'It gives you much more than a streaming playlist': BBC Radio 1 and 2 bosses on their key role in music discovery

'It gives you much more than a streaming playlist': BBC Radio 1 and 2 bosses on their key role in music discovery

The bosses of BBC Radio 1 and 2 have played down the threat to their stations from music streaming services, saying radio remains the key platform for music discovery.

Digital platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music have parked their tanks on the BBC’s lawn in recent years, poaching key members of staff and pushing curation services and playlists that were once the sole preserve of tastemaking DJs.

But Radio 1 controller Ben Cooper and head of Radio 2 Lewis Carnie – speaking in a rare joint interview for the new-look edition of Music Week magazine – have said that, despite increased competition, radio remains in a league of its own.

“Radio gives you much more than a playlist that’s based on an algorithm,” insisted Cooper. “It gives you energy and passion. It gives you that village pub moment where you have to gather round because something exciting is going to happen.”

“We’re very aware of [the competition] and we’ve got to watch where the market’s going,” conceded Carnie, but added: "It’s extraordinary that we’re in a very good position in terms of our audience figures at a time when there’s never been more competition for entertainment. But people still, ultimately, want the companionship and humour and expertise of a presenter. It’s all very well having endless playlists but, actually, you really want something else on top of that, something that makes you feel part of something.”

Radio gives you much more than a playlist that’s based on an algorithm - it gives you energy and passion

Ben Cooper

Cooper admitted he had “healthy paranoia” over the threat from streaming but added: “Let’s not forget, listening to a streaming service is replacing your record collection. We never recorded or collected data from the number of times I played a record after I bought it from the shop. So we’re into new territory here, saying, ‘Look at how many streams this record has got’.”

“The death of radio has been greatly exaggerated,” he added. “It’s like any industry; it will fluctuate, have its peaks and troughs. Some, like Kodak, go to the wall because they didn’t recognise or keep in touch with their audience and the demands of the marketplace as much as they should have done. And that’s the thing that I’m really proud of at Radio 1, that we keep so in touch with our audience. That will mean we continue to serve those audiences and provide them with what they want.” 

Radio 1 will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Saturday, September 30, with Radio 1 Vintage - a three-day digital radio station featuring 50 one-hour themed nostalgic shows made from Radio 1's archive material. Artists have also been performing songs from the last 50 years in the Live Lounge, presented by Clara Amfo.

Radio 2 kicked off its 50th celebrations at the Live In Hyde Park concert earlier this month and will join with Radio 1 on September 30 for a joint celebration. From 8.30am there will be a live ‘triplecast’ across Radio 1 Vintage, Radio 1 and Radio 2, presented by Nick Grimshaw and Tony Blackburn - the first ever host of the Breakfast Show. 

The music industry has been paying its tributes to both stations this week, while former controllers of Radio 1 have been reliving the pressures of overseeing 'the nation's favourite' radio station.

To read the full interview with Cooper and Carnie, see this week’s print edition of Music Week or click here. To subscribe and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.

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