My Mobile Radio

I've waited a long time to share my thoughts on mobile "radio" -- that would include terrestrial signals and Internet brands.

Now, I'm ready.

Keep in mind this is my personal opinion and yours may differ. But it will be fun to trade views.

My mobile listening is done on an iPhone. I have enjoyed the iPhone -- although I had a lot of trouble initially trying to get the email to "push". Now, the mail works reasonably well. My calendar (on Entourage) is still a pain -- duplicating events such as birthdays many times every time there is a software update. One birthday a year is enough for me -- I don't know about you. It's probably that Microsoft calendar curse with the Mac operating system.

I'm on iPhone EDGE not 3G -- more about that later.

The Apple apps are my favorite fun toy these days, but not the focus of this piece today. I'll share some views on apps as they have significant implication to traditional media. They do. They really do.

I like accessing terrestrial radio stations as well as Pandora and AccuRadio, but I have a problem accepting my phone as a radio. That's weird, I know -- but still -- that's an issue.

Apple doesn't make it easy. If I have Pandora on and I'm enjoying my personalized channels, I can't do anything else on my iPhone without the iPhone cutting the music off. This confounds me, but a lot of things Apple does confounds me. Why not let me listen while I play mobile air hockey (which I do a lot) or answer my emails?

But if this particular mobile phone did everything that I wish, I'm still not sure I want to listen to radio on my phone.

And the battery problem that prevents me from jumping to the 3G version of iPhone is a real issue if you're going to use the apps, do your mail and listen to "radio". I'm going to wait 3G out a little more, but battery life is a potential deal breaker. I don't want to choose between what I have to do (communicate) and what I'd like to do (play games and listen to music). There's simply not enough battery for both. On other types of phones, you can slip a fresh battery in. You know the drill with Apple and iPhone batteries. No such luck.

In case you're wondering, I don't listen to my vast iTunes catalog much on my mobile phone. Best time to consume iTunes on a mobile device is on an airplane -- usually on longer flights -- not just commuter hops from Phoenix to LA.

That's the nuts and bolts of it.

But here's the rest.

Pandora just started carrying commercial banners on the mobile edition. I don't much care. Can't remember the sponsors. And, by the way, it's not even a dent in the solution of how to monetize a great thing. I suspect I will be right in my prediction that only ancillary forms of revenue beyond the obvious (spots, banners) will be the eventual commerce answer.

Of course Pandora itself is a gem -- the best "radio" station you could ask for that we radio programmers don't put together ourselves.

I like the AOL/CBS radio app for some things. The mobile interface is intuitive, but sometimes I find the station not available. It's happened frequently when listening to sports radio WIP in Philadelphia. I miss the kindness and sportsmanship of the Eagles fans and this is my way of getting my fix.

Some of the additional AOL channels are nice, but I like the quality and variety of AccuRadio stations. But for some reason I can only hear it for a few minutes and then it shuts off. Maybe it has something to do with AT&T's Edge. In any case I find myself not listening although I want to. I access the AccuRadio channels through FlyCast.

I don't care for the sign up procedure on FlyCast. I don't want to marry -- just date.

This gives you an snippet of my radio listening on the iPhone.

Not inclined to listen much during the day unless I'm making a longer flight and then it has to be iTunes -- at least for now.

One thing I like to do is put a different station on before I fall asleep. I dock the phone right by my bed and play it out of the tiny speaker in the phone. I find that a great time to choose formats and genres that I might not choose any other time -- like baroque music or Brazilian sounds.

But as usual, there's lots to learn from experiences like mine.

Free radio has the best access to the listening device -- trouble free (unless it's an HD radio in which case -- good luck getting a signal). But terrestrial radio is good for local access -- not for exploring the universe.

The mobile content business still thinks it is a radio station on a phone. I'd like to develop content that is station quality but built from the ground up for the mobile phone. Not just streamers but podcasts with a beginning, middle and end that I can find waiting for me (if I subscribe) when I want to listen.

The number of people who can listen to any type of "radio" on their cellphone is still rather small -- nowhere near the 235 million who listen to terrestrial radio each week.

It will likely be a long tine before technological quirks that get in the way of enjoying "radio" and a new kind of radio comes along designed for the mobile phone and more importantly, the mobile phone user.

So my best advice to content providers is:

1. Don't be radio.

2. Trade on the talented people who produce radio content and redeploy them to build short (I can't emphasize this enough) segments to be available for download or by subscription.

3. I have a model for this. Producers and talent, working in the present tense, putting together genre-specific podcasts for mobile consumption. Obama and McCain's top five songs. The night after the Emmy awards -- a music compilation relating to that. When the Beatles toured the USA for the first time, a flashback. If it's only music, you'll be leaving a lot on the table. There is subject matter all around us -- write, produce and entertain.

4. Streaming alternatives should be simple music formats -- most are good now, but I've yet to find one that can keep me riveted to their playlists. I'd take a closer look at playlist content for streaming stations.

I'm excited just writing about this because the day has come when listeners do not have to sit by and wait for broadcasters to broadcast to them. Now, those "former" broadcasters can develop content as quickly as it develops and then send it up on a podcast.

Monetizing all this seems like another huge hurdle, but I don't think so. That's another topic.

To sum up:

You can't take the radio out of radio and you can't only put radio into a mobile device unless you understand the mobile consumer and design content from the ground up.

I see podcast centers operating 24/7 developing fresh content. And I can see broadcast CEOs scratching their heads (again).

Mobile devices are the reincarnation of creative music and spoken word content.

And while this is my review, I don't count. The business will be built on the next generation and they will demand that which radio operators fail to provide them.

Real-time, well-done podcasts.


Monetized in ancillary ways.


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