American commercial radio has been dogged for decades by limiting beliefs about its target market’s attention span, but Pete Tong isn’t buying it.
“When you look at what intelligent television channels are doing, creating these incredibly deep series from Breaking Bad to House of Cards, that couldn't happen in the UK,” said the BBC Radio 1 host. “That's actually happened in America, where there's supposedly so much short-termism and conservativism, so why can't we do that with radio? There must be a place for it, it's just a case of finding the right fit.”
Clear Channel Entertainment and SFX Entertainment believe they’ve found just that. Their respective subsidiaries, Premiere Networks and Beatport, today announced the launch of The Evolution Beatport Show with Pete Tong. The announcement, provided exclusively to Billboard, reflects a significant expansion of Tong’s existing Evolution program, which launched in May 2013 and currently broadcasts weekly on more than 80 stations nationwide, as well as iHeartRadio, Clear Channel’s digital radio service.
The rebranded program will now feature an expanded two-hour format, as well as exclusive content, breaking music news and releases, DJ chart updates and top dance tracks from Beatport. Tong will continue to present his essential new tune of the week and feature guest mixes from a diverse blend of artists.
“Beatport being known as a DJ store where people go to find out what DJs are playing, it’s a little bit of a locker room,” said Clark Warner, Beatport’s executive creative director. “That has evolved over the last ten years and the fans are right there with them too, watching what they’re listening to and buying, which turns into our sales charts. I think this partnership is one of the more meaningful moves we’ve ever made, and it really speaks to the programming power of Beatport.”
The program’s global Beatport chart ties-ins are intended to broaden the program’s depth and breadth and provide an insightful ear to the ground for dance fans and DJs alike.
“The charts are very fluid, which is why the show will have a very interesting impact,” said Warner. “It’s one reason why people spend a lot of time on our site watching that turnover. It’s similar to a DJ set with what's hot, what's shaking the dance floor, and what's going to make things change. The beauty of the charts and our partnership with Pete and Clear Channel is having all of these things also marry up with what’s happening at events to reflect what's happening with the music one layer deeper.”
At its core, the partnership reflects a collective acknowledgment of each party’s unique strengths. Coming from an A&R background, Tong hailed Beatport’s scientific chart data as a “fascinating” wide-angle industry lens through which larger trends can be identified. In turn, Warner praised Tong as a crucial and credible tastemaker and a natural choice to captain the show.
The initiative’s cause is clearly close to Tong’s heart. The veteran host recalled recording American radio programs in New York hotel rooms during his early years to gain a sense for the format’s unique pitfalls and potential. While American television has evolved to provide the more highbrow content he cited, Tong has yet to see a corresponding shift in the country’s commercial radio approach.
“American radio differs from Radio 1 because its mission is not new music, its mission is to keep the biggest audience all the time and play them what they want,” said Tong. “Radio 1 is a public service institution specifically there to capture the youth market and champion new music, so that’s why its such a unique institution.”
A self-described “Trojan horse” who entered American commercial radio after reinventing his role at BBC Radio 1, Tong embraces the challenges of trying to shift long-standing Top 40 trends.
“I always say American radio sounds f--king amazing for the first 15 minutes,” said Tong. “But ... you hear the same 15 minutes every four hours and that's my frustration with it. My desire is ‘let's get out of that kind of safe zone, let's take them on a journey.’ I believe the American public has more intelligence and more savvy than to be so short term that they're gonna hit a button every time they’re uncomfortable.”
Tong believes the partnership may have arrived at “exactly the right time” to facilitate electronic dance music’s forward development in the US market. Similar to his ‘90s role bringing UK club hits to the masses at Radio 1, he envisions using the new Evolution program to introduce the greater American public to the “next layer down” from the most commercial EDM that currently dominates airwaves.
“I never wanted to be on the radio in America to do the simplest thing. It's not really my gig to be the lowest common denominator,” said Tong. “I'm not preaching to be a messiah of EDM, because the hits of the scene have been on American radio for a long time. My fit is more ‘where can we use that platform to start to take some chances and break some new music and new ground?’”