Radio Search Engine, “a new way to interact with radio”

Friday, 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.

USA TouchPoints survey indicates AM/FM’s time-spent

Thursday, October 3, 2013 - 1:05pm

Inside Radio reported new diary-based research indicating that AM/FM radio occupies at least two-thirds of audio minutes heard across generational divides. The study is branded by USA TouchPoints, a metered-behavior service launched in 2011 under the wing of the Media Behavior Institute (MBI).

The USA TouchPoints study could be framed as a counterpoint to the recently released Edison Research package, “The New MainStream.” The Edison survey focused on reach, revealing a data set in which 53 percent of online Americans listen to Internet radio to some extent. The USA TouchPoints focus is time spent, making two main assertions. First, that AM/FM represents about two-thirds of consumed audio minutes, while “Music Streaming Service” receives five to six percent of listening minutes. Second, that AM/FM occupies 23 percent of user engagement with all measured mediums. (The Internet as a whole got 18 percent, and television 57 percent.)

USA TouchPoints owns, or owned, mobile diary software derived in 2010 from the IPA TouchPoint study in the U.K. The measuring mandate extends beyond radio to the media landscape generally, intending to track consumer engagement with TV, radio, Internet, magazines and newspapers. USA TouchPoint’s original user panel was sized at 1,000 testers, each using an iPhone diary app. User effort was considerable, requiring each panelist to track location, social setting, and life activity along with specific media consumption, an average of 15 times a day for at least seven days, according to this documentation.

NOTE: According to the Media Behavior Institute’s website, the MBI discontinued operation in July of this year, with USA TouchPoints to follow. A brief notice states: “Unfortunately, the Media Behavior Institute will cease operations on July 31, 2013. Despite a growing client list, industry adoption of USA TouchPoints has not been sufficient and as a result, plans are underway to wind down the company.” Phone queries from RAIN have not been returned.


The key findings of this study comport pretty closely with what others have found — e.g., the split of consumers' music/audio listening time is about 80% radio (all forms) and 20% personal music collections, TV gets about twice as much usage as radio, and so forth.

Internet radio's share of total radio listening in this study seems to be 7.5% — i.e, 6% of radio's 80% of audio usage. This seems a bit lower than other studies suggest — especially among younger demos — which could be for one of two reasons:

(1) The iPhone-based diary was apparently hierarchical: When reporting what one was doing at the moment, it seems that first one had to pick "Radio" or "Internet Entertainment," then one picked either a radio format (e.g., country) or an streaming provider. It's possible that young people who consider Pandora, for example, to be "radio" would have gone down the former path, and if so their listening could have been counted in the wrong bucket.

(2) In both today's "Inside Radio" story and the firm's 22-page PDF that describes its methodology, we couldn't find the date the study was conducted. If the survey tracking was conducted more than a year ago, then the numbers would seem to be about right. --KH

Proposed bill would establish performance right for radio, not mandate royalties per se

Monday, July 29, 2013 - 1:10pm

Rep. Mel Watt's (N.C.-D) proposed bill, on which we reported here, will actually simply "recognize a performance right" for the use of recordings on AM/FM radio, The Hill reports. The bill itself will not actually require broadcasters to pay royalties, as we had initially reported.

"While an older version of Watt's bill from 2009 made it mandatory for traditional AM/FM radio stations to pay royalties to musicians for the songs that they air, the lawmaker told The Hill that the new bill won’t go that far. The new version of the bill will simply establish that musicians have public performance rights to their work," The Hill wrote.

Watt hopes the measure will lead broadcasters and copyright owners to privately-negotiated deals in the market for the use of recorded music.

Radio broadcasters "would have to sit down with artists and either work out a regime on their own or be subject to litigation about the value of what they're playing," Watt said.

Read coverage in The Hill here.


Radio's strength can be "the human effort," Lefsetz says, which data-driven services haven't matched

Monday, June 24, 2013 - 3:50pm

Music and media critic Bob Lefsetz, as of April, has brought his inimitable style to Variety. Today in his column he harpoons broadcast radio as "Luddites (who) still believe the Internet didn’t happen."

He says the rest of the media world has at least acknowledged that we no longer live in a "monoculture" (for example, look how many television channels there are). And part of the problem, Lefsetz says, is that too many in radio believe that when Internet connections are widely-available, reliable, and easy and convenient-to-use, radio's a goner anyway.

"Insiders believe that there’s no revolution in terrestrial radio because the owners know it’s headed into the dumper," he writes in Variety. "They’re just milking it for all they can before it falls off a cliff."

While he accepts that Internet in every car is coming (and that's when SiriusXM may also be in trouble), he points out an Achilles Heel of online music services: their lack of human curation that is really the best driver of music discovery for consumers. Perhaps it's radio's lifeline.

"The challenge of Spotify/Rdio/etc. is... to tell their subscribers what to listen to. That’s what traditional radio has done best... curation is all about human effort, not algorithms," Lefsetz wrote.

Read his Variety column here.

Michael Robertson's new UberStations finds other live music or talk based on what you're listening to now

Thursday, June 20, 2013 - 11:55am

With the intent of giving listeners an easier and more efficient way to navigate the sea of AM/FM content available online, Michael Robertson today officially launched

It's designed as a "one-stop" for listeners to quickly scan currently airing content from thousands of AM and FM radio stations, find the talk or music content they want via built-in recommendation, and remain within a single "uniform browser/player experience." It's similar in a way -- with some fundamental differences and new twists -- to "aggregation" or "tuning" services like TuneIn. 

That recommendation engine feature is particularly interesting. When you find a station playing a song you like, you can click "more choices" to find other stations across the country currently playing songs and artists similar to your original choice. And it works the same way with talk content. (And it looks like it could soon work with Internet stations too -- we found AOL: Daft Punk Radio, but couldn't get it to play.)

The aforementioned TuneIn, by the way, has just begun an "events focused" initiative in which stations can promote special one-time events like in-studio performances, celebrity interviews, and contests. Listeners can even add these events to their personal calendars.

Michael Robertson is the entrepreneur who launched, MP3Tunes, and the "DVR for radio"

Read his press release on UberStations here. He's made a video introduction of the service here. Hypebot has coverage too, here.

Atom Factory CEO's vision for radio disruption is here: Internet radio in the car

Wednesday, May 1, 2013 - 12:50pm

Troy Carter is founder and chairman/CEO of entertainment management company Atom Factory -- he's Lady Gaga's manager. He says when he thinks of music industry segments ripe for some tech-driven disruption, he thinks of AM/FM radio. He spoke yesterday at this week's Disrupt NY 2013 conference.

When asked "what holes a technology start-up could fill" that would benefit working musicians, Carter said "Figuring out terrestrial radio, particularly in America."

"I think the opening right is figuring out terrestrial radio, that's the one space that Sirius could have done it with subscription radio, but you look at Clear Channel and CBS, it’s not what people want," he said. "People just get in a car and turn on a local station. It’s going to be interesting when you get in your car and you’re listening to a 17-year-old kid in Russia."

Which, to us, sounds a lot like Internet-delivered radio -- which can be delivered to your car today!

Reporting on Carter's remarks, TechCrunch suggests it's a company like Slacker as "the type of product that could play a role."

TechCrunch's coverage of Carter's remarks, with video, is here.

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