Radio Apple

What’s missing from the world of digital music? Discovery.

There used to be a place called radio that introduced you to new tracks for the soundtrack of your life. Remember that? Record companies hired talent. Distributors minted albums, tapes, CDs. Radio stations played them, you listened, and you walked away with a crib sheet of new artists to explore at your local record store.

But—and I can’t find a soul who doesn’t disagree—radio simply stinks. It has been sub-par and sub-standard for seemingly forever. The people who run FM radio stations (namely, Clear Channel ) picked a business model about 20 years ago that was excruciatingly simple: Narrow the choices (formats) and insert as many commercial breaks as possible into a typical hour of programming. This strategy, to put it bluntly, worships at the altar of the focus group. How many commercials can you stand before you change the channel? It’s the opposite of innovation.

What if Apple cared about radio? Innovative sites like Last.fm, Pandora, and Slacker have amply demonstrated that people like to find new music via the “people-who-liked-this-also-liked-this” method. On these sites, you can create personalized, just-for-me radio stations that feed you stuff you already like while getting peppered with some new tracks every so often. Some of these sites are ad-supported, some allow you to purchase a subscription, but what if someone could create radio stations that were neither ad supported nor required you to pay to listen. Someone like… oh, I don’t know… Apple?

Apple recently partnered with an HD radio manufacturer to let users tag songs they want to purchase later at the iTunes Store. With a little radio-programming expertise, Apple could create a new way to sell songs from its iTunes Store, which would support the costs of programming and delivery. Apple has been very successful at setting up new networks of media distribution. It seems to be pretty good at co-opting the traditional players in some entertainment markets. Why not radio? And, why not the best radio ever: radio with no ads?

I bet there are some smart people out there with some strong opinions about this. Let’s hear them.

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