"A Toast to The Lounge Sound"
Radio World Magazine 10-06-10
Mel Lambert wrote an outstanding piece on MITM in the October 6th issue of Radio World Magazine, a trade publication for the radio engineering industry. Click here to download the article in PDF.
Radio in trouble - but not on the Internet
by Ben Fong-Torres, San Francisco Chronicle, 3.8
Net gains: While commercial radio continues to fight to keep its listeners, and to get and maintain younger audiences, the alternative options are getting to be irresistible.
They actually have been for several years, and I've zigzagged between and among satellite radio (both XM and Sirius), Internet radio, music downloading sites and, of course, the iPod. These are all godsends for anyone whose entertainment listening does not require the latest news, sports scores, or traffic and weather "on the eights." (Actually, satellite > dedicates a channel to local traffic and weather, 24/7.)
The problem for Sirius and XM has been the unwillingness of most listeners to pony up $13 a month for radio, even if it offers everything they're not getting on terrestrial radio - and more. Online music sites and Internet
radio are pretty much free, unless and until you choose to download songs to keep, or opt for premium features (like avoiding commercials). But many people, especially older ones, still think (erroneously) that Internet radio means they have to listen on their computers.
There's also HD (high-definition) radio, which has yet to find a substantial audience - and for good reason. HD may sound better than AM and FM, but it requires purchasing a new tabletop radio, and the lowest-priced models (from Radiosophy and Sony) are about $100. HD offers "sub-channels," extra stations programmed by existing stations. So far, they're not that exciting; the Internet offers way more variety.
But what about the tethered-to-the-computer aspect of online music?
That is so not true. Home networks and wireless speaker systems, along with portable, tabletop Internet tuners, let you pull stations in throughout the home or office. And soon there will be Internet reception in cars.
And then there are mobile apps. The biggest of the Internet radio services, Oakland's Pandora, is on AT&T and Sprint, and has teamed up with the biggest digital music monster - Apple - to put Pandora into iPhones. (Pandora draws some 5.5 million unique listeners a month, according to comScore, which measures online listening. It's followed by AOL, with 3.7 million; the CBS-owned last.fm, at 3 million; and Yahoo's Launchcast, with 2.6 million.)
Now comes a spunky new competitor: Slacker Radio, which began, like Pandora and last.fm, as an online music service that allowed users to build personal stations based on their musical preferences.
Slacker has taken that model a step further, with its portable Slacker Radio. Just as it does online, Slacker helps you build custom stations, and, using its gigantic library (the result of deals with all the major record labels, indie labels and music publishers), constantly refreshes your "stations," of any musical genre. Now, if you have their portable (retailing at $200, but available for less than $100), you have them (and a bunch of
Slacker's own channels) wherever you go, with no need for Wi-Fi.
But many music lovers already have digital players and cell phones. Do they want to shell out for yet another gadget? Slacker's Jonathan Sasse, Sr. VP of marketing, says sales are meeting expectations, and that Slacker Radio is appealing to music fans "who have fatigue with the experience of loading music, listening to it and then having to reload." And, he reminds us, Slacker is also available on iPods and on BlackBerry smart phones.
All well and good. But there's still one area in which Slacker ... well, slacks. The music rolls out, one song after another, with a slight pause in between, and, if you haven't paid to thwart them, the occasional commercial. In other words, it sounds like a great, customized, nonstop CD. But if you were raised on good radio, you miss the DJ, the interactivity with the music, and with you; the bits of info and gossip that you hadn't heard or had forgotten. In short, real radio, at its best.
Karel is back. The talk-show host, booted from KGO after spewing a string of obscenities on air one night in November - he thought his microphone was off - has returned to the local airwaves. He's on KNGY (Energy 92.7 FM), the dance music station, 9 p.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday. (Friday, of course, is dance night.). "Don Parker (Energy's PD) called me right after I got fired," said Karel (full name Charles Karel Bouley), "and said their ratings are low after 9 anyway, and did I want to go on FM? I thought, it's a small station, but what the hell? These days, when you do a show, it's also a stream and a podcast. Plus, I always listened to Energy when I was in town. (Karel lives and works in Long Beach.) And it's a single owner (Joe Bayliss). It's not a faceless corporation." Karel, who blamed his engineer at KGO's studios for leaving his mike hot during a newscast, allowing listeners to hear him cussing out Joe the Plumber and declaring, "I want him dead," said he asked KNGY to hire that engineer, who was also fired. "I mean, he won't do that again!" Karel hopes to get his show on other stations, including KRXA (540 AM) in Monterey. "We very much want Karel," said GM and morning host Hal Ginsberg. "It's just a matter of working out logistics." Like, maybe a delay button?