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July 24, 2005

Two Models for the Future of Radio

Radio day today. Why listen to radio when you already own more than 10,000 tracks? To discover new music, of course.

Radio Britfolk is a (currently) web-only attempt to deliver a specialist station for the folk music of these islands. Of course, if the BBC took this stuff seriously there'd be no need to. The money-making method is subscription, which seems a bit unimaginative. Nevertheless, they need your money -- so why not subscribe? There's a three month trial that might become permanent, and you can pay by Paypal.

Content is a series of stay-up-for-a-week programmes on different themes; regular music programmes such as you might here on other radio stations (if they existed), programmes on a very specific theme with more obscure music, and instrument workshops. There's also the 'billboard' -- a show where people specifically pay to have their music included. Anyone can make a programme by submitting a proposal, though it's not clear what you'd gain from it apart from the chance to grandstand on the internet.

I experimentally listened to "Festival Special Cropredy 05 Part 1"; one of their styles of show is a preview show for festivals, with a track each from some of the bands that will be playing. The show was rather reminiscent of Radio 1 'content' shows from the 70s, with Tom Bliss interviewing Dave Pegg in a rather lowkey way.

The site looks rather home-cooked, and shows streamed as mp3 can't be paused, rewound or cued; a bit irritating if you're listening while doing other things. No podcasts yet either, though podcasts would clearly suit the style. But the music is great, the themed shows are interesting, and I can only wish them well.

The other model I've been exploring is Last.FM, which links to Audioscrobbler to build up a picture of your musical tastes. You can then add music to your personal profile until it's ready to play you either your own personalised radio station (for which you have had to have added 300 tracks so that it can do that random radio thing without fear that you'll use this as a method of acquiring music), or the radio stations of people with musical tastes most similar to yours. I quickly found a couple of other users with very similar tastes to my own, and last.fm plays me lots of stuff I quite like.

Last.FM is very ambitious, and currently (it's in beta) full of bugs, particularly on Macs and particularly in Safari. It's also slow to use in some ways, though it does at least have links from the music you're currently listening to through to ways of spending money (though only by buying CDs, though ). There are lots of bands/labels using it, and, like Radio Britfolk, the radio streams are fully licensed. In a little while you'll be able to listen to my personal last.fm radio station (there's a queue to set these up), with a link from the right hand column in the blog. It's being run by a bunch of lads out of a London back bedroom. 'Penniless' they say, and I can believe it.

And the music? Well, in time I think its learning features will work well, although much of the music I really like is not yet included. They do use your entire music listening (using AudioScrobbler) to pick up your tastes; if they also skew recommendations to the 'less common' this should work really well. (Recommendation software works better if it gives a greater weighting to your interest in Anne Briggs or Blue Horses than your interest in U2). It's already found me splendid tracks by Cinerama and Radiohead, for example.

More personalised radio is a key business for the internet, with three main approaches: the completely individualised music stream typified by last.fm, the highly-specialised station such as radio britfolk, and regular stations broadcasting to people outside of their traditional area. I do wonder whether the first two can be combined; with a personalised system like last.fm picking up likely podcasts through a recommendation net.

Posted by Alison at July 24, 2005 12:48 PM


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