Apple Music and Beats 1: Views from the Terrestrial Radio Side

I’ve been listening to Beats 1, Apple Music’s “global radio station,” quite a bit over the last week. Here are a couple of things that have occurred to me so far:

1. First, I love how Apple has decided to use “radio” to describe this particular offering. And it’s apt because it is radio: a 24-hour stream of music curated by humans punctuated by outbursts from DJs/announcers/presenters (pick your term based on your geographic location) that’s not programmable in any way by the end user. You either accept what Beats 1 is playing or you don’t and you move on. The only differences between Beats 1 and any FM station you might want to turn on is (a) its delivery system; and (b) er, that’s about it.

By using “radio” to describe what it does, it brings the notion of radio forward in the thinking of those who don’t use radio as much as most of us. I like that.

2. Have you noticed that almost all the media coverage about Apple Music has focused not on the streaming offerings but on Beats 1? It’s like the media–especially the tech industry–believes that putting radio on the Internet is this revolutionary new thing!

But what is good is that these same people all seem to like what Beats 1 is offering. The most common review I’ve heard/read is (and I’m paraphrasing a little bit) “I can just put it on and let someone else select the music. I don’t have to worry about it. That’s so cool!”

Um, hello? Isn’t that what radio has been doing since about 1916?

To be fair, almost all of these commentators are in the US where the radio industry has been decimated by greed, consolidation, cost-cutting, voice-tracking, ill-conceived syndication and real estate hubris, all of which has resulted in truly crap broadcasting. There are only a handful of music stations in the US that I’d listen to. The rest are truly awful garbage. Given what they’ve had t put up with for the last twenty years, it’s no wonder that Beats 1 sounds so fresh to these people.

Another reason Beats 1 has caught the attention of the US media is because it’s produced in a very BBC Radio 1 sort of way. It’s much slicker than the canned radio Americans are used to. Its forward momentum is addictive.

3. In an era where everything has become hyper-personalized–everyone is now their own program director for all the media they consume–it might be time for a new type of monoculture, a place around which people of different persuasions can gather to form new consensuses about what’s good and what’s important for the community at large. This could, in fact, be great for terrestrial radio.  Might it give the industry a new shot in the arm?  (Here’s more on this line of thinking.)

Any additional thoughts?

 

 

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.

3 thoughts on “Apple Music and Beats 1: Views from the Terrestrial Radio Side

  • July 4, 2015 at 1:45 pm
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    So is Beats 1 good enough to get folks to subscribe after the free trial is over? I can’t see it myself.

    Reply
  • July 4, 2015 at 6:52 pm
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    To be fair, Canadian radio is no better than US radio. Same conglomerate consultant run crap.
    And there are more public and community funded radio networks in the US. We have CBC and nothing.

    The specialty programming is going to set Beats1 ahead. The WRTJ (Run The Jewels) show was excellent, the St.Vincent show was excellent, the Q Tip show was excellent… All featured cross genre, cross era playlists.
    David Marsden must be throwing his hands in the air, rolling his eyes, and shaking his head.

    Apple invested in brick and mortar retail when everyone else was getting out. I’d love to see them buy into terrestrial radio now and tie i all together.

    Reply
  • July 4, 2015 at 9:58 pm
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    Beats 1 lacks the oppressive commercial walls of most radio stations, and that’s a GREAT thing. I love it so far. My only comment for them is, to decrease the frequency of some of the songs in heavy rotation and get more “spice” into the mix. Given they have only one genre, “great”, they have a near infinite amount of songs to choose from to spice it up. Dr. Dre’s Pharmacy was so “exciting” when I heard the premier show tonight. I can’t remember the last time local radio made me excited about anything.

    Reply

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