Michael Robertson

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.

Stations report listeners getting more comfortable with "time-shifting" content

Friday, April 6, 2012 - 1:05pm

WEEI's on-demand content browserRadio listeners increasingly want to consume media on their own schedule. Inside Radio reports today on several radio stations that are offering on-demand, "time-shifted" content -- and finding success.

Entercom Boston sports station WEEI, for example, has seen a 20% growth in on-demand audio consumption compared to last year. The station generates an average of 450,000 on-demand audio plays per month and around 550,000 podcast downloads.

Meanwhile, podcasts of the "Preston & Steve" morning show on Greater Media's WMMR in Philadelphia are downloaded more than 500,000 times per month. PD Bill Weston tells Inside Radio that over half of the downloads aren't by regular subscribers. "There are a lot of people that are getting it piecemeal, they go on and find it and pull it in because they missed a day," he said.

And just yesterday ESPN Radio announced its website had seen its "best month" yet in March, with on-demand listening to through the ESPN Audio NOW Player up 511% over March 2011 (RAIN coverage here).

All this time-shifted listening will increase radio consumption overall, argues enterpeneur Michael Roberston. His DAR.fm service acts like a TiVo for radio programs (RAIN coverage here). And he tells Inside Radio the service now has 50,000 active users. But to see the increase in consumption, "radio measurement has to change, just like TV measurement has," Robertson said. 

Roberston will be a panelist at the upcoming RAIN Summit West 2012 conference in Las Vegas. He'll speak on the topic of "The Streaming Music Landscape," alongside Brendan Benzing of Rhapsody, Paul Campbell of Amazing Radio, Jamie Purpora of TuneCore and moderator Ted Cohen of TAG Strategic. Find out more here

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Roberston discusses DAR.fm's progress with CNet

Friday, March 30, 2012 - 12:15pm

DAR.fmIt's been over a year since enterpeneur Michael Roberston introduced DAR.fm to the world. The service aims to be like a TiVo for radio: it can record specific radio programs for on-demand listening later.

Since the service's debut in February 2011 (RAIN coverage here; VentureBeat coverage here), DAR.fm "has expanded the number of stations it offers listeners access to from 100 to 5,000," writes CNet. The service now offers more than 20,000 radio shows and can stream or download any of them to mobile devices, set-top boxes or PCs.

CNet can't help but ask, "can he [Robertson] do it without getting sued?"

Robertson's answer: "I think so. I've talked to some insiders and they get it. I can help them get their shows on new hardware: smartphones, PCs, and set-top boxes... DVRs have helped TVs. TV viewing has gone up 40% and radio's market share has fallen... they'll realize that it gives their listeners what they want, which is the ability to listen when and where they want."

You can find CNet's article here.

Michael Robertson will be a panelist at this year's RAIN Summit West in Las Vegas discussing "The Streaming Music Landscape." He'll be joined by Rhapsody's Brendan Benzing, Amazing Radio's Paul Campbell, TuneCore's Jamie Purpora and moderator Ted Cohen of TAG Strategic. You can find out more about the Summit here.

Univision demands its stations be removed from Robertson's DAR.fm

Thursday, October 6, 2011 - 12:00pm

DAR.fmUnivision has sent a cease and desist letter to Michael Robertson's DAR.fm -- a website that lets users record radio programs, much like a TiVo.

“We don’t believe people recording broadcasts is a copyright infringement," Roberston responded. "It is not rebroadcasting just like your VCR is not rebroadcasting. It is personal recording.”

Univision's lawyers disagree, pointing out that DAR.fm lets users download shows to their mobile devices (RAIN coverage here). "[DAR.fm] is essentially opening the door for users to engage in copyright infringement, since unlimited copies can be made from downloaded MP3 files and then distributed to others."

Univision is reportedly demanding that its radio stations be removed from DAR.fm. TechCrunch has more coverage here.

Guest essay by Michael Robertson: "The Smart Phone Killed the Car Radio"

Friday, September 30, 2011 - 11:00pm

Today RAIN brings you a guest essay from respected entrepreneur Michael Robertson. He founded MP3.com, in 2005 launched MP3tunes and most recently built DAR.fm -- a TiVo-like device for recording radio programs online.

Michael RobertsonIn 1997 I drove a beat up Honda up to LA to meet with the major record labels. I wanted to show them the PC would become the center of people's music life thanks to the new found capabilities MP3 brought. Music fans could warehouse massive music libraries, organize their music, make custom playlists, burn CDs and share that music experience with others. Those I met with scoffed at the notion that the home stereo would be replaced by the PC remarking that "most PCs don't even have speakers!" The major labels could only see the computer as a word-processor. But, I knew that the PC would displace the home stereo and become the music hub.

I have the same feeling today about the car radio getting stream rolled by the smart phone. Today's smart phone has a virtually unlimited audio catalog thanks to the net. Much of the content is interactive (meaning users can rewind, fast forward and skip ahead 30 sec). Many in the radio industry scoff at the notion of the phone replacing the ubiquitous AM/FM car radio. They say that users don't want/need a big library of programming - just the morning DJ / sports talker / political commentator that happens to be offered in their town. If that were true, why wouldn't listeners want those same shows in the afternoon for their drive home? The radio industry sees the ability to rewind/fast forward as unnecessary. They think that radio fans are passive robots who are content to just sit and listen. But, every indication I see in magazines, on TV, Twitter, blogs, etc. tells me that users want control.

DAR.fm now allows everyone to record AM/FM radio and have it automatically downloaded to any smart phone or tablet. I've put together some videos which show how to automatically sync radio shows to an iPad, iPhone, Android, or a PC to use with other mobile devices. (iPad/iPhone users click here) Whenever I jump into my car or travel, my phone already has a few episodes of my favorite radio shows ready for me to listen to. This YouTube video shows how I mount my smart phone and plug it into my car's stereo system.

My smart phone has already made my car radio obsolete because I rarely listen to broadcast radio. I'm not alone. More than half of adults 18-24 have used a portable MP3 player or phone for audio in their car. 41% are interested in rewinding, fast forward and pause (and I think the rest don't even know it's now possible and they'll want it to once they experience it). Radio purists dismiss smart phones as a threat to the AM/FM radio, but there was a day when every house had a home stereo too.

-- MR (originally posted at michaelrobertson)

DAR.FM NOW SENDS RADIO RECORDINGS TO APPLE, ANDROID, BLACKBERRY DEVICES

Friday, September 16, 2011 - 12:00pm

DVR-like radio recording web DAR.fmservice DAR.fm (from entrepeneur Michael Robertson) now offers users the ability to download their recorded shows to their Apple, Android or BlackBerry mobile devices.

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