Celebrities

Why Apple Music Still Cares About Radio

When you think about Apple, your mind probably doesn’t go to “Beats 1 Radio.” The name itself makes the offering feel like a separate entity — something that isn’t important enough to be a part of the tech giant’s official brand. (The word “beat” also lends itself more, nowadays, to genres like pop and hip-hop than country, indie, and rock, so the name has always been relatively alienating.)

The executives in Cupertino are trying to change that by breathing new life into the service. On Tuesday, the company announced that the name of station Beats 1 will be changed to Apple Music 1, which will exist under the newly named Apple Music Radio. It also launched two new stations: Apple Music Hits, which is devoted to popular tracks from the Eighties and beyond, and Apple Music Country.

The first question asked to Apple Music head Oliver Schusser during Apple’s virtual briefing on Tuesday morning was a blunt one: Why was Apple focusing on live radio and did he think live radio’s importance would grow in the future? It’s a simple question, but a good one — particularly when you consider Gen Z’s growing disregard for AM/FM radio.

According to Edison Research’s 2020 Share of Ear study, the time spent listening to AM/FM radio is down 50% for American Gen Zers — people aged 13-24 — and up 10% for Millennials — those above the age of 25. Adversely, Gen Z’s time spent listening to streaming audio is up 58%, while Millennials’ time spent there is down 12%.  So why would music’s leaders of today and tomorrow put so much time and energy looking into a medium of the past? While these statistics may reflect a shortcoming for terrestrial radio stations, they also present opportunity. If done well, a modern music company like Apple could fill the gap.

The company seems to believe that, by prioritizing the human component of live radio and mixing it in with their algorithmic playlists and charts, it will strengthen its position as a music platform. And Apple’s not wrong. In a study conducted by Jacobs Media Strategies in 2017, surveyors found that one of listeners’ biggest reasons for listening to AM/FM radio — after the love of music and the cost-free nature of the platform — had to do with a connection to personalities through “the power of local DJs, hosts, and shows.” In a time when Instagram Live shows and TikToks can easily bring fans into the up-close-and-personal world of artists, Apple realizes that context is beloved.

By giving artists like Billie Eilish and The Weeknd their own radio shows, the stars could become the lovable radio personalities we will — one day — share our work commutes with. (While celebrity-hosted radio shows aren’t novel by any means, they’re usually more of an added treat than a part of a service’s foundation.) During Tuesday’s briefing, Apple also confirmed that they’d be working on more shows with emerging, lesser-known artists. The latter is not as common and could certainly help with the cool factor, given that terrestrial radio has earned a reputation for being behind the curve and more focused on what’s already trending than discovery. Personality and host Zane Lowe also said that the company wanted to do away with some of the more traditional parts of radio — though he didn’t get specific — and put more creative power into the artists’ hands.

Apple is obsessed with the concept of globalization — a key factor that makes perfect sense when designing playlists for a streaming-driven business that’s more global than ever before. Globalization may not help Apple guide users to its radio-centric offerings, though, as radio thrives on being hyper local and worming its way into users’ nostalgic thoughts of home. That said, this is just the start of what Apple sees as a new era, and the company isn’t giving up the ghost (or the radio star) anytime soon. In a statement released on Tuesday, Schusser emphasized Apple’s commitment, promising to “continue to invest in live radio.” That sentiment was echoed by Lowe who, during the press conference, stressed that music’s leaders have to move as fast as they possibly can nowadays to keep up with the increasingly insatiable fan.

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