Powerful voices in the UK music business are questioning the future of BBC Radio 1 following the exit of yet another influential music executive from the station. A key player, music producer Chloe Pearson resigned from the network last week. It is the ninth Radio 1 executive to leave the station. Many of these executives have left and joined Apple. Spotify poached Radio 1 Head of Music and also nabbed 1Xtra music boss. Another left for Sony Music UK's RCA. Why are these talented executives upping and leaving for streaming services in such numbers? One reason is that the money is good and Radio 1 restricts what they can pay music staff. Other factors are also weighing on the mind of Radio 1 employees right now. Not of the least is its disastrous recent Rajar result. The stations audience fell below 10m listeners in the three months to end of June with 1 million people switching off compared to the same period in 2015. This depressing drop was unique to Radio 1. The total reach of UK radio grew by 500,000 people over the year and its commercial rival Capital hit an all-time audience high. Radio 1 justified the drop by saying that radio listening figures were only part of the picture and trumpeted the stations YouTube and social media followings.
It still doesn't explain why Capital saw their figures rise considerably at the same time. Senior figures in the UK music business are questioning whether Radio 1 would be enjoying a different level of success if it materially altered its music policy. There is certainly widespread concern across the UK music business that it isn't doing enough to support new UK artists on its playlists. It is competing with the weight of Spotify’s star making power. The most popular artists on Radio 1 are U.S.-led hip-hop and R&B. How do we hope to break new British artists when U.S. artists dominate Spotify playlists and her own British music radio station follows suit.
In analyzing the top 1000 most played tracks on Radio 1, the most played 15 artists in 2016 were not from the UK, the biggest being Drake. Three of the top most popular artists were British and were considered breakthrough acts. The top six of the networks most played songs this year are not from the UK and not one track in its top 10 list can be defined as a breaking British performer.
What can be done to stop Radio 1 from his freefall? The station isn't standing still and even veiled and ambitious new phone first strategy. There is a fresh on-demand programming element and an attempt to directly strike back against the threat posed by Spotify and Apple Music.
Due to the Rajar result some future proofing is definitely an order at Radio 1. Multiple senior label figures tell us they believe the loss of executives to Apple has dealt a big blow to the UK record company hopes of meeting fully breaking new music at the station. Zane Lowe had influence as an executive beyond just playing tracks to listeners. Lowe's replacement Annie Mac will leave on maternity leave in January. And this turns that vital slot over to Mistajam. This is not been an enjoyable time for Radio 1 and we are hoping to get back to championing new British music. It is beginning to feel like a crisis for Radio 1.