iPod shuffle = new radio ?

I’ve been thinking about the iPod Shuffle since its introduction this week. The early critique of the newest Pod is its lack of a readout or screen — even a small one — to see what song is playing or up next.

The more I think about it, however, the more I think this (valid) criticism is misguided. It misses the point entirely. The Shuffle isn’t supposed to be replacing a full featured MP3 player. Rather, it is a substitute for a similar experience of getting music you know and like — on the radio.

Only you cannot do that anymore. McMusic dominates the airwaves, preprogrammed from some fluorescent lit, over airconditioned, windowless, soulless dreary office complex somewhere in the bowels of Texas.

You can thank the 1996 telecommunication act for radio’s massive consolidation — and really bad music on the radio.

The iPod Shuffle is yet more evidence of Radio’s ongoing decline. Recall we first discussed this last July in Radio’s Wounded Business Model. Barrons picked up the meme weeks later, running a very similar criticism.

Where does that leave the fans of music, people who used to be radio listeners?

The iPod Shuffle. Its the new radio.

Think back — back to when you used to actually used to listen to music on the radio.

What went through your head when you were selecting a radio station? Likely, you wanted to hear music you knew, and music you liked; Bands you were familiar with, songs you know and love.

You also wanted to hear new artists and songs — what you might be expected to enjoy based upon these other preferences — the previously mentioned stuff you were already tuning in for. 10 years ago and beyond, Radio didn’t quite have collaborative filtering (see for example, iRate radio). Indeed, the technology didn’t even exist . . . But stations did employ a manual predictive process, based upon the perspectives of experienced program managers and DJs.

That intelligent predictive process is now mostly deceased — it certainly is hard to find on a local basis. And radio as a source of finding new music keeps diminishing in importance. Really, it hardly matters anymore; that’s what P2P and the internet is for anyway.

So the new iPod shuffle turns iTunes users into DJs and music programmers (Part of the new Apple advertising campaign is the phrase “DJ Your Day.”

Only the ad free radio they now listen to consists of 10,000 of their favorite songs or so, in 120-150  "blocks.” Thats about 6 hours of music. 

Radio’s slow bleed continues . . .

UPDATE:  January 26, 2005 11:36:14 PM EST

I just discovered this interview with Emmis Communications CEO. Emmis owns dozens of radio stations in the Western US

Emmis’ Smulyan Feels iPod Threat
January 19, 2005

Last week, Emmis Chairman/CEO Jeff Smulyan told FMQB in an exclusive Q&A, "If the American public wants satellite radio, I think that’s great. The key is, at the end of the day, we’re still going to reach hundreds of millions of people every week. The best case scenario for satellite is twenty million people."

One week later, Smulyan has expanded on the satellite radio subject, stating he feels a bigger threat than the satcasters is going to be Apple’s iPod. In a Q&A posted on the company’s Web site, Smulyan said, "Despite the buzz surrounding satellite radio, I believe iPods are a bigger threat, because you have a larger number of people with an alternative source of music. That said, I can remember when people were predicting the death of radio after 8-tracks came out. Despite continually evolving technologies, nothing has replaced the local information and local personalities we give our audiences. We know our communities, and we respond to their needs. Over the holiday season alone, Emmis radio stations raised $500,000 for charitable causes in their local communities . . ."

Smulyan is right — the iPod shuffle is less of a threat to the kinds of stations he is discussing . . . but those are unfortuantely disappearing, replaced by the Clearchannel simulacra.

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  1. Oliver Thylmann’s Blog commented on Jan 15

    iPod shuffle = new radio?

    I really liked the post from The Big Picture entitled iPod shuffle = new radio ?. Why? Because it is true. The iPod shuffle is the first step in that direction and things like Last.fm are even going further giving

  2. nerrad commented on Jan 15

    You are exactly right in your thinking. This is also the first time I have seen this observation and wonder why Apple hasn’t couched it in this manner. Nice job.

  3. Lisa commented on Jan 15

    I have had an IPOD for the last three years and love it. This is a product for people like my father who wants to hear his songs and has always found the IPOD too expensive. With my ITunes and this product I know what I will get him for father’s day. The oldies station no longer plays his songs!

  4. sam commented on Jan 16

    As an xm subscriber, I keep asking them to do away with the DJ, to no avail. I am now thinking of an Ipod for when I switch to music, usually after 1900. I am a long haul trucker.

  5. Dave commented on Jan 16

    Well, the only thing I can’t agree with in your analogy is the part about “new” music. When radio had less restrictive playlists, you’d hear new things for free. In the iPod world? Unless you’re talking about legally downloading either MP3s from (a) DIY musicians or the very few good bands who are just starting out, or (b) getting that one free single a week from ITMS, I just don’t see how you can do it without being (dammit) illegal.

  6. Eric __ SongZilla Blog commented on Jan 16

    Is the Shuffle the new radio? Yes, I think so.

    The demise of radio is real, and a shame.

    Now, why would the music industry expect us to buy every song on the radio’s playlist? Isn’t that a bit greedy on the part of the music industry? We certainly never bought all the songs on our favorite FM station, when radio was king.

    (I do think the music industry in being greedy in expecting listeners to pay for all songs they listen to, though I will admit the Shuffle has the advantage of not serving up radio advertisements)

    Hmmm… come to think of it, where did the term “playlist” come from? Radio, true?


  7. Mark Rushton commented on Jan 17

    Excellent analysis!

    I gave up on commercial radio years ago. They permanently lost me as an ear for their advertisers. XM brought me back thanks to their excellent programming.

    But if you want to hear part of the future then check out my podcast if you’re into ambient/electronica music:


  8. Merrill Guice commented on Jan 17

    I was a free form FM jock in my college years and continued in radio for another 15. I quit listening to radio about 7 years before I quit the industry and turned to programming my own music, first on cassette and then on CD. The new 40gb iPod I have filled (and I mean filled) is now my personal radio. I LOVE setting the darn thing on shuffle and let it rip. At times it mixes music so well that I’m writing on my hand so I can remember that segue!

  9. Bill commented on Jan 17

    The problem with radio today is that music is pretty much an after thought. Tune in any station and pretty much all you’ll hear is DJ blather. They’ll throw in some news headlines (no depth), sports, weather, traffic. Oh, and that same song they play every day at the same time. The iPod is definitely better than radio.

  10. Kendall Helmstetter Gelner commented on Jan 17

    I had the same thought when I first read about the Shuffle, it’s just like having a really great radio station. And you can use podcasts or audibooks to turn it into a really great talk-radio replacement.

    At only $100, I think it could be quite a hit with commuters. Many people seem to think the Shuffle is silly for not including an FM radio, but what’s the point when you can pre-load whatever content you like and control it at your own pace?

  11. Kenneth Reid commented on Jan 18

    so barry- What might be some short ideas in the radio domain?

  12. Bryan C commented on Jan 18

    Good post. I think you’re right. I used to listen to the radio all the time. No longer. The only radio I bother with anymore is the local classical station. The DJ there actually serves a useful purpose: discreetly noting the music they’re playing and announcing the time. But even that station feels compelled to devote most of their weekends to tedious PRI programming, so off goes the radio and on go the MP3s.

  13. Ron commented on Jan 27

    EXCELLENT ANALYSIS! The homogenization of radio has been so bad in the past 10 years that I no longer listen to the radio. I attended a conference for sports marketers & promoters and had the marketing director of a Major League Baseball team tell me “if you’re advertising on radio, you’re throwing away your money.” If this thought process is out ther, it’s only a matter of time before the Clear Channel dinosaur has to evolve or suffer extinction. The dilemma of discovering new music has to be solved soon–whether it is more free downloads or what, I don’t know.

  14. anonymous commented on Dec 26

    I have noticed radio going to crap since 1996. Insidiously at first, but getting worse. When I remember radio from the early 1990s, stations had a personality and distinct features you do not find today. There was a station that had weekends where they played 1970s music exclusively, and it was not coming from a central location. Occasionally, they would have “flush the format” hours where they played retro music.

    Additionally, the DJs had personality. Some would cut the songs short; there were a few that were exemplary at letting songs go to the end. A few even turned the volume up as the song faded so you could hear the last few seconds of the song. The chatter, while annoying, often added local flavor to the station. And the contests were local, often involving a lot of imagination. Cash call jackpots, calls from the station asking you for the last two songs they played, and games of various types were normal back in the pre-1996 era.

    Then, I listened in 2001. And boy what a wretched variety! It seemed as if someone pulled out all the variety. A popular station by Clear Channel had such a tight playlist that it was normal for a song to be repeated within a block. This was not some miscommunication error, either, since the song might be second in the block and then 7th or 8th. Ads were at the end of each song, as well as two ad breaks per hour. You never heard more than about 40 minutes of music at a time; sometimes 30 minutes was max.

    Besides the wimpy playlists that all sounded alike, the cut-short points were homogenized. It is as if the cutoff points on songs were predetermined at headquarters and the song always got cut at that point, no matter what. No longer was there a reason to listen for better plays of that song.

    The oldies stations (including the stations playing 80s music as well as older songs) were also crap. I remember one station that played 80s music, and I could tell that it was all pre-programmed. Hand made edits and weird remixes were normal. The playlist was something like 200 songs, if that. And they always had the song ending at the same point each time it was played. Usually, it was well short of where the song would often reach when they were new. Each time the song came up, they cut it the same 15 seconds short. And it no longer mattered which station or DJ was on that time. It was all the same.

    Since then, it has gotten even worse. I bought a number of CDs off of Billboard Pop charts in early 2006, and they all sounded pretty much the same! None of the songs, save for rap and hiphop, had any sort of fadeout at the end. None of them! I have never seen such p*** poor diversity in music in my whole life! That experience was nothing like similar binges I have done in the fall of 1983, when just about everything was of interest. This has to be the result of such wretched radio stations that will not play music unless it has the same type of sound (OK, they make an exception for rap music; or at least they USED to). It seems to be getting even worse these days.

    With that, I have given up on radio. I now use mini discs with music from different eras running from the mid 1960s to about 2002, and rap running up to about 2006-07. I put together a pop disc of all the early 2006 music, and that sounded boring. Just enough to drive home how wimpy music has gotten in the past 10 years. I also have a computer with Rhapsody, with a library of music that includes material from radio’s better days as well as today’s Songs You Will Not Hear on the Radio.

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