02/16

Here’s Why Apple Hired a Famous Radio DJ

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Why would Apple hire a well-known radio DJ?

This past weekend Apple plucked popular British DJ Zane Lowe from BBC’s Radio 1. Lowe is famous for his artist interviews and for what Rolling Stone describes as his “keen ear for emerging new music.”

It’s assumed that Lowe will work on iTunes Radio and its music products, of course.

But not simply behind the scenes. He will be more than a “master curator.”

How do I know?

Because there are many folks in the world who have an ear for what’s new in music, and most of them don’t earn their living as radio DJ’s. If what you want is music expertise – the ability to curate wonderful playlists – then hire or buy music expertise (as Apple already has). If what you want is an on-air communicator with a legion of fans and industry cred, then hire Zane Lowe.

Although I have no firsthand knowledge of Apple’s plans for Lowe (and if I did, their NDA would not allow me to share those plans with you), it seems certain to me that this is Apple’s opening salvo in the next battle for the ears of online radio listeners – the battle of the human voices.

Interestingly, this is something that the folks at Pandora have teased for some time. Way back in 2013 at my hivio audio future festival, Pandora’s former CTO Tom Conrad all but spelled out Pandora’s intention to move in exactly this direction. Indeed, it’s only a matter of time until they make these moves.

Why would it benefit Apple to do this now?

It’s obvious: The landscape is cluttered with utilitarian music machines, each packed with personalization and features galore. But while most may contain the human touch, they generally lack the the human voice. The right voice with the right music knowledge talking about the right things at the right time: That’s the new Holy Grail of online radio.

So Zane Lowe, a leader of the emerging new music tribe, will marshall that tribe to the platform built for it: The same platform that absorbed the equally cred-worthy Beats Music. And when Apple offers its all-you-can-eat music plan, look for that plan to come with music expertise and experts in tow, at least some of whom have a voice made for radio and a knack for communicating to audiences no matter what gadget they’re listening on.

Imagine Apple’s home-grown version of KCRW’s popular Morning Becomes Eclectic.

And before you think that this is “too niche” for broad appeal, recognize that online radio audiences skew younger and have a stronger appetite for new and emerging music. For them, this is the perfect match. And – unlike any radio station in the U.S. – it’s built for national and even international appeal. It’s for music fans everywhere, not only those close to home.

Should Spotify and Pandora be shaking in their boots? Not necessarily. Apple may be a behemoth but not on the 80% of the world’s smartphones that are powered by Android.

But clearly, having a ton of personalized music a pinch and a tap away is no longer good enough.

Now even the streaming platforms need unique and compelling content…

…at least some of which will come in the form of a 41-year-old radio DJ who hails from Auckland, New Zealand.

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