For a minute there, the Radio 1 breakfast show became essential listening. Last week, as part of a station-wide drive to affirm its commitment to new music, Zane Lowe took over from Chris Moyles in the mornings, and treated listeners to a pretty leftfield mix of tunes. OK, it wasn’t wall-to-wall Lightning Bolt, but it was still a refreshing break from the usual tightly playlisted fare.
And it was nice to wake up to a DJ who clearly enjoys playing records, as opposed to a blowhard who seems to regard music as a tiresome distraction from the sound of his own voice. If Chris Moyles could get away with playing no music at all, you know he would.
The whole affair raised some big questions, chief among them: ‘Can’t it always be like this?’ Radio 1’s daytime playlist is heavily slanted towards electro-tinged urban pop (Tinie Tempah, Rihanna, David Guetta). There’s currently just one British band – White Lies – on the 20-strong A-List. Fair enough – urban pop is what young people are buying right now.
But Radio 1 isn’t a commercial station, so it doesn’t have to reflect the commercial world. Those artists already get played on Capital, Kiss and no end of local stations. Isn’t there an onus on Radio 1, as a public service broadcaster, to look beyond the mainstream and provide exposure to a broader range of artists? And not just in the graveyard slots, but in the daytime, when people are actually listening.
These questions matter, because if new bands want to break through to a mainstream audience, Radio 1 is about the only platform available to them. Top Of The Pops is long gone, and nothing has replaced it. Not everyone can join the boogie-woogie jam on Later… With Jools Holland. Obviously indie-leaning stations like 6 Music and NME Radio play new bands, but they cater for a niche audience.
It’s clear, from the comments and Tweets we’ve received on the subject, that this is a subject a lot of you care about. There’s a definite perception that over the past year or so Radio 1 has turned its back on bands. But is that a fair assessment? I put some of your questions to Radio 1’s head of music, George Ergatoudis.
Why doesn’t BBC Radio adopt a similar policy to France & make at least 50% of their output home grown music? Gaz Knowles
Radio 1 actually does have a quota: we are committed to playing a minimum of 40% UK music every week. Very often we run in excess of that, but it depends on the music available at any period in time. The music business is global and no-one can control where the hottest music comes from, but fortunately there seems to be an eternally deep pool of high quality music emanating from the UK.
Why don’t you play much guitar music, only urban/pop music? Fran Smith
Radio 1’s job is to play a broad spectrum of music relevant to our young target audience and if you actually take a look at our playlist there will always be a variety of music genres including rock, indie, pop, urban and dance. It’s also important to understand that there is an undeniable music cycle in the UK and right now most of our target audience have a pretty limited interest in indie/alternative guitar music. We conduct weekly music research with a large panel of 12 to 30 year olds to really understand the songs, artists and trends in the market and this fact is pretty clear. Of course, the cycle will change and audiences will eventually get bored of the urban/pop sound that is currently predominant and something else will take its place.
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Radio 1’s George Ergatoudis
Why do the daytime DJs not get more control in the music they play? It’s obvious some DJs don’t like Black Eyed Peas, for example. Rahiel Ghani
Radio 1 has a challenging task which is to attract huge numbers of young listeners while simultaneously offering a distinctive mix of new music. Get the balance wrong and you go one of two ways: you either become a slick, hit-driven, commercial music station, or you go the other way and become a niche, specialist music station with few listeners.
There is a science to programming Radio 1: we carefully introduce new music mixed in with familiar hits and by doing so far more people get to discover something new and exciting. If we let our daytime DJs have more say in the music they play we would soon lose the level of control needed to pull off our balancing act. We’d rapidly lose listeners and Radio 1’s vital ability to break new music would be diminished considerably.
Radio 1’s remit is to inform and educate. How does playing rubbish (Black Eyed Peas, Flo Rida) fit in with that? Ian Benet
To cite the old idiom: ‘one man’s meat is another man’s poison’. We all have an opinion on music and just because you personally don’t like certain songs, artists or genres, there are plenty of others who do. The Black Eyed Peas are wildly popular and their song ‘I Gotta Feeling’ is the best-selling digital song of all time. You can’t argue with that!
Who are the target audience? It seems to be around 14 – yet most 14 year olds are at school during the day. Ian Benet
Radio 1’s mission is to attract a young audience, predominantly 15 to 30 year olds, but we actively try to reach our next generation of listeners too. If we didn’t do this radio could be in real danger of becoming an extinct medium.
Can we have the ‘specialist’ djs on in the daytime as standard instead of the normal rubbish that gets played? Angie Fell
It has been great to hear our amazing specialist DJs taking over daytime, but if we were to continue with this strategy we would probably lose 80% of our audience. Radio 1 is vitally important to the musical landscape of the UK because we carefully introduce new, sometimes challenging, music to huge numbers of mainstream listeners who would never dream of listening to a specialist music show.
When is Zane Lowe going to replace Chris Moyles on the breakfast show? He has been a much better replacement! Tommy Ray
Zane has been brilliant on breakfast for sure, but don’t forget you can listen to his 7pm show at any time of day via the BBC iPlayer. Time shifting your listening is easy nowadays. Finally, it’s worth pointing out that Chris’s 7.1 million weekly listeners might disagree with you!
Why do you banish alternative music to the small hours of the morning? Luke Morton
Alternative music is very much part of the daytime Radio 1 mix and it always will be, but as I said in my previous answer to Fran Smith’s question there is a music cycle and right now the appeal of guitar driven indie/alternative music is at a low point amongst young audiences in the UK. But don’t worry in time the cycle will shift again and don’t forget that you can listen to any of Radio 1’s shows whenever you like via the BBC iPlayer.
Why do you ignore upcoming British artists in favour of big US acts? Dan Tuck
Radio 1 is committed to playing a minimum of 40% UK artists every week, so I completely dispute any lack of support for domestic artists. Additionally from Monday January the 10th there will be a brand new under the radar artist on the playlist every week that has been discovered via the BBC Introducing initiative. I must also point out the long list of successful UK urban music artists broken by Radio 1 and 1Xtra over the last two years while new US talent has been noticeably absent.