Pandora is not radio
Posted on Friday, February 18th, 2011 at 9:56 pm. #
“Radio”, in the English language, means three things. Here are the first two:
Radio = the transmission of signals by modulation of electromagnetic waves with frequencies below those of visible light.
Radio = a receiver (which can be battery-powered, mains-powered or self-powered) that allows you to listen to radio broadcasts.
And now, here’s the third:
Normally broadcast in a linear form, “radio” is a mixture of audio programmes which contain individual pieces of content, assembled in a way to sound attractive to a listener. A fundamental building-block of good “radio” is an element of news: whether formal news in the style of a bulletin, informal news that’s closer to a gossip with a friend, or news of interest to a particular community, like a newly released music track, or a new opinion, story, joke, or viewpoint. An element of curation and editorial is also required to produce great radio: whether carefully-researched music playlists or unusual wry observations.
“Radio” is a shared experience, one that has the capacity to surprise and engage, entertain and inform. Part of the enjoyment of radio is that others are listening to the same thing as you: but part of the enjoyment of the medium is that radio continually does something unexpected and uncontrolled. Full personalisation has no place in the world of radio, since it removes the uncontrollability and element of surprise: the very thing that makes radio successful and powerful.
“Radio” is a human communication medium.
Now, I quite liked Pandora when it was available here in the UK. I quite enjoy last.fm’s services, too.
But Pandora and last.fm fulfil almost none of the above criteria. A randomised list of songs specifically chosen for my tastes, with none of the human element that surrounds it, is not radio. A song that plays, then fades, then silence, then a new one that starts, regular as clockwork, is not radio. Something with a complete lack of news: about my community, about my country, about my family, about my music, is not radio. Something with no editorial curation other than a computer algorithm, and no unexpected left-field programme that makes you cry, is not radio. A list of noises produced by a computer program is not radio.
All of us involved in the radio industry know that radio is so much more than an iPod on shuffle. But we’re letting Pandora, last.fm, Slacker et al claim the word “radio” as a moniker for what they do. By doing this, they are doing radio a disservice, and damaging the ‘radio’ brand.
We should see them as competition for radio. But not radio. And if we care about radio, we should correct any journalist who calls these services ‘radio’. Because they are not radio.
Pandora is a music jukebox. A bloody good one. It is not radio. And we should not let Tim Westergren damage “radio” by trying to use our brand for his music jukebox.