I’ve been meaning to write something for quite a while about radio services in an age of connected devices and multiple music services. But news of Apple being awarded a patent to enable “seamlessly switching media playback between a media broadcast, such as a radio broadcast, and media from a local media library” and the subsequent Media UK discussion finally got me to start writing.
I’ve been a radio fan for most of my life but lately my love affair with the medium has turned into a marriage where we don’t speak much anymore. So much radio seems to be back-to-back music (which my phone does better, thank you) or back-to-back Big Brother chat (or back-to-back songs with Big Brother chat breaking them up) that I normally work with iTunes running. I listen at breakfast for an hour or so and that’s about it. Perhaps that’s fine with the industry, I would hope not.
I read, occasionally, an argument from radio people that the only way to compete with music services – such as Spotify or Pandora, or personal libraries like iTunes – is with the bits between the songs (the entertainment that I don’t store on my iPod). That seems a reasonable position. So, I’ve been wondering what would happen if there was a ‘mashup’ between radio (for the entertainment bits) and my music player (for the songs I really like)? The technology can support it, Apple’s patent just reminded me about it.
Simply put, my radio station would allow me to set preferences allowing me to opt-in to news (say, every hour); to add local travel news every 20 minutes (between 0700 & 0900 if there was something to report); to add sport (every 2 hours except during the Olympics when I’d change it to more often) and to add celebrity news (once per month). The rest of the time music is coming from my local music library of tunes I want (sometimes I select individual tracks or albums; sometimes I pop it onto random). The content is downloaded in the background and inserted between the songs I’m hearing. Of course I could opt-in to a bunch of other things if I wanted to (one new music track every 90 minutes; breaking F1-news as it happens; interviews with artists in my library or a ten-minute blast of a phone-in). All of these things could be surrounded by an ad break or sponsors (as they are today) but the station pays no music royalties, bandwidth costs are limited to only updating content and if the connection is down the music keeps coming.
Take it a stage further and my news comes from LBC; travel news direct from Transport for London, sport from Sky and, perhaps, a film review from 5Live. If the content is what I want, I’d choose it and hear supporting commercials (or promos, if it’s the BBC). I don’t need a presenter telling me what I just heard, my phone shows that to me quite happily so the entertainment is more than being successfully able to ‘hit the vocals’ with station name-check.
I don’t see that it would be hard for Spotify or Pandora to add these services in now (perhaps they already are and I’ve missed them) but experience with this kind of content is certainly at radio stations today (and, if we’re honest, RDS has been allowing it for years if you’re in a car and listening to your own music).
Of course, radio’s real advantage is that there’s no effort involved to turn it on and start listening; this would be an effort to set-up and configure. If I wanted live presentation then I’d still switch to radio services but, this way, I get news & entertainment on a schedule I want and it really would be a station playing today’s best music mix (just for me).