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Radio's success is in the user interface

When people point out radio's competitors, they forget the most important thing

Many people believe that radio is primarily a means to broadcast a non-stop music mix - which is a blinkered view to my mind, but nevertheless, a belief held by many people.

While most of us don't care as much about music nearly as much as the Head of Music would like to think, there's no doubting that music is an intensely personal thing for many. So, if radio is about "the best music", then it's easy to argue that Spotify, Deezer, Pure Connect and other similar music services, even YouTube or your iPod, are a simple replacement to radio.

After all, with all these services, you have access to the music you want, when you want it.

Unlike the radio, there's no waiting around for the new single from the Eels on Spotify, after all. It's much simpler than that. You simply go to your computer, turn it on (or flick from another program you're currently using), load up Spotify, go to the search box, type 'Eels', find the band page, scroll down to the latest releases, and select the song title you want, whereupon it plays for about four minutes, and then you'll get a bit of silence followed by the next track on the album which you don't want, so you can easily press the stop button and go searching for something else. Simple.

Radio in the car, too, is obviously going to be replaced by these services. After all - why just press the power button on the tuner when you can plug your phone in to the power and the auxiliary input, put the phone into its holder, turn the phone on, turn on the tuner but put it in aux mode, make sure the volume control is up, select the Spotify app, search for the band you want on the small screen, select the band page, scroll down to the latest releases, and choose the song title you want.

Assuming you know what song title you want, of course.

Radio's very simple user interface - turn it on, listen, turn it off - is one of the very things that makes radio a success. Let's hope nobody else cottons on.

James Cridland is the Managing Director of Media UK, and a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business.
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Recommendations: 1
Dan Wood

I think it’s a difference in consumption and setting, Spotify, Youtube and other on-demand services are great when you’re wanting to listen to something specific, and of course they do have playlist functions too so you’re not necessarily clicking something every 4 minutes.

I think the post-radio future is something more along the lines of Pandora where learning algorithms tailor your musical taste and deliver custom information to your device. It’s still a good few years off yet, we have the infrastructure of data delivery to sort our primarily, proper national coverage and the bandwidth to support it.

I’m sure it will come in the next decade though, but traditional radio-style services with presentation and news will certainly still have a place in amongst all the non-stop juke box custom streams.

Recommendations: 1
Twitter posted
Recommendations: 0

Good article, James. I agree. Sad that some automated music radio stations effectively make their own playlist, just like on Spotify, stick in prerecorded links and ads, and hit the play button for us. Little difference methinks

Recommendations: 0
Dylan Roys

When people talk about multi-platform they need to think about what the word means…. A number of different platforms, not just one platform which does a lot of stuff. So in the car I access my radio in the simplest form while in the kitchen I have DAB and all it doesn’t have to offer. On the computer while working I can interact. I listen and if I want to do more I click on the icon and interact. To be honest I don’t want to just choose the music I like and stick with it. I like Black Sabbath but if I just chose that and perhaps let the computer pick similar for me because its cleaver like that I would never have discovered Vaughn Williams or Seize the Day. What I want is someone who has more time and knows much more about such things to introduce me to new music and ideas. Who is that person? Oh don’t get me on to the issue of DJs who all sound the same, playing the same music because the computer tells them to press the button dancing to the tune of capitalism and what makes most money not what…..arrrrr. Right I have calmed down now, thank you doctor.

Recommendations: 0
Peter Symonds

I do find it easier myself to listen to the radio in the car than plugging in a iPod for instance. Radio you just switch on and press one or two buttons. On an iPod you have to go through a labyrinth of menus to get it playing a song you like which in my opinion is a dangerous whilst driving.

Recommendations: 0
Richard Berry

A very venerable colleague once made the same argument to me. He felt that the ability to have nothing to do other than press the on button was a great strength of radio. It’s an easy, low demand activity. The problem I see is that rival services are making things easier and are increasingly found in the same places as radio. The Pure Flow in my kitchen has competing sounds that include local FM and DAB as well as stations such as KEXP, KIIS, CBC as well access wireless access to my music library. I can listen to what I like on the same box. So, whilst I take the point that does mean that radio needs to rise to the challenge, which means knowing what listeners really want

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