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George Ergatoudis on Radio 1’s Playlist

George Ergatoudis

Head of Music for Radio 1 and 1Xtra

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In recent weeks there have been a few articles about Radio 1’s playlist selection process - some well-informed and some hopelessly wide of the mark. So I thought it would be useful to tell you how it actually works.

The Radio 1 playlist is one of the most famous and influential radio playlists in the world, respected globally by artists, the music industry and the public. So how are the 45 contemporary songs selected each week?

First, it’s worth clearing one thing up; while Radio 1 concentrates on appealing to a young audience, the age of the artist is not an issue. Whether they are 18 or 80 makes no difference to us, as long as their music is relevant to our listeners. And we certainly don’t ever ban artists.

But obviously in a competitive environment and with a limited number of playlist songs, we have to make tough decisions. This means we can’t avoid upsetting people sometimes. But just because an artist is famous or previously playlisted does not guarantee them a spot on the list; we judge each song on its merits and have an obligation to constantly seek out hot new UK acts too.

At the heart of the decision making process is a team of passionate and knowledgeable Radio 1 staff. As Head Of Music I have picked a group of people with diverse tastes and opinions. This is important, as Radio 1’s playlist must reflect many different genres – we have a broad and distinctive approach to music that makes the station sound unique. Every Wednesday afternoon the group sits down to discuss the playlist and to listen to new music.

The playlist consists of 45 contemporary tracks in any given week: 15 on the A list receiving approximately 25 plays per week; 15 on the B list getting approximately 13 plays; 10 on the C list receiving approximately 8 plays per week and 5 on the ‘In New Music We Trust’ list – supporting acts championed by our evening shows - receiving approximately 5 plays per week. At least 40% of the songs we play are by UK artists and our ambition is to break new music, to help discovery and to make a difference.

It’s worth noting that the playlist only runs during our ‘daytime’ programmes: generally from 4am in the morning until 7pm in the evening. After 7pm Radio 1 employs expert presenters like Zane Lowe and Annie Mac who work with their production teams to select the music they play. Our daytime programming also includes new tracks chosen by our presenters, recent hits and Radio 1’s Track Of The Day. 

We start each week’s meeting by deciding which tracks to take off and then we listen to a host of potential new additions; on average we add 8 new songs every week. It would be fair to say that competition amongst artists has never been fiercer. Changes in technology and the internet have transformed music production and distribution and the end result is hundreds of potential new songs to assess every week. Of course this also means more artists than ever before don’t make it onto the playlist despite being entirely playable. We use objective information to help inform our decisions but the overwhelming factor is always our subjective passion.

By the end of the meeting, we have decided on a ‘backbone’ of new tracks for the next week. Not everyone agrees on every song, but I like to think we get it right most of the time – something I hope the millions of people who tune into Radio 1 would agree with. And, in doing so, we are regularly breaking new artists that might otherwise go undiscovered and championing great UK music here and internationally.

I hope that gives you a little bit more insight into how Radio 1 chooses the music you hear, and how we are working hard to find the next big thing. 

George Ergatoudis, Head of Music, BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra

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