'Radio still has soul': Radio's 1 Ben Cooper talks streaming rivals and schedule shake-up

'Radio still has soul': Radio's 1 Ben Cooper talks streaming rivals and schedule shake-up

BBC Radio 1 is getting ready to launch another new show early in 2019, as former Kiss Breakfast trio Rickie, Melvin and Charlie make the move to evenings on the youth network.

In our recent end-of-year double issue of Music Week, we looked at the tumultuous 12 months in broadcasting with big shows changing hands and star names departing BBC music stations, including Chris Evans and Simon Mayo.

Tom & Daisy on Kiss, Lauren Laverne, Zoe Ball and Evans all scheduled January to launch new breakfast shows, following last year’s debut by Greg James on Radio 1. Here, controller Ben Cooper takes Music Week inside the station's schedule overhaul... 

Are you looking forward to this year on Radio 1?

“2019 is going to be an amazing year for Radio 1 because all of that planning, all of those changes you’re going to see come to fruition. There’s been an unprecedented amount of change. We almost define ourselves by the fact that is the only constant; the only constant is change and you have to change and evolve, otherwise you die. That is now just the everyday.”

With broadcasters like Greg James, does Radio 1 still create those communal moments that streaming services can’t manage?

“At the moment the issue with streaming services is they’re pretty soulless, lonely experiences. They’re almost transactional, whereas radio still has soul, it still has community, it still has a sense of zeitgeist about it and that is what we are really focusing on with Greg’s Breakfast Show. Greg has had a fantastic start and he has made the audience the stars of the new show and the listeners are loving it. You never get that on a streaming service and that’s what radio has still got. It’s got this ability to connect and become part of the culture in the UK.”

The issue with streaming services is they’re pretty soulless, lonely experiences

Ben Cooper

What will the former Kiss Breakfast trio, Rickie, Melvin and Charlie, bring to Radio 1?

“I don’t think I’ve seen any presenter or group of presenters as enthusiastic and as passionate, just giddy with the shear joy of signing for us. They are going to bring that energy, they are going to bring that passion, they are going to have the freedom to have that post-watershed conversation and they want to play new music that they love 

“I don’t think I’ve ever had such a response from the music industry before on a signing. My phone didn’t stop ringing or buzzing with text messages and voicemail messages saying, ‘This is a great signing because we love them, whenever we bring artists in to talk to them, they’re fantastic’. We’re very excited about that new show. It will be on in the end of the first quarter.” 

Does it also help Radio 1 to have removed a commercial breakfast rival?

“Well, it works on many levels. The first is that I get a fantastic radio show, the second is that it does mean that there is more churn at breakfast in the and it’s a great opportunity for Harpz [Kaur, Asian Network], Dotty [1Xtra] and Greg to win new audiences. It also stops the one-way traffic of BBC presenters going to commercial radio which we’ve seen.” 

What's the ambition for Jack Saunders and his late-night indie show?

"We wanted to give guitar music a new champion on the station and Jack does sound like a young Zane Lowe, he’s got that energy that he brings to the music. He surrounds those tracks with that passion and just that enthusiasm for guitar music. Having that slot, other stations might be trying to wind down and go to sleep, while Jack is there absolutely with all that energy around indie and guitar music. That for me was very important."

Can you remember a time when there has been as much change?

“I can’t remember a time [of change] in Radio 1’s history since the Matthew Bannister mid-‘90 moment. What I learned from that time is that you have to take the audience with you and you have to explain the story. What I believe we’re doing this time around is that we’re doing it in a way that means it’s going to bring the audience back to Radio 1.”

After all the new shows, will there be more stability in the schedules this year?

“We’d like a little less change [in 2019] but change gives us opportunities. I am really excited about 2019 and really optimistic, because I just think it’s going to be great in terms of new presenters coming to the airwaves. It’s going to be about breaking great new artists and ultimately winning new audiences. In terms of your ambitions as a controller, that’s what you come to work for in the morning.”

To read Music Week’s feature on the big changes in radio, subscribers can click here. To subcribe and never miss a music industry story click here.

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