Beats1 DJ and station director Zane Lowe has told the 2015 Radio Festival that the BBC’s cultural importance in the UK is unrivalled.
He was making his first appearance in front of the radio industry since leaving Radio 1 for Apple earlier this year. Speaking at the Radio Festival in London, Zane told delegates he hadn’t come to the event to enthuse about the Apple Music service.
“The reason I wanted to come here is not to promote Beats 1 – we’re not in a place to be promoted, we don’t know what we’re doing,” he said. “I came here because it pains me to see the BBC under fire and I think everyone has a right to ask questions and challenge organisations to do their best. The BBC’s place in culture, music, media, entertainment and news is second to none. I believe in the BBC and I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the BBC.”
The session featured Zane in conversation with his former boss, Ben Cooper, who opened the questioning with: “Why did you leave me?”. The two then went on to talk about how Zane’s appointment at Apple came about, with the Radio 1 Controller highlighting that the job hadn’t been advertised.
“It came along at a time when I was very happy and didn’t want to leave Radio 1,” said Zane. “I felt like I said yes and then I said no and then I said yes and then I said I wasn’t sure. Leaving somewhere like the BBC isn’t cut and dry – you don’t take that decision lightly. The BBC is like playing for Real Madrid – it’s like playing for the best team and you always want to stay on the field.”
He also recalled the moment he put pen to paper on the Apple contract. “I was at my kitchen table with my wife and my manager. I signed it and my manager took a photo it was so funny. I was like ‘Don’t let anyone see that ever.’
Zane said the experience of leaving the BBC for Apple was a much smoother process than his previous job change: “When I left XFM and joined Radio 1 it was tough for everyone – I had to see out contract. It was one of those discussions between a commercial broadcaster and the BBC and I was in the middle. It was tough.”
On the subject of Beats1, Ben Cooper asked why Apple needs a radio station. “I’m not sure they do,” said Zane. “We’re working this out, time will tell. We’ve been going three months – I don’t have the answers. I hope there’s a place for it, it’s absolutely working right now but over time we will find out exactly why. From my point of view on a music level, it’s for the good of music – to focus entirely on music and trying to get great music out there to an audience who are hungry for it.”
The pair also discussed measurement of success and what Apple considers Beats1’s mission to be in terms of audience sizes. “We’re everything but traditional,” said Zane. “I spent a long time in tradition, in that rollercoaster ride every quarter of my confidence either being sky high or being bottomed out. Excuse me if I’m not in any kind of hurry to run back into that.
“Success to us is noise. Apple don’t share analytics – they said go out and make as much noise as you can. Our meter is a volume meter, not an abacus. Yes, we have data – Beats1 is there to create noise for music and we work with very exciting DJs and amazing artists. We gave 70% of the station’s real estate to artists – it’s an opportunity not an invention. We have 20-odd artists doing radio shows and artists want to be the best. If you open that pandora’s box and tell them who’s doing best (in terms of audience size) there’ll be a bloodbath. Artists, because they’re creative by nature, start getting excited about other shows and what they can do on their show. Why can’t broadcasting be an extension of their creative self?”
And Zane asked Ben how the last few months have been at Radio 1 since his departure. Ben said: “There’s two sides to the coin in my job – there’s the running the greatest radio station in the world. I still get up in the morning and it’s an honour and a privilege to be running the radio station I’ve listened to since I was 8 years old. But you also have the political arena which you exist in – that politicians are able to ask questions of the BBC. We have this gift of the licence fee and it’s up to us to use it responsibly. Radio 1 is as culturally important to this country as the Tate Modern, the Royal Opera House and the Old Vic. Presenters have given young audiences over many generations the soundtrack to their teenage years.”
We spoke to Ben Cooper in a video inteview after the session – look out for that later!