Why Apple’s Beats 1 radio station is great, and you should tune in


Things are looking good for Beats One and leading DJ Zane Lowe, one of the world's top radio personalities.
Things are looking good for Beats 1 and top DJ Zane Lowe, one of the world's top radio personalities.
Photo: Apple

So far, Beats 1 has been absolutely great. I’m a fan, and it’s been less than 24 hours!

Apple’s new global, 24/7 radio station is everything I hoped for — a discovery-oriented platform showcasing what’s new and what’s good. Of all the features of Apple’s big update to its Music services, Beats 1 is what I most looked forward to.

“Our genre is ‘great,'” explained DJ Zane Lowe on his opening show Tuesday. “That’s all we’re looking for.”

And that’s all I’m looking for too. In fact, I’m already obsessed with A$AP Rocky, who was played on Lowe’s show and I’d never heard before (yeah, I know I’m sad). A$AP Rocky is just one of half-a-dozen new artists I’ve tagged in iTunes for further exploration, including Beck, who I thought I hated.

I’m actually worried how I’m going to keep up. But isn’t this what radio is for?

I thought I hated Beck, but the very second song played on Lowe’s show was great. I’m going to have to reevaluate that.

And the fourth song he played put the biggest smile to my face — AC/DC’s For Those About to Rock. Of course it was a plug for Apple Music, which is putting a check in Lowe’s pocket (AC/DC’s catalog is streaming for first time) but I cared not. It’s a great song, and it was beautifully, expertly introduced by Lowe.

Lowe’s an enthusiastic and infectious broadcaster. I got a kick out his playing Pharrell’s new song, Freedom, twice. It’s a gimmick well-known to Lowe’s fans in London, and he sheepishly explained to his new audience that it’s “what I do.”

But it’s also what everyone does when they dig a new song; put it on repeat. He should have replayed A$AP Rocky’s L$D, but still (check out the trippy video above).

And the rest of the show was one great song after another. It was jammed packed with more new music than anything I’ve heard for a long time (new to me anyway) — Gallant, Chet Faker, Royal Blood — and I totally dug new tracks from Jamie XX and Chemical Brothers.

I enjoyed the other shows too. Like my old colleague Alex Heath tweeted, Ebro Darden’s hip hop show is going to be required listening.

I got a kick out of St. Vincent’s request show, the Mixtape Delivery Service. Although heavily 80s, I really got a kick out of Erasure and Bjork’s Human Behavior, a f****ing classic.

I also enjoyed the Chart show, even though I don’t like most of the songs. I’m really looking forward to hearing the shows broadcast from London (my hometown, which I’ll have to listen to tomorrow because I’m in California) The celebrity-curated shows look interesting, especially the Gratitude segments, which will highlight artists talking about their influences, like Nas discussing Eric B. and Rakim’s Paid in Full.

There’s a full issues though, which I sincerely hope become problems:

*Beats 1 radio is a throwback to old terrestrial radio. You have to tune in live to a show to hear it! There are no catch up recordings or podcasts. However, Apple told Rolling Stone that on-demand programming will be coming in the future. Plus, it’s possible to get a playlist of the songs played on some of the shows.

* Making it two-way. At the BBC, Lowe was known for interacting with listeners. So far, Beats feels too one-way, despite regular shout-outs to Twitter. It’s to be seen if he and the other DJs can bring meaningful listener interaction to their shows.

* Time zones too present a problem. The global nature makes audience interaction harder, and robs the station of a sense of place, which is so concrete when listeneing to great regional radio staions — they reflect where they’re from. But perhaps the global nature of Beats will emerge as a strength.

* Quality. So far, so good, but it’ll seen if Lowe and crew can keep the quality up. That, I think, will depend heavily on how much will be live and how much pre-recorded.

So far, the world’s first global, 24/7 radio station is off to a great start.

No music industry playlists, chart-driven picks or heartless algorithms. It’s an eclectic, surprising, expert platform for music discovery — just like great radio should be.

“We’re broadcasting worldwide to those early adopters, those hungry for new music,” said Lowe.

On day one, Beats 1 is fulfilling it’s promise.


Daily round-ups or a weekly refresher, straight from Cult of Mac to your inbox.

  • The Weekender

    The week's best Apple news, reviews and how-tos from Cult of Mac, every Saturday morning. Our readers say: "Thank you guys for always posting cool stuff" -- Vaughn Nevins. "Very informative" -- Kenly Xavier.