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Beats 1 vs. iTunes Radio: The good, the bad, and the noisy

Oscar Raymundo | July 3, 2015
When Apple was tinkering with adding a new radio component to its just-launched music streaming service, the company opted to go for more of a BBC Radio 1 vibe than Pandora.

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When Apple was tinkering with adding a new radio component to its just-launched music streaming service, the company opted to go for more of a BBC Radio 1 vibe than Pandora.

So naturally, Apple recruited Zane Lowe, the most popular DJ on BBC Radio 1, to be the voice of Beats 1, its 24-hour radio station curated by real people with interviews, exclusives, and even a request line. That's right: Beats 1, a terrestrial-style radio station on the Internet, is the most significant change to Apple's radio offerings. Sure, it's just one radio station, but it has the hype and early ambition to make it a standout feature, even if it sometimes falls flat.

Beats 1 is on nonstop, with live radio programs scattered throughout the day. It's not all live, however--programs repeat 12 hours later in case you miss it in the morning. In addition to Lowe, Apple has enlisted Ebro Darden from New York and Julie Adenuga from London to be on air Monday through Thursday. Their programs often include artist interviews and exclusives--on his first day, for example, Lowe premiered a new song by Pharrell and on his second day he interviewed Eminem.

Other artists will appear on Beats 1 with their own music-oriented programs. Elton John, Ellie Goulding, St. Vincent, A-Trak, and Dr. Dre have signed up to be celeb DJs.  

One radio station for every Apple Music listener in the world? Yes, it's ambitious but the Beats 1 crew seems to think they can cater to its massive audience by playing "great music." Apparently, it's not subjective--so there's a bit of musical snobbery going on. Even if Beats 1 DJs hand-pick songs that rock your socks off every time, it's difficult to create programming that will strike a chord with local audiences in different timezones.

The Beats 1 musical programming is eclectic, to say the least. It's an iPod-fueled, post-genre direction that may enlighten audiences to good music. But for a certain occasion or mood, you need more than just a good song--you need the right song.

It's not surprising that Apple has launched one radio station for everyone to listen to. Cupertino likes its products to be considered, consistent, and simple with a singular vision. But can that mindset be applied to music? It's too early to tell whether Beats 1 will lose hype over time or if it will become Planet Earth Radio. 

Right now, it just combines the dated aspects of a terrestrial radio station with none of the benefits of Internet radio. You can't skip songs or programs, so you have to lower the volume if a Dr. Dre song comes on while you're dropping off your kids at school. Never mind that explicit songs are bleeped on Beats 1: The DJs interrupt the music to plug the radio station every chance they get. But we know we're listening to Beats 1. We had to install a software update in order to do so. Apple needs to remind Lowe that he is talking to people on the Apple Music app, not to people who randomly stumbled through the station by flipping through the radio dial.

 

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