Radio Stations Riding the iPhone’s Waves

2009 was the year iPhone jetted atmospherically in terms of downloads and capabilities. In music, these applications predominately were promotional tools and gimmicks to hawk high-profile albums and artists. They served short-term goals and something that, odds are, was deleted without much thought. Towards the end of the year, a new crop of music-related applications with purpose began showing up and being surprising; radio applications. Two particular radio applications impress, belaying the capabilities of adapting age-old media to the new bumper crop of technologies.

The first comes from NRJ. NRJ is a French media group that branched into over a dozen European markets providing American and European pop music, as well as a plethora of other media that gives our KISS FM network a worthy, albeit distanced competitor. The NRJ application is available in iTunes France for free, version 2.0.1 as of writing.

The second emerges from 93X, KXXR, an alternative/hard rock station out of Minneapolis/St. Paul. The format is edgier than say, Q101 in Chicago, less classic rock than WIIL, but does not treat independent music as Rock 102 One in Milwaukee. It is a welcome station when you are seeking alternative/hard rock, particularly for this former Minnesotan.

NRJ’s was the first radio application that legitimately impressed me. It took the basic concept of radio and expanded heavily upon it, providing an all-encompassing experience reflective of their expansive media productions. The first screen provides an attractive list of their stations in France, providing information on what song is currently being played before you make your decision which station to listen to. It is akin to XM Sirius, however saves listener time and provides a better user experience. Once you select your station, you receive all the basic information of the song including album art and a direct button to iTunes. Moreover, it combines a rating system which, if correctly implemented, could provide radio stations with valuable feedback as to their songs over time. Say this Mariah Carey song is popular one week, but then feedback drops a month from then; do you keep it in the playlist, play it less frequently, or do you continue as planned? Odds are you would adjust your playlist to the data.

The station application offers other features, unlike the 93X application. NRJ has stations throughout France and provides a handy, useful way to view the FM frequency according to town. Forget scanning frequencies the old way. Lyon? You go straight to L and find that it 103.0. Simple. For other, higher bandwidth productions that NRJ gets into, they are accessible as easily as the radio stations. NRJ TV Paris is a channel you can also view for free online, providing news, comedy, and other features akin to our CW network. With the iPhone application, you can select which channel you wish and watch it live (be it NRJ Paris or their music video channels). The quality is excellent over wifi, and does hold up over the 3G network. 3G provides superb, near perfect radio quality limited only by internet stream bandwidth with infrequent, if any, interruptions.

AirKast’s 93X application provides an American example. Upon loading, it connects seamlessly to the radio stream and provides song information. 93X goes further, providing lyrics. It’s a nice touch, but I feel it’s unnecessary to put that up front. Contrary to NRJ, 93X allows users to access various playlists including Recently Played. It circumvents using Shazam to provide song information and a time stamp for the previous played tracks. One distinguishing feature that can prove essential for any radio station application is the ability to stream the radio in the background. Background pulls up the option to send the stream into Safari, then using Quicktime to allow you to listen to 93X in the background while accessing other applications. Being able to play the station in the background is a smart move that should be adopted across the board, yet isn’t.

Radio has been afraid of internet and new technology up until late. By embracing it through iPhone applications, they can become relevant once again. The only sacrifice that has to be made is the location-based commercial listening rights that force horrendous commercials upon us because we’re not in the “listening area” to hear about a restaurant in such and such town. I don’t anticipate this changing any time soon, but I would welcome it whole-heartily since TV and radio stations are no longer attached to a certain antenna-based consumer area. As radio station applications move forward in 2010, radio station iPhone apps should adopt the following listener-friendly features: – Stream in the background so I can access and use my phone – Provide recently played and top played lists – If you are part of a collective of stations, combine stations into one application – Downloadable station podcasts via the application

Thoughts?

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