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Is Beats 1 Radio Like College Radio?

On this week’s Radio Survivor Podcast, Paul Riismandel and I talked a bit about the release of Beats 1 Radio, giving our take on the brand new service. As part of the discussion I mentioned that some reviews of Beats 1 have been making comparisons with college radio. Aaron Lammer, the co-host of the LongForm podcast tweeted, “‘There has never been anything like Beats 1.’ Isn’t every college radio station almost exactly like Beats 1?” A Macgasm review states, “Apple has essentially created a celebrity run college radio station.”

Additionally, Ben Sisario writes about Beats 1 Radio announcer Zane Lowe in his review for the New York Times, saying,

Mr. Lowe has a kinetic style that is derived partly from hip-hop producers, and for American listeners it can come across as a slick and hyperactive version of a college-radio announcer who is eager to play all the coolest new tracks. (Although few college D.J.s have Mr. Lowe’s clout in music: On Tuesday, he teased listeners to tune in the next day for his interview with Eminem.

‘If you have ever had an inkling that you would enjoy Princeton’s very eclectic WPRB, but don’t have the time to tune in, or enough patience once you get there, it’s a more managed version of that experience,’ said Sean Ross, a radio analyst with Edison Research who pays close attention to station playlists. ‘But I imagine somebody in college radio right now saying, “Sheesh, I played Spring King ages ago”‘…”

And finally, on Consequence of Sound, Neg Raggett writes of some scrappy “college radio”-ish elements to Beats 1 Radio, saying, “Even the technical screwup…makes it all seem to feel more ‘real,’ a little college radio roughness amidst the glamour.”

So what exactly do all of these college radio references mean? On first listen, Beats 1 did not resemble a stereotypical college radio station to me. Promotional announcements are slick, I heard a plethora of mainstream artists like Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber, the playlist wasn’t all-encompassing, there were commercials, plus there was plenty of hype for Apple’s Beats service.

However, upon further listen, I guess that I have to admit that Beats 1 Radio is more diverse than mainstream radio. When I tuned in this week I heard a show with a guest artist DJ talking about his work and selecting tracks. That bit did remind me of college radio, as the host and DJ chatted about music. Later in the show I heard some retro tracks, including Outcast’s “Hey, Ya! (Radio Mix/Club Mix),” which was fun to hear after all these years, although the show host talked over the end of the piece. It’s definitely a pet peeve of mine to hear DJs talking over songs with lyrics, as it’s very distracting.

As others have mentioned, it’s clear that the DJs on Beats are hyping material in Apple’s catalog. Although that’s understandable, it’s probably one of the main reasons why I don’t think Beats 1 Radio is akin to most college radio stations. While on the surface it seems that the hosts have some say in the curation of their playlists, it’s hard to shake the feeling that there’s a programmer’s hand at work behind the scenes. What I love about college radio stations that embrace the freeform philosophy, is that it’s obvious that DJs are selecting their own music and that typically leads to a different kind of airsound, which can be delightful, jarring, and eye-opening all at the same time.

If you’ve been test-driving Beats 1 Radio, what do you think? Does it remind you of college radio? Why or why not?


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One Response to Is Beats 1 Radio Like College Radio?

  1. Nathan July 14, 2015 at 2:12 pm #

    Beats 1 is sort-of like college radio.

    It’s freeform, it plays a lot of stuff that isn’t on commercial radio, and it seems like the celebrity DJs do pick out what they want to play during the show. The celebrity DJs are also just as awkward talking on mic as most college radio DJs (myself included in that, not trying to offend). It’s more stable than a college radio, and that’s because of that Apple Money.

    Which is why those celebrity DJs are probably doing shows on Beats 1 in the first place. I don’t know if they get paid or not, I presume they do.

    How great would it be for college radio if these artists went to their nearby college stations and did shows their instead? It would certainly draw listener-ship and exposure to these stations. I’m sure the stations would be happy to see this happen too, since I know a lot of stations like mine accept community volunteers, and not just enrolled students.

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