How Dubliner Annie Mac became the most sought after woman on BBC radio
There are just a few hours to go before Annie Mac takes over BBC Radio 1’s prime weekday evening show – and the DJ still hasn’t settled on an opening song to announce her arrival.
“It’s still up for debate. In fact it’s freaking me out,” says the Dublin-born broadcaster, who has championed dance music on Radio 1 for the past decade but is now rediscovering her hidden “indie kid”.
Zane Lowe, the hype-man for all things new and noisy in the evening slot, has departed for New York to take up a role with Apple’s new iTunes radio platform after 12 years, elevating Mac, who cut her teeth as a former broadcast assistant on his show, to the hot seat.
Lowe went on his way with tributes from Ed Sheeran, Arctic Monkeys, Foo Fighters and Coldplay among others, an indication of the debt which many of music’s biggest names owe to his patronage.
From The Smiths to Oasis, the slot has provided the launch-pad for guitar-toting bands with attitude for more than 30 years.
Mac knows she has some big boots to fill when she presents her first show: “Zane (above right) is one of the best music broadcasters in the world. I learnt so much from him,” she says.
“I started out on the Evening Session so I’ve come full circle, in a way. The main thing I’m going to bring to it is to just be me, which will automatically be different from Zane. I’m proud to be the first woman to do this slot solo.”
What Mac (36) already brings to the role is a passion for discovering cutting-edge electronic music with commercial appeal through her Friday night BBC Radio 1 dance show, launched in 2004, which was the first to give mainstream airtime to future chart-toppers such as Disclosure, Rudimental and Duke Dumont.
House music and its offshoots are now the lingua franca of global pop and Mac has joined the ranks of “Superstar DJs”, earning huge fees to play at international festivals.
She is also the proprietor of the Annie Mac Presents range of merchandise and compilation albums, and will address advertising industry executives at an event titled ‘What Brands Can Learn from Superstar DJs’ next week.
“It’s the first time as a DJ that I’ve felt I’ve been at the start of something that has become a mainstream movement. Radio 1 is an incredible platform and you find yourself in a position where people want to come and see you DJ.
“I never thought: ‘I’m going to have merchandise and be a businesswoman’. But I have my own festival in Malta next month and I’m kind of running a business. I’m very much a music curator, that’s what the brand is.”
Her entire year to December is planned out with gigs, including a US headline tour next month.
Born Annie MacManus, the Irish DJ grew up in Dundrum and attended Wesley College.
But she caught the DJ-ing bug as an English literature student at Queen’s University, Belfast, where she bought her first set of decks and taught herself to mix, using old funk and soul records acquired from charity shops.
She followed her rock singer brother to Camden where she became an “indie girl”, recording bands for her own student radio show and getting her first DJ gig at the rowdy Underworld club.
“The Saturday night crowd was indie kids, punk rockers and ravers. It was a really good education as a DJ, keeping them all on the dancefloor.”
She will not tilt the BBC evening show towards a purely dance sound.
“I love big rock bands and indie music, so it’s really exciting to be going back to playing that stuff.”
Mac says her mission on the show is to “represent the landscape of new music honestly”. If that means playing older artists such as Madonna (recently banished from Radio 1’s playlist), so be it.
“I’m a lifelong Madonna fan and I played her on my Friday show. She was produced by Diplo, who is one of the biggest artists on my show. If I’m excited by a song, then I think it’s going to be all right to play it.”
Mac’s partner is the producer and DJ Toddla T, with whom she has a toddler. These days the couple take it in turns to go out raving.
“He’s super-supportive. It helps that he does what I do. He knows what it takes to go DJing in Manchester and come home at 6am. We still don’t know how childcare will work with the new show, we’re going to experiment and see how it works.”
Lowe’s audience can expect a presenter who will “take risks”.
“My deepest passion is those late-night, exciting shows you used to listen to under the bedcovers,” she says, invoking the spirit of John Peel. “Our job is to discover incredible bands and give listeners amazing epiphanies – and to open the door to Radio 1’s great late-night shows after me.”
Mac has been presented with research data about her new listeners.
“I’ve seen the graphs, but you only get a real feel for it when you’re on air. I know the mood of a Friday night high-energy dance party show, but what does a Tuesday night sound like? I’m really looking forward to getting to know the audience.”
With that she leaves to rifle through her record collection for that killer opening track.
“It will be something joyful, forward thinking and forward looking,” Mac promises.