Sunday, November 14, 2010

Radio Listening 2.0

It occurred to me the other morning driving to work while listening to my customized playlist of audio news & podcasts stream from my iPhone, that my move from terrestrial radio to the Internet has just about come full circle.

When I bought my first iPod in December 2004- 30gb iPod Photo, I almost immediately began listening to podcasts that I would download through a 3rd party "podcatcher" and import into iPod (later automatically synced through iTunes and then to my iPod each morning).  The iPod would go with me in the car to work and I would listen through an audio jack to my Auxiliary input in my Infinity M35. The audio input was really for DVD players but served the purpose for me just to get the audio.   Apple even included the cable with the 3rd Generation iPods.   

I had started listening to one of the early pioneers of podcasts, Adam Curry, and his Daily Source Code.   This was initially fascinating to me as he was living outside of London, would record basically a monologue into his computer from his house, take the file and apply the appropriate geeky RSS tags to it and upload it for "podcatching" software to find.  Adam's show was very self serving, but that didn't bother me as I enjoyed the podcast industry-centric nature of the content and he turned me on to other podcasts that eventually became part of his Podshow podcast network.  Here's some Wikipedia history, if you care.

I was hungry for more programming and became an early subscriber to a handful of other early adopter podcasts.

One of the first I found was WTOP Radio in Washington DC, a 24/7 news station in the Nation's Capital that would take their on-air short segment features and interviews and package them up into a podcast generally lasting less than 5 minutes.   Their access to Washington-insiders was fascinating and something I couldn't get on local radio in bite-sized segments.  Since then, most other talk terrestrial radio stations and personality-formatted music stations have done the same.  Digitally record normal programming, edit (sometimes), package, tag, and upload. 

The challenge I had with iTunes podcast functionality was and still is that unless you wanted all the shows to automatically be deleted upon listening, you had to go in manually and delete the file once you had listened to it to free up space on your iPod.   This became a weekly chore for me as some of the files I would want to save and perhaps listen to again later.

So for several years I maintained this library of content and listen to it in the car to and from work, around the yard, walking the dog, and whenever I wanted to multi task on the move.  It became habitual for me, but I never could see the general public making this same effort despite the fact that the iTunes Podcast inventory increased to thousands of different titles and it could be automatically downloaded.

Then came along Stitcher Radio at   Note:  I have nothing to do with this company.  Stitcher basically has become my default 'radio station."  They aggregate content from thousands of content providers and organize the content into "stations" that listeners can browse and listen to. Audio content is delivered from thousands of large and small podcasters as well as national media providers such as CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, BBC, NPR, and the Associated Press.  The content is kept continually up to date so there is always fresh content available.  

While I still allow the podcasts to automatically download to my (now) iPhone, I find myself just launching the Stitcher iPhone app and plugging it into the iPhone jack in my car and listening to my personalized content via Stitcher and the iPhone's AT&T 3G or Edge connectivity.  The content updates automatically so I don't have to manage it and I have put the podcasts in the order I want to listen to them.   So on my 35-minute commute to work in the morning I listen to:

1.  New York Times Front Page  (5 Min)
2.  Wall Street Journal Morning Tech News (5 Min)
3.  TechCrunch Headlines (5 Min)
4.  Tech 5 (5 Min)
5.  Tech News Today (30 Min).

I don't even have to take my eyes off the road as the content plays automatically and in order.  If I did want to bypass a particular show, a simple tap on the right arrow and I'm on to the next program.  If I've already listened to the show, Stitcher moves on to the next new program effortlessly. 

The full circle is I feel like I am just listening to the radio everyday without the hassle of managing the content.  Like traditional radio, that's been taken care of for me AND  it's customized to my interests!

I usually don't finish the 30 minute Tech News Today from Leo Laporte's TWIT Network, but I just launch Stitcher on my desktop, fast forward to where I left off, and hear the remainder as I'm working.  I always have the latest release of the podcasts I like to listen to and they are always available on any device with connectivity.  I find myself rarely syncing to iTunes anymore except when I plug in the iPhone to juice up or if I'm going to fly.  Stitcher has thousands of different podcasts as well as live streaming terrestrial and internet talk and music stations available.

It's the best of all worlds -- streaming "radio" in the car, customized for my tastes, and automatically fed. This..... I can see the general public, non-techies, non-early adopters gravitating to.  As a former radio guy, this is almost as magical as radio was when I first got into it in high school and continues to support my belief that audio and the spoken word will reign supreme within the disruption of digital technology.

Addendum:  General Motors & Ford have announced a partnership with Stitcher that will bring it into vehicles directly.


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