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Radio 1's Head of Music George Ergatoudis responds to the recent Observer article detailing the Radio 1 playlist meeting



Last month's Observer article titled 'Radio 1's playlist secrets uncovered' garnered a strong response from the industry and radio listeners alike. Journalist Nadia Khomami sat in on a playlist meeting before going on to interview Ergatoudis and the station's Music Policy Executive Nigel Harding where she quizzed them on the importance of digital statistics and a band's brand. Critics were quick the lambast the station for not experimenting more with diverse genres and being too heavily guided by online view counts, but was the article a fair representation of the process?  George Ergatoudis responds.

How did the feature come about?
The Guardian/Observer were keen to do a behind the scenes piece on the Radio 1 playlist process and we felt the timing was right. Krissi Murisson was the last journalist to be granted access and her article ran about a year ago in The Sunday Times. 

Was Radio 1 fairly represented?
We expect a journalist to have an opinion and to present their personal take. They’re not writing a Radio 1 press release after all, but there were a few elements of the piece that possibly could have made our work clearer. 

Was anything missing from the story?
Radio 1’s playlist is only in operation between 4am and 7pm and I’d be concerned that someone who read the article might not understand that. After 7pm our DJs and producers are entirely in charge of the music they play. John Peel was never subject to the Radio 1 playlist and neither is Zane Lowe, or any of our evening and overnight shows. Radio 1 gives a platform to some of the best specialist music presenters in the world and they play a vital role in breaking new music. Radio 1’s daytime policy is about carefully introducing a range of the best new music to a huge mainstream audience and this is the reason we make such a difference to an artist’s career: we don’t just target the small percentage of serious music fans.

Do you think those who criticised the partly data driven choices understood the issues?
Of course we look at data, but it’s only a small part of our decision making process and we have downgraded the value of YouTube, Twitter and Facebook considerably over the last two years. We’re back to a position where gut instinct and passion dominate our decision making. Stats can be used to compare one act to another, but I have to make it absolutely clear that the playlist team’s belief in an artist or song trumps everything. We are fully aware that social networking stats and YouTube views can be bought or manipulated, but frankly acts that resort to manipulating or buying stats are on very loose footings. They will get caught out. The only way to cut through and survive is to build a real fanbase. I have to mention Shazam, which is the most reliable new data source of recent times. It’s a genuinely useful measure of audience passion and we trust the data at the top end of the chart as the user numbers are now in the multiple thousands. The correlation between success on the Shazam chart and our audience research is also very compelling, especially for rhythmic tracks. I must also point out that a huge part of our decision making is closely tied to the songs and artists that are being supported by our specialist music shows. We employ world-class experts in new music so of course we’re going to listen to their opinions. In conclusion: anyone who thinks stats are the driving force behind our decisions is wrong. Our decisions are predominantly based on passion and relevance to our young target audience. The Observer piece finished with: “if my band were to miss out on our big break, I think I'd prefer to be told it was personal, rather than a matter of stats.” I can assure everyone - it would be personal.

Do you feel that Radio 1 needs to be more open about policy?
We have pretty open conversations with the music industry about our opinions, the decisions we make and why we make them. We’re arguably more open and transparent than many other parts of the industry.

How do you see the playlist meeting developing in the future?
We’re not looking for any significant change although it’s an evolving process and we’re always on the look out for new audience insights.

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