How Beats 1 DJs Like Josh Homme and Pharrell Are Reinventing Radio
“Check, check, check, hi, hello… Thank you so hard.” The sturdy redhead behind the mic is Joshua Homme, the singer-guitarist-leader of Queens of the Stone Age, sitting in the shadows as he prepares to record another weekly episode of The Alligator Hour, his show for Apple’s Beats 1 Internet radio station.
Barely 20 minutes earlier, Homme rolled up on a Harley to his private Pink Duck studio in Burbank, California, where Alligator Hour executive producer Collin Walzak waited with a laptop. Upon arrival, Homme was immediately rattling off song titles and names of female artists, still formulating the theme for the week. His studio manager hands him an iced coffee.
“I think instead of all girls,” says Homme of the plan for episode seven, “we’ll do cool chicks and bad boys.”
“Ooh, I like that,” says Walzak.
The Alligator Hour is one of several artist-hosted programs on Beats 1, which broadcasts a marquee lineup of exclusive shows from Dr. Dre, Elton John, Drake, Pharrell, St. Vincent and Run the Jewels. The endeavor was the idea of Beats 1 creative director Zane Lowe, who quit London and a primetime gig at BBC Radio 1 to realize a revolutionary idea from Trent Reznor and Jimmy Iovine: create a worldwide live and curated radio station for the new Apple Music on-demand streaming service.
“I like the chance to feel like I’m infiltrating a little bit,” says Homme, who once spoofed mainstream rock radio with between-song skits on Queens’ 2002 LP, Songs for the Deaf. Committing to a weekly hour-long show now is a bit ironic, he admits, as the gig is essentially his “most job-type-job” since he last worked desert construction in his twenties. He opened one show in a Seventies mood with the sleazy funk of “Jungle Fever” by the Chakachas, the Sex Pistols‘ “Submission” and Donna Summer‘s “I Feel Love.”
“Bang, does that feel good?” Homme said into the mic that week. “I knew it would. It’s a sexy beast of a show.”
He was originally set to co-host a show called Sunday School with friend Annie Clark of St. Vincent, but their schedules and locations were too scattered. For The Alligator Hour, Homme drew crucial inspiration from the freeform whims of L.A.-based DJs Rodney Bingenheimer and Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones. “It is a real cool way to sort of reveal yourself,” Homme says. “As a kid, I used to make mixtapes for girls or for friends. It really did tell somebody who you were, how you felt and what you meant. I like that reveal of this.”
“It is a real cool way to sort of reveal yourself. As a kid, I used to make mixtapes for girls or for friends. It really did tell somebody who you were, how you felt and what you meant.” —Josh Homme
“It’s pretty cool, right?” says Reznor, on hiatus from touring with Nine Inch Nails and now spending quality time in Apple’s offices in Cupertino and Culver City, California. “I’ve seen comments saying, ‘They somehow made radio interesting again.’ Yeah, because radio just sucked for so long. Who wants to hear the same fucking song 800 times with commercials?”
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