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RadioTime: Finding needles in the webcasting haystack

November 17, 2010 |  6:26 am

Radiotime search I write a lot about technologies that are killing the traditional modes of distributing entertainment. Here's one that actually helps local radio stations -- provided they are webcasting. 

RadioTime of Dallas announced Wednesday the formal launch of a service that lets users search through webcasts and podcasts by local and online-only stations to play specific songs or artists. In essence, it turns hundreds of live broadcasts into an online jukebox, enabling people to play songs on demand.

For example, when I recently searched for "Beyonce" on the RadioTime site, it found a station in England, Ark., that was webcasting Beyonc√©'s song "Halo" at that moment. I clicked on the station's icon and, moments later, the last half of the track was streaming through my speakers. The search also turned up dozens of stations that had recently played her music, as well as podcasts that included her songs, interviews or discussions about her. 

Sure, you could use RadioTime's Song Search technology to go hunting for one song or artist after another. But it's not an effective substitute for fee-based on-demand music services because it typically connects you to just a portion of a song by the artist you want to hear. A much more likely use would be to search for stations that play the kind of music you like. Granted, specialized webcasters such as Pandora might deliver a more personalized experience. But chances are pretty good that a station playing a song you particularly like will play more songs that match your tastes. 

Think of it this way: RadioTime tests whether the humans who create the playlists for local radio stations can deliver a better service than the algorithms that power Web-based services such as Pandora and Slacker. (OK, OK, those companies have some degree of human involvement in their programming, but you get my drift.) It also gives local stations a chance to develop audiences far outside their communities, although that raises questions about how to monetize those new listeners. Broadcasters traditionally have relied on local advertisers who are trying to reach local listeners, not those in distant states. But then, that's a problem for all local media companies in the Google era.

RadioTime's search relies in part on a data feed of songs on the air that music-royalties collection societies use. There's no guarantee you'll find the artist or song you're looking for -- the more obscure the act, the less likely it is to be streaming at that moment. But it's a surprisingly effective way to locate the online feed of a station whose playlist matches your musical tastes.

The website represents a small portion of RadioTime's business. Its technology for finding and tuning in webcasts also can be found in more than 100 devices and programs, including connected TVs, iPhone and Android apps and browser toolbars.


Another debate over music subscriptions

Rdio, a new kind of online radio

-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division.