11/08/13: iHeartRadio doubles down on programming leadership

Brad Hill
November 8, 2013 - 11:50am

Clear Channel-owned iHeartRadio announced today that Chris Williams, former VP of Programming for Clear Channel Cincinnati, is joining the New York office as SVP of iHeartRadio programming.

According to the press release, Williams will work on some of iHeart’s most-publicized programming ventures, including the live events that are streamed digitally, such as album release parties and the iHeart Music Festival.

On-site programming has been enhanced recently with features such as iHeartRadio Talk, and a concierge-style playlisting section called “Perfect For.” (RAIN coverage here.)

Today’s announcement also discloses audience metrics. The service has 40-million registered users. Registration is not necessary to listen to iHeart stations, so the actual usage footprint is certainly higher. iHeart claims to have reached the 40-million milestone faster than any other digital service except Instagram.

Brad Hill
November 8, 2013 - 11:50am

Songkick, which identifies music tour stops by city, has joined Spotify’s app ecosystem. The concert tracking service can be accessed in Spotify’s desktop program.

Songkick hooks into the user’s Spotify music collection to recognize bands and artists of interest. It starts with that basic information to deliver immediate concerts and club dates in your home town. Everything is configurable; you can add cities and change your artist lineup. In the latter case, the app pulls you into Songkick proper makes you register there, so your Spotify settings don’t get altered by your Songkick preferences.

When Songkick suggests a concert, the information panel includes the venue name (obviously), a map, and a track list of the artist/band for instant listening. There is also a planning tool to keep your concert-going life organized.

We like this integration. It’s a perfect enhancement of Spotify’s native knowledge of your music taste. There are several other tour sites, but plugging that intelligence layer into your subscription music collection is an elegant convenience.

Brad Hill
November 8, 2013 - 11:50am

Serial entrepreneur Michael Robertson conceives of his latest project, Radio Search Engine, as a Google for real-time music searches on radio. RAIN tested the new site, still in beta development mode, and spoke with Robertson about what it is, how it works, and where it’s going.

Most of the development of Radio Search Engine appears to be technical, not cosmetic. The single-page website is unbranded, with rudimentary design. The site's main assets are under the hood.

The basic experience of Radio Search Engine is this: you type in a song, artist, show title, or music genre. The site displays a list of radio stations which, at that moment, are playing what you asked for. Click on one to hear it. Unlike a subscription music service like Spotify or Rhapsody, where you ask for a song and get a static file of the song that you can play, in Radio Search Engine you get a stream-in-progress from a webcast.

Does it work? Yes, and the site is great fun to play with. Its success as a discovery tool is based on an immense real-time database of songs and stations.

“It’s a tremendously big undertaking,” Robertson told RAIN. “Indexing the entire world of radio is not a trivial thing. The last time I checked, we had 200-million records of songs. We store what radio stations play over time, so we have a historical record. We use that record. If you search for a song that isn’t playing anywhere right now, you get a list of stations that recently played it, or that might play it in the future.”

We found that to be true, and crucial to the core experience of radio station discovery. During testing, we found several stations (FM and pureplay) that were new to us, and that we wanted to keep track of. Robertson himself told us that he keeps a Post-it note on his desk with a list of stations that he jotted down. He noted that a bookmarking feature might be in development.

The site encourages browsing as much as searching. If you ask for an artist, not a song, the search results contain a good deal of variety, and we found ourselves station-hopping. Each time you click a result, the entire result list reorganizes around your choice. You might notice that those sequential result lists widen like concentric circles around the original request, becoming more adventurous.

We asked Michael Robertson whether Radio Search Engine is built for music discovery, or station discovery.

“I can see both. For me, I think of it as a radio experience, but with a lot more user control. It’s what I call ‘near-demand.’ Not quite ‘on-demand’ -- we don’t have every song at your fingertips like Spotify. But you can get what you like. If you want to hear Genesis, you’ll probably find six or eight songs to choose from.”

Site testing bore that out, but the real value was discovering six or eight radio stations that we might want to return to. As a listening platform, Radio Search Engine is affected by the fact that you’re usually entering a radio webcast in mid-stream. When searching for a song, you might not hear the whole thing. But Robertson told us about technology under the hood which minimizes the partial-song issue.

“When you click on a song, I’m going to do my best to give you the beginning of the song. We do many interesting things behind the scenes. When you search for a popular song, like Katy Perry’s ‘Roar,’ Radio Search Engine gives you a whole page of ‘Roar’ songs [playing on radio stations at that moment]. What many people don’t realize is that we put the fresher ones at the top. But it gets trickier than that. When you click on one of the station results, the site might actually play the song on a different station because it’s fresher. The site checks all the stations every three-to-five seconds. With very popular songs, you can sometimes get five seconds of the DJ talking before the song starts.”

When using Radio Search Engine, it’s natural to compare it to TuneIn and iHeartRadio, which aggregate radio stations. Robertson characterized those services as directories, and compared his site to Google’s emergence as a real-time, long-tail search engine. His intent is to give people a new way of interacting with radio, and notes that “radio hasn’t really changed much.” We would point to HD Radio and satellite radio as significant branches from core radio technology, but we get his point.

For us, we’ll stick to the subscription music services for on-demand music playback. But we’ll continue using Radio Search Engine for its beguiling station discovery and the fun of digital-age dial surfing. We look forward to new features as they are added.

Brad Hill
November 8, 2013 - 11:50am

Many home-produced pureplays are inspired by a love of broadcast radio. Some, like yesterday’s The World of Blues (www.theworldofblues.com) and the recently spotlighted East Village Radio (www.eastvillageradio.com), emulate radio by presenting live hosts. Today’s pureplay is mostly playlist-driven, but is motivated by affection for what its site calls “FM radio’s free-form golden age.”

An 8,500-song playlist ensures that the stream won’t go stale if you listen for hours, and you might do so. Pear Radio (www.pearadio.com, and it is Pear, not Pea) crosses genre boundaries with its ear fixed resolutely on good music, not niche music. This morning we’ve heard electronic atmospherics (Thievery Corporation), middle-road rock (Coldplay), classics (The Beatles), venerable folk-rock (Bruce Cockburn), and a ravishing instrumental by Kevin Keller that we had never encountered.

In a word, variety. Good music discovery, too. This is an Internet station that spares you the trouble of surfing the dial, or your Spotify friend lists, to keep the day’s music fresh. We’re reminded of Radio Paradise (www.radioparadise.com), another POTD pick -- the same high level of curation expertise but with programming boundaries stretched a bit wider.

We could not find a pop-out player on the site, so you have to boot up a desktop player. But there is a dedicated iPhone/iPod app for easy headphone listening. Be sure to read the About page for station owner Dave Hill’s personable explanation of his project. Like most indie pureplays, Pear Radio is supported by listener donations.