On Computers: Internet radio becomes more like radio

Jim Hillibish

Exactly how will the Internet present our music? Don’t hold your breath. Music websites are busy mimicking radio stations.

There’s more than meets the ear here. Record producers are attacking websites that offer music in its most sensible format, by the artist. Selectivity? That’s a threat.

Songsa.com attempted this. You could type in a performer’s name and get a list of his or her songs. This gave you the listener control over what you hear.

Too much control, say the recording bigs. Their solution to drastically lowered record sales is to force the Internet off its state-of-the-art music approaches.

Songsa was popular with hobbyists who record music off the Net. You could create a discography-worth of a performer’s stuff in a few hours.

The compromise, which keeps music on the Internet, is the “radio station” approach. This applies the power of the Internet to 90-year-old technology. You specify an artist, press “create a station” and the database presents a playlist of music that “sounds like” the artist.

This has all the ambiance of a folk, rock or whatever AM station, including commercials. The only advantage here is you can select a genre, “like choosing a radio station.”

Songsa recently switched to a clone of all the other music sites. On the original site, nearly all of the songs are blocked, forcing listeners into its radio-station side.

Pandora.com is the best known, adding wireless applications to its ongoing musical show. It’s saddled with restrictions, first being the radio format. You cannot listen to it outside the U.S.A.

Some listeners tried using the skip button to find songs they wanted to hear. Pandora then restricted this to 12 skips in 24 hours.

Pandora has changed its philosophy away from personal choice. Its mission now is to “find new music based on your current and old favorites.”

Other sites have followed Pandora. It’s hard to find any that go beyond the common radio-station format. Some limit your use, then kick you into an offer for a paid service.

It must be weird working for these sites. They all had big plans for going far beyond simple radio. The Web opportunity is all about personal choice, exactly the opposite of radio where all the choices are made for you. This is a control thing.

The great media lobbies are concerned. They’re all about money, meaning control, and certainly not personal preference. Three years ago, they tried to destroy Internet radio by exploding the royalty fees. The new music sites are a compromise on that attack.

The only for-sure thing in this business is it will continue to evolve. Cell phones have become music players. So have TV sets. You can connect to your music server and send wireless music all over your house.

What’s next? Let’s see. How about a box that you fill with quarters to hear songs. We can call it the jukebox. That’s an improvement dear to an entertainer’s heart, and wallet.

Jim Hillibish writes for The Repository in Canton, Ohio. Contact him at jim.hillibish@cantonrep.com.