Radio fading away?
Not so fast. Radio is adopting some online, internet-streaming tricks.
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For users of jukebox services, the main complaint is often a lack of control – i.e., a listener can determine a song style or genre but cannot make a playlist. For services like Spotify, the criticism is the opposite: a lack of Pandora-like randomness.Skip to next paragraph
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But some users are stepping up to solve that problem. Recently, Andy Smith, a programmer, built a Web application called Echofi, which essentially uses a Pandora-like algorithm to give Spotify users recommendations. The result is something like a merging of the two services: Pandora's recommendation features with Spotify's on-demand capabilities. Expect streaming services to jump on Mr. Smith's innovation (in fact, iTunes "genius" playlist function already has).
The streaming music landscape is heavily populated but without a clear ruler. Each Pandora or Spotify is heralded as a game changer, but no one service has proved ascendant. While the overall trend is toward the consumer being the curator of his or her own experience (and sharing that experience through social networks), the magical balance – if there even is one – remains elusive.
This lack of an industry kingpin means many radio stations aren't worried about Internet streaming encroaching on their territory. "I think they're complementary media," says Conlon. "You're going to go to radio for an experience that's different."
Jennifer Ferro, general manager of KCRW, a public radio station in Los Angeles, agrees. "In a land of automation and algorithms, nothing can replicate the passion of a DJ talking about music they love," she says. "Curation is even more important now that technology and services such as these have provided an overwhelming amount of access to music."
Radio stations adapt to the Web
Still, it's now rare to go to a radio station's website and not be able to download episodes of shows or to listen to a live stream of that station. In many ways, terrestrial radio is moving toward the polestar of Internet streaming. KCRW offers online streaming, an iPad app, and a 24-hour music broadcast that uses some familiar elements but with the KCRW imprimatur. Such hybrid sites indicate that the cross-platform future of radio may be more collaborative than competitive. "We would love to partner with any of [these] services and are always looking for compelling reasons to do so," says Ms. Ferro.
Clear Channel, the biggest player in commercial radio, has jumped directly into the streaming market with iHeartRadio, which allows users to listen to live terrestrial radio stations or to create custom stations based on an artist or song. Given Clear Channel's industry dominance, iHeartRadio may have the resources to take off, but it may be threatened by its own insider status – does Clear Channel want to innovate itself out of business? – and by the fact that early adopters of streaming services gravitate toward Web-native entries like Spotify and Turntable.fm that have found heavy support among music bloggers and other online tastemakers.