenue, no network — over at Bauer Media (Absolute Radio, Kiss and Magic) and Global (Capital FM, Classic FM, Heart and Xfm).
Ben Cooper, Radio 1’s controller, has been quick to point out that they have kept their eye on the ball and that their YouTube channel had an average of one million views each day last week.
But neither Apple nor the commercial music stations have to fulfill a public service remit. Radio 1 must still provide content that educates and informs, as well as entertains. This is both its core strength – brilliant, thought-provoking, boundary-pushing documentaries – and its core weakness.
Who are 15—25 year-olds most likely to tune into: Zane Lowe blowing them away with a mix of new music, cult favourites and trending artists or a channel that demands one whole damn hour of their time to listen to a documentary?
Radio 1 is still alive and kicking — but it’s starting to show its age.