Fresh Listen: BBC Radio 1 vs. Capital FM

BBC Radio 1 Ross On Radio RadioinsightBBC Radio 1, the state broadcaster’s (mostly) mainstream CHR has been a famous longtime irritant to its commercial rivals. The national footprint of a CHR station that also happens to be commercial free was the publicly stated rationale for the networking of British commercial radio that has taken place over the last decade. It was also Radio 1’s eclectic nighttime bloc from which Apple Music poached Zane Lowe for its new Beats 1 service last year.

Whatever Radio 1’s advantage nationally, it never cut the same figure in London as the eclectic AC BBC Radio 2. Capital has been mired in a slog with AC rivals Heart and Magic, but it could usually count on being the leading CHR. But in the just released Q3 London RAJAR ratings, BBC1 is up 3.6-4.5, well behind BBC2’s 10.9 share, but edging Captal, which goes 4.6-4.3.

It seemed like a good time to take a Fresh Listen to both stations. I’ve always wished something like Radio 1 existed in the U.S.—slightly hipper music than mainstream CHR with some indie rock presence. Part of the disappointment of Beats 1 is that they didn’t choose to bring that formula to the world, choosing instead to try and out-weird the bloc programming that Radio 1 airs at night (and where Lowe was a calling card).

Radio 1 is also a full-service radio station that just happens to play pop music. Afternoon host Scott Mills is on vacation this week, but there was a fill-in host working with Mills’ sidekick. After some discussion, the team decided that they would continue his “Bangers” feature, where each member of the team offers an “oh wow” song and a listener chooses which one to play. When I tuned in, there was also a discussion in progress with a listener whose job it once was to patrol a nude beach.

Here is BBC Radio 1 at 2p on Nov. 1:

  • Two Door Cinema Club, “Bad Decisions”
  • Kanye West, “Fade”
  • Fifth Harmony, “That’s My Girl”
  • Chris Malinchak, “So Good To Me”
  • Declan McKenna, “Isombard”—the Track of the Day feature, replacing Zane Lowe’s Hottest Record In The World.
  • Biffy Clyro, “Wolves Of Winter”—Scottish rock band whose presence on American CHR is unimaginable
  • Chainsmokers, “Don’t Let Me Down”
  • Bruno Mars, “24K Magic”
  • Halee Stienfeld & Gray f/Zedd, “Starving”
  • Mumford & Sons, “Snake Eyes”
  • Chase & Status f/Tom Grennan “All Goes Wrong”
  • Snoop Dogg, “Beautiful” (Winner of the “Bangers” feature—truck driver of Christmas cookies who announced that he was still waiting for “Fairytale of New York” before he would be in the holiday spirit)
  • Usher, “No Limit”
  • DNCE, “Body Moves”
  • Beyonce, “Freedom”

95.8 Capital FM LondonAs for Capital, much of the hour I heard was devoted to a fall contest—“Capital’s Cash Call,” despite its name, actually a “count ‘em for cash” promotion where the jackpot goes up by L100 with each song until listeners hear the winner song and call in. As is typical of U.K. and Australia stations, much of what happened throughout the hour was a build to the contest payoff. Several songs had stagers keeping tally of the amount of money listeners were now waiting to win—L200, L400, etc.

Capital’s music will seem far less eclectic to an American. It was also slightly more uptempo than the morass of slow-to-mid EDM that populates American CHR now, even though it was drawing almost entirely from the same basic music styles. What will sound jolting to Americans is that there was still a 2 p.m. newcast; (Radio 1 did theirs at 2:30). The station is also teasing the announcement of its Jingle Bell Ball lineup, always formidable and often featuring some acts who no longer do station shows here, on Monday.

Here’s Capital London at 2p:

  • The Weeknd f/Daft Punk, “Starboy”
  • Drake, “One Dance”
  • Jonas Blue, “Perfect Strangers”
  • Major Lazer, “Light It Up”
  • Fifth Harmony, “That’s My Girl” (“Just took us up to L500”)
  • Calvin Harris, “My Way”
  • Kungs &. Cookin’ On 3 Burners, “This Girl”
  • ZAYN, “Pillowtalk” (the cue-to-win song)
  • Ariana Grande f/Nicki Minaj, “Side To Side”
  • Louisa Jordan, “So Good”
  • Shawn Mendes, “Treat You Better”
  • Tinie Tempah f/Jess Glynne, “Not Letting Go”
  • Jonas Blue, “By Your Side”
  • DJ Snake f/Bipolar Sunshine, “Middle”

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  1. Mark says

    The reason for Radio 1 doing news at the bottom of the hour goes back to the pirate radio days, when the jock assigned to do news copied from the BBC Light Programme (now Radio 2) TOH newscast and then did news at the bottom of the hour. Since the BBC had decided to make Radio 1 sound as much like the pirates as possible, complete with the jocks and PAMS jingles, it extended to newscasts (although at that time with the veteran BBC announcers, one of which working on wildman DJ Emperor Rosko’s shift began one newscast with “the news, in English”). It should also be pointed out that Radio 1 does two 15-minute newscasts at midday and afternoon drive branded as “Radio 1 Newsbeat” and has its own, mostly younger news staff that tries to make the newscasts connect to the audience without pandering. Meanwhile, commercial stations like Capital are still required to air newscasts at the top of the hour either station-produced or from the Independent Radio News network (which is run by the Sky News TV satellite channel and branded as “from the Sky News Centre”).

  2. maytableinc says

    I would highly doubt Capital and the rest of the UK CHR’s would have news on the top of the hour if it wasn’t for Ofcom regulations, though I believe DAB exclusive stations are exempt from this rule.

  3. Robbie_C says

    Would love you to do an article of Australian radio, more specifically Triple J (
    It’s the government run national youth broadcaster part of the ABC (Aussie equivalent of the UK’s BBC).
    A unique network with a huge following.

  4. David @ USC says

    Anytime you want to study the state of CHR in the UK, I’m on board. I also like Robbie’s note here about requesting your assessment of the state of CHR in Australia. I lament that BBC Radio 1 is no longer heard via SiriusXM. Is there any way you know of to get SXM to reverse that decision?

    Also, would like to know more about Radio 2. You mentioned their 10+ share in London. I’d like to know what you think drives that remarkable performance. I don’t recall in years past that R2 was so dominant. Is it simply how as with AC here in the USA, R2 provides an office-friendly option that is offensive to no one? Also, how would you define their eclectic-ness? You labeled them an eclectic AC. Curious to learn more about that and what ACs in the USA you feel come closest to emulating that eclectic approach to AC. Certainly KOST here in LA does not. They program way too safe for my taste.

    1. Mark says

      The secret of BBC Radio 2 is that it’s a personality station and is built more around its jocks than the music it plays. Its current success would indicate to me that people like its weekday lineup of Vanessa Feltz, Chris Evans, Ken Bruce, Jeremy Vine, Steve Wright and Simon Mayo (all between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m., all of them the leads of their shifts and some working as a solo without sidekicks) more than the more music/less talk of Heart or Magic. Although there is a current playlist that the jocks must follow, they (or their producers) can pull their own gold and can play things that they really, really like. Although most people here would dismiss this outside of morning drive as “too much talk,” that’s what makes R2 the station it is.

      1. Steve Varholy says

        Plus there is a lot of nighttime specialty programming: jazz, showtunes, movie music, etc. are featured in blocks. US Middle of the Road/Full Service stations used to do this, as well. But those days (and MOR radio) are long gone.

  5. Steve Varholy says


    The BBC national services are not geofenced. You can listen to them via the BBC Radioplayer/iPlayer or an app like TuneIn. The BBC local radio services — are — geofenced to the UK, so you would have to listen to them using a UK IP. I’ve been wanting to listen to BBC Radio London 94.9, but haven’t taken the effort to make it happen.

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