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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Wk17: Why We Pirate – the big debate

Here is the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time.

Is this really what the piracy debate has come down to?

This is a complicated issue. And first we need to define some terms.

This is not a piracy fight. It’s a debate.

And the term “Piracy” is a bad one. Because it suggest people who download illegally are “pirates”.

For me, the term “pirate” suggests someone who profits from illegal downloading. And a big, big, big majority of people who download illegally do not make money from it. They just enjoy the content.

We don’t pirate because we want to go out of our way to screw musicians, actors, directors, screenwriters etc. If anything, we pirate because we don’t want to get screwed ourselves.

So, why do we pirate?

Here’s what I can think of.

We don’t want to wait
We don’t want to over pay
We don’t want to run around to a shop
We don’t want to search through a shop
We can’t get what we want
We don’t want a physical copy
We don’t want to pay at all

If you can defeat all those points above, you will end digital piracy.

It’s that simple.

But sometimes it isn’t.

Why must we wait?

It is worse for TV. Boardwalk Empire premieres in Australia six months after the US. Why do they make us wait for it?

Even a week is too much. The latest episode of Doctor Who had a big twist in the first ten minutes. They kept it secret till the UK broadcast, but it’s a week before the AU one. And if you wanted to keep the surprise, you would have to literally stay off the internet.

I have Doctor Who as one of my likes, and one of my news feeds. I am a fan. And as soon as I logged onto my Twitter, my Google and my Facebook, I saw the twist. Luckily, I downloaded and enjoyed the episode already.

I didn’t do this in the UK. I didn’t watch it on TV their either, but the second after the episode finishes, it is available to watch, free and on demand, on BBC’s iPlayer. I would say that there is no downloading of Doctor Who in the UK at all. Simple none.

Why must we over-pay?

Books are full price in digital, and it’s cheaper to buy them in shops mostly. DVDs can fall into this trap – big movies selling for £3 in the UK, but £15 on iTunes.

And that’s digital vs. digital. Paying $30 for an album for one track? Please. Who wants to do that? Then if you have advanced tastes, there’s the imports game. We’re talking too much money – and we know you are ripping us off.

Why must we go to a shop?

Video stores and CD shops are going if not gone. The video above suggests we should buy DVDs because they are better. How do I even do that? How do most people do that?

And why get a DVD and sit through trailers and crap? The video above suggests that downloading is dodgy and takes a long time. That has not been my experience at all. It’s easy, fast and reliable. Why can’t film companies be like that?

Especially as you still screw me with region codes!

Why must we dig through a shop?

What stores that are left are badly stocked. Where the internet is an infinite shelf.

Even if you live near a store. Even if you live IN a store. Will that store have everything you want?

Why can’t we get what we want?

Why the fuck is Nashville not available on DVD here? Why did I have to search high and low for Sweet Inspiration, the Songs of Dan Penn and Spooner Oldman on CD? All those sweet Criterion DVDs….unavailable.

How can I get them then? Well, why they are right here online. At my fingertips.

And let’s go beyond official releases. The internet has such great live sessions, bootlegs and more. I want to hear it – why can’t I?

And then there’s TV. Why can’t I watch the Daily Show? Because of some archaic contract and red tape?

Why must we own physical copies?

I have thousands of good CDs on crap jewelcases. I have ripped them, and thrown away the cases, keeping the discs and booklets, for a lot of them. You want me to go buy some more jewel cases now?

I watch and listen to far more now than my house can fit. We have seen how much stuff is out there (thanks internet). You expect every home to own every CD and DVD? Insane.

Why must we pay at all?

This is the tricky one.

I think most people would like it if the people who created the things they’ve enjoyed gets paid for it.

But we don’t necessarily want to be the ones who pay them.

But there are ways of hiding that cost. Advertising. Subscriptions.

There’s no easy answer to this one, but think of it from another angle.

Can we really go back to a model where we pay for everything individually? We are just into too much music and TV these days.

My 8 points for why we pirate. We need a solution that covers them, and piracy would end. A global BBC iplayer. With every show ever. As soon as they are released. Ad supported perhaps? Or subscriptions.

The solution is not that impossible. We can almost see it. Let’s go for it.

Or else the world will just keep on downloading anyway.

UPDATE – James rightly points out that another reason to pirate is so you don’t put up with that stupid trailer to not pirate just to watch a DVD you bought.

I have to say, this expands out into another reason it is not easy. Stupid trailers and ads are coming into DVDs. Stupid menus I never liked. And then just the fact the DVDs might be a box downstairs. Sure, I can go get it, pop it in the DVD player, wait for it to load, play me an anti-piracy ad, navigate the menu and make it to my show.

Or I wish I could have subscribed to something where I can just type in a name and click it and play.

That video above is so bad. And it misses the point completely. And the point is this.

Piracy is easy.

And we like easy.

If there was something easier than piracy, we would take it.

But it’s not as hard as that exageratted nerd in the video. And it’s about the content. I’ve watched downloaded TV shows with my friends in a living room and enjoyed it as much as a DVD.

People often ask – how do you compete with free?

The answer is you’re not.

You’re competing with easy.

Slashfilm podcast about the PSA video – http://www.slashfilm.com/filmcast-dark-ep-143-antipiracy-psas-tragedy-commons-guest-scott-mendelson-mendelsons-memos/

30 for 30: Podcasts

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.

5. PODCASTS

Fresh Air's Terry Gross, hosting the show in 1987. Still the greatest interviewer we've ever had.

Something different for this entry.

Podcasts are awesome. They have been a big part of my life for the last 5 years. Every week, I spend hours listening to podcasts – which is more time than I spend on eating probably.

So it’s odd how little we talk about podcasts.

I’ve learnt so much about the world from them. They are such a rich source of interviews, entertainment, education, comedy – everything. All the things I loved about community radio and talk radio has now become podcasts. By subscribing to dozens of them, I have my own custom radio station, with just shows I like.

And it still seems like a secret world. It seems like most people I know don’t follow podcasts.

There’s also no discussion on great podcasts. Ones that help define the medium. I guess because it comes from all places – slick professional radio stations to one guy rambling into a macbook. Still, there is no critical council for podcasts – no reviews, no Oscars, etc.

It’s also hard to say what is best as there are just so many podcasts. It’s an utterly fragmented world.

So with that said, here are some podcasts I love. And some reasons why.

(Namesource/topics covered/format/frequency)

Fresh Airpublic radio/general interest/interviews/daily
websiteiTunes

This the place to start with podcasts.

Running since 1975, it’s one of the most highly regarded shows in public broadcasting in the US. Hosted by Terry Gross, it covers the gamut of life – from presidential candidates to obscure singer songwriters. Soldiers, actors, scientists, historians – they are all here, completely engaging. Gross is probably the best interviewer in the world – she has a casual air that draws in the listening and disarms her guests.

I have lived with Fresh Air for about 5 years and it’s the perfect daily podcast. Mainly because I can skip past the repeat shows and the topics that don’t interest me. But In any given week, there are 3 if not more shows I want to hear.

Sometimes I think Gross knows everything in the world ever. She can quote Vic Chesnutt lyrics in front of Michael Stipe and she can explain the global financial situation.

Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Mepublic radio/news/game show/weekly
websiteiTunes

The best produced podcasts on the web. It’s a game show about the week’s news, with a panel of always funny contestants, hosted by Peter Sagal (and sidekick Carl Kasell).

There’s no shortage of superstars walking through either – from ZZ Top to George Stephanopoulos to Leonard Nimoy. Once you get to know the format and the hosts, the show is hugely rewarding.

This is the first podcast I listen to on a Monday. It starts the week in a good way – informed and amused. Who else does one deal with life?

Sunday Night Safranpublic radio/religon, ethnicity/talk/weekly
websiteiTunes

There is no one else like John Safran. Shameless, fearless and tactless, he tackles the toughest subjects in modern life – religion and race. And he tears it apart, laughing the whole time.

Safran is joined by Father Bob, the 75 year old Priest who is a personality all of his own. Together they tackle the spiritial and racial threads in a variety of topics. Be it an art exhibition about a minority in Australia to interviewing Richard Dawkins.

I’m making it sound more serious than it is. It does make you think though, as Safran and Bob take things apart very cleverly (if they aren’t fighting).

It’s one of the few podcasts I follow from Australia, as most of the ones I loved has now stopped (top of the pile was Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope).

The Onion News Networkoriginal content/humour/news parody/daily
websiteiTunes (audio)iTunes (video)

The Onion has been lampooning news since 1988. Their service offers two podcasts – audio news and video news.

Audio news sounds like a radio station news break. Short and sharp – the stories are usually under a minute (and always hosted by the awesome Doyle Redman). Some headlines include ‘God Cites Mysterious Ways As Motive For Killing’. It’s definitely out there.

The real treasure though, is the video stuff. Made like a 24 hour news network would look, with it’s own branded shows, the Onion News Network is some of the funniest things you’ll ever see.

Some of my all time faves

‘Iron Man 2’ Buzz Heats Up Over Rumors Gwyneth Paltrow Gets Punched In Face

Apple Introduces Revolutionary New Laptop With No Keyboard

Google Opt Out Feature Lets Users Protect Privacy By Moving To Remote Village

Those are a few of many, many excellent videos. The Onion Sports Network is a spot on parody of ESPN, to the point where it’s been comissioned for a weekly TV show. I also love Today Now!, the morning magazine program. But really I love it all.

So the point is this. Some of the best comedy virals from the last decade have come from a podcast! Why aren’t we talking about it?

Popdoseoriginal content/pop music and culture/talk/monthly
websiteiTunes

One of my favourite blogs is popdose.com. A few months ago they started a podcast – three of the writers sit around and discuss music, life, and make terrible jokes.

This could be the best and worse of what podcasts have to offer. The three guys – Jason Hare, Dave Lifton, Jeff Giles – are pretty average pop music nerds. But that’s what makes it so great. It’s like talking to people who share your interests. I have never, ever, had a conversation about how much I think John Mayer or Daryl Hall are assholes. But I feel like I have with these guys.

It’s amateurish, but charming. Great stings. This is what homemade podcasting can be. I have big plans to ape this format.

Mark Kermode & Simon Mayo Film Reviewsradio/film/talk/weekly
websiteiTunes

This is the opposite of popdose. This is a proper BBC radio show – probably THE BBC film show. Simon Mayo is the best interviewer Britain has to offer. Mark Kermode is a fantastic film head too. Together they make quite a team.

The show goes out on a Friday afternoon. But I don’t have to worry about that. For the last year or so, it’s been my Saturday morning listening. I don’t even have to get up at the same time each week to catch it. It’s just there. I don’t miss a second of it.

Even if you’re a casual film fan, you must download this.

Coffee Break Frenchoriginal content/language/educational/monthly
websiteiTunes

I’ve spent the last few years trying to get my French up to a conversational level. I take classes here, read books and of course, any excuse to visit France itslf is taken.

But part of it is Coffee Break French, the best of several French podcasts out there.

The advantage of the podcast is I can follow the lessons at my own pace. I can relisten at my leisure. There’s 80 lessons up there now, and I just make my way through them. It has helped me a lot. Just don’t ask me any questions in French.

Sound Opinionspublic radio/music/talk/weekly
websiteiTunes

“The world’s only rock ‘n’ roll talk show.”

That’s how they bill themselves and I have to agree. Made out of Chicago, and hosted by esteemed music critics Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot, Sound Opinions is the one must-have music show in the podcast world.

It skewers to the critics world – new indie, and old Mojo mag stuff – but they will dig out big names, modern heroes and underground treasures – often in the same show. Mixed with music news, desert island discs, live performances, new album reviews, classic album dissections – there is nothing else like it for music buffs.

There are dozens, if not hundreds more. This American Life. A Prairie Home Companion. Comic book ones. Doctor Who ones. The famous Ricky Gervais one. The almost as famous Stephen Fry one. The legendary BBC Desert Island Discs. And dozens of other music ones. Lots of great cooking ones.

Anything and everything under the sun.

So – let’s start a conversation about podcasts. What do you listen to? What do you like about them? What doesn’t work?

I’d love to know. Because I think podcasts are cool. And it’s time I started telling people.