Occupy Radio: The First Demand
October 21, 2011
I spent all day Thursday at one of those talk radio convention-type things. As always, I spent most of it gradually losing consciousness, because, after 25 years of talk radio convention-type things, I've heard all that before. By lunchtime, the parade of same-old-things had me fantasizing about creating a one-man protest, my own Occupy Radio. No tent cities for me, though; I'm not protesting unless there's air conditioning, Wi-FI, and indoor plumbing. I'm not sure where I'd have to set this up, either. Talk radio isn't a place. And if I have to do it at talk radio convention-type things, well, I already do that.
So I just stood there leaning against the wall thinking about my list of demands when I thought about one demand I'd make, about something that's been annoying me lately. I've been using smart phones to listen to Internet audio since smartphones have been in existence. (Really. I was using the early Treos for that. I even discussed it in one of the earliest editions of this column, many years ago) Back in the early days, streaming audio on your phone was something more suitable for hobbyists than for the general public. You had to find the stream, install the right player, adjust the configuration, and figure out how to make everything work together. It didn't always work. And it was clear that the general consumer market was never going to go through all of that just to listen to a radio station.
And then the iPhone came along, and Android, and apps. Suddenly, streaming Internet radio through your phone became simple, a matter of clicking on an icon and selecting your station. Cell phone streaming had become a mass-market thing. But there is one problem with the way it works: the radio industry is making it really hard to find what you want.
That seems counterintuitive, but as it stands right now, you can't just download one app that offers all available stations. Consumers can use iHeartRadio, or Radio.com, or RadioPup (what?!?), but that requires the listeners to know which app is appropriate for which station. For example, if you want to listen to KFI and then maybe check out KROQ, you need to go from iHeartRadio to Radio.com. Who among the general public knows that? Why should they need to know that KFI is a Clear Channel station, ergo an iHeartRadio selection, while KROQ is a CBS-owned station and therefore is on Radio.com? There are unified "tuner" apps out there, but many of the stations are blocked from them -- you get a "This Station is Unavailable" message when you happen upon one of them. I understand why a station owner would want to keep listeners in their walled garden of an app (and away from the competitors' stations and app), but all this does is confuse and turn off listeners.
This opens the door for competitors. If you aren't giving people an everything-in-one-convenient-place option, you're inviting them to exit your app to find what they want. And when they do that, it's just as easy to select Pandora, or Slacker, or Stitcher as it is to pick yet another radio app. The radio industry still wants FM tuners in smartphones, but streaming is how people with smartphones listen to radio, and the current state of radio apps makes that confusing and annoying for consumers. That might be radio groups' strategy -- creating their own Pandora, not encouraging sampling of "the enemy" -- and there are anti-trust elements to work out (although allowing third-party tuners full access to the streams would fix that), but it just makes accessing the desired content more of a chore than it needs to be. This is where business plans and consumer needs clash.
So while I was driving to this talk radio convention-type thing and I wanted to listen to some out-of-market stations while mired in hopeless traffic on the 110 freeway, I had to fumble between a couple of different apps, and it helped that I'm in the business and therefore know who owns which stations and which apps (and that traffic was stopped so I had time to find what I wanted). If I wasn't in the business, I wouldn't know any of that, and I wouldn't necessarily know where to find what I want from radio. I would know, however, that there are plenty of alternatives a click away.
The expanding Occupy Radio movement (I had a big dinner last night) is sponsored by All Access News-Talk-Sports, where you'll find us infiltrating the industry with Talk Topics, the less-than-creatively-titled show prep column with hundreds of ideas with which you can plant the seeds of spoken word entertainment revolution. Or you can just find something to talk about when there's nothing you like anywhere else. Either way, you'll get it by clicking here, and on Twitter at @talktopics. You'll also find "10 Questions With..." John McConnell, whose resume in the business is unassailable and who's working on a new project about which you'll want to know, and you'll also get the best radio and music industry coverage at Net News, with the top stories tweeted at @allaccess. And, unrelated to All Access, you can follow me on Twitter at @pmsimon, read my stuff at Nerdist.com, and check out my personal website at pmsimon.com.
Next week, I'll be at another convention-type thing. The Occupy Radio movement never sleeps.
Perry Michael SimonAll Access News-Talk-Sports