Wk22: Radio, Radio – The TuneIn App and International Broadcasting

The golden age of radio?

In any given era, there’s always a certain type of music freak that knows about what’s going on in radio somewhere beyond their hometown. Be it the wonders of John Peel, or Morning Becomes Eclectic on KCRW – word of great shows gets around. As people talking of the death of traditional radio, it has actually never been a better time for a show to cut through. Because you can cut through worldwide.

There’s a really, really wonderful app on iOS called TuneIn Radio. Like all great Apps, it’s built upon a simple heart. All the radio streams around the world, grouped together. OK, so not all, but many – and all the big ones.

One of the great pleasures of radio is turning the dial and hearing what’s on. For many years now, most radio stations have supplied live streams. But that dial-surfing has been missing. You had to be on the BBC site, and use their own pop in player. Switching to NPR means another pop-up player. Or another for another station. The content was there, the delivery was messy.

Some places tried to bring it together with varying levels of success. But TuneIn Radio have really nailed it, and brings it all into the simplicity of an iOS App. No mucking around with settings and a cursor. Just jab your fat finger on the BBC6 Music logo and play that station.

Radio streaming always seemed like an easy win, but there are all sorts of challenges and problems. On a technical level – there is no universal streaming format. On a commercial level – stations prefer their own branded players. On a legal level – there are new fees and new laws regarding international radio broadcasting.

But now that it’s (mainly) here, there is still plenty to do. Song tagging for example. Some streams have metadata and song info. But some don’t – and Shazam already exists. Links to band’s websites. Buy links. Album artwork. The ability to see what’s on another station without switching. And some stations have webcams that can’t be accessed in the app – but that’s a whole new can of worms.

TuneIn already does some great stuff (the fast forwarding and rewinding is a breeze). It also has plenty of recent programs to listen to. What is really lovely is the TuneIn Radio alarm clock.

It’s really a great app, and it’s cheap too.

TuneIn Radio boasts over 50,000 stations. But is there room for 50,000 stations in the future?

There is one train of thought on the future of newspapers. That there will, ultimately, be a handful of recognised international papers online. A series of regional or national ones. And local community blogs. But it will be a pyramid, with a handful of big powerful papers servicing the whole world (like, for example, the Huffington Post).

Is this a possible future for radio as well? Why would Arcade Fire do dozens, if not hundreds of radio interviews, when they can do 3? If everyone’s tuning in from similar aggregated radio services, why does it matter if you get played on hundreds of stations?

Radio is a big challenge for bands. And one of the classic ways to break up a young band is to put them on a long slog of radio promo. Crossing big countries like the US, and shaking hands with dozens of DJs and station programmers in the hopes you get radio play. Those dozens of stations translates to many thousand listeners.

But if all those listeners can access the same international stations, then they are accessing the same radio sessions by this one band. And if there was just one of those radio stations – well, hundreds of thousands of listeners can still hear it.

What will the role of regionality play in the future? Sure, a classic rock station in Sydney and Melbourne will cancel eachother out. But what about one from America? Creedence and Led Zep get played on both, but the Australian stations also play Australian content. Will that be lost?

In many countries, the battle against the soft power of the US and UK is a big fight. Australia has laws in terms of mandatory Australian content to be broadcast. Canada has CanCon. But I can now access stations in Australia that play no Australian content at all – online. And stations with bigger audiences and hence bigger budgets, better exclusives and higher quality content.

Or will it go the other way? Will big international stations open up to a more international audience? I doubt it – Huffington Post is still makes no concession to it’s large international audience. What does it mean for big fish in small ponds? Perhaps they will need to get even more regional to survive.

Or perhaps that regional content will come from elsewhere. TuneIn Radio has limited support for Podcasts, but I don’t think podcasts have really reached full power yet.

They’ve been around almost a decade, and many people I talk to follow a couple at least – if only shows from existing radio. But there are ones not tied to radio stations, mainly tied to sites, that is guerrilla broadcasting. They are the blogs to online newspapers. And they have all the potential that implies.

Lately I have been loving the Slashfilm podcast (called Slashfilmcast). Not tied to a station, it streams every Sunday night regardless. It’s a film review show, as good as any I’ve heard on an actual radio show. It is focussed on film geeks and genre stuff. It is a huge audience, but no big station has a film show that can explore such niche as the new photo of Bane.

It gets easier to make podcasts every day, and the delivery method is pretty sound. And at it’s best, it can make some “proper” radio programming redundant. But more often, it offers something equally compelling but would never be played on radio.

Podcasts have issues with playing music, but if we can get that resolved, it opens another door. Niche programming for actual audio content. Live sessions of bands that can’t get on radio. As station playlists get narrower, podcasts could be a fertile ground for madness to grow.

But radio and podcasts have yet another fight on their hands coming up.

Spotify (and similar programs) should be a one stop shop for all your audio needs. Sure it has gaps, but that is the aim. Cloud services, like the new one from Amazon, streams your music. But what about programming?

Can Spotify and TuneIn Radio exist side by side? Or should they merge? Forget flicking between stations. Should I be flicking between my collection and radio stations? And add podcasts in there. It is silly that Spotify doesn’t support podcasts as it is.

Or will Spotify kill radio altogether? It’s not impossible.

Everyone is talking about streaming, and mainly streaming your own music back at you. But if we can merge it with radio, all new possibilities exist. Like a song you hear on the radio? Why not go straight into listening to the whole album at a click? Like an album? See what radio live versions there are.

Possibilities abound.

I love radio. I think as a format, it’s even more relevant today than ever. Be it over the air, streamed or on podcasts, it has a place. TuneIn Radio has simplified it and put international radio access easier. It’s a great app.

But there is still a way to go, and a discussion on where radio will sit in our digital lives.

TuneIn Radio – http://itunes.apple.com/au/app/tunein-radio-pro/id319295332?mt=8

The Slashfilmcast – http://www.slashfilm.com/category/features/slashfilmcast/

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