An Interview with Beats 1’s Zane Lowe

As a radio guy, I’ve been watching Beats 1, Apple’s “global radio” experiment to see if it’s the future of music radio or if it’s doomed to be an also-ran in an increasingly fragmented music world. Frankly, I want it to succeed because I find the idea of a global radio station exciting. It could also function as an R&D/skunkworks project that could give terrestrial radio a few new ideas.

Billboard has this interview with Beat 1’s head guy, former BBC DJ, Zane Lowe.

Perhaps the greatest surprise of Apple Music’s  first weeks has been the near-universal praise that its Beats 1 radio station has received, not just for its impressive battery of exclusives — interviews, premieres or regular shows fromDr. Dre, Drake, Pharrell, Disclosure, St. Vincent, Eminem, Elton John and many more — but also for its adventurous and ambitious programming. The station is a fusion of old-school and futurism that reminds some of college radio, some of the BBC and some of the halcyon early days of FM. At its helm stands Zane Lowe, 41, the effusive, hyper-verbal, New Zealand-born former tastemaker-in-chief for the BBC’s Radio 1, who, as Beats 1’s “special creative and lead anchor,” is charged with programming the station, which so far has been exciting, chaotic, attention-grabbing and unpredictable… apparently just the way his bosses (low-key, retiring people with surnames like Iovine, Reznor and Cue) want it — and so far, so do listeners. In just his second interview since the station’s launch, Lowe found an hour to talk with Billboard about the highlights and missteps of setting the tone for the venture.

What’s your core philosophy when it comes to programming?
I have two quotes up on my wall: One is mine, “Quality and consistency creates the addiction.” We want people to come back to Beats 1 because it has awakened something in them and they want to hear more. The other quote came from Jimmy [Iovine] and is the station’s mantra: “Don’t be boring.”

Beats 1 is supposed to be formatless, but there do seem to be parameters to what’s played. How would you define the Beats 1 sound?
The personality of the station is developing over time. We started with a selection of records. That came down to four or five of us going, “What’s popping?” Then you ask around about the artist, do a bit of due diligence. After the first week, it was really exciting to hear how it all fit together, but also at times it was jarring. For instance, we would come out of big shows by Q-Tip or Disclosure, and the first song was really slow — you’re immediately losing the impact you’ve gained from the previous song. So we made some changes. We also noticed in the first week people listened for really long amounts of time, which meant songs got tired quickly, so we revised our rotations. And we’re working on a replay service and we want to get full on-demand ready.

Keep reading. Once you’re done, here’s an analysis of the first month of Beats 1 music programming.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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