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As an avid music-lover and regular listener of the comedic patter of some mainstream radio stations, I was intrigued by the launch of Radioplayer last month and the hype it has generated. The online service unites 150 UK radio stations to “turn your computer into a radio”, according to its creator and managing director, Michael Hill. More stations are due to jump on the bandwagon in coming weeks and it is expected to revolutionize the way we listen to radio – doing for digital radio what Freeview did for digital TV. Radioplayer had an estimated audience of three million listeners in the first week, which shows there is clearly a significant amount of interest in this clever innovation.

Founded by the BBC, Global Radio, Guardian Media Group, Absolute Radio and RadioCentre, this not-for-profit arrangement seems genuinely committed to making the listening experience easy for its audience. In reference to Radioplayer, The Economist boldly claimed: “An old medium gets its digital act together” It even stretched to say that radio is now more audacious than television and newspapers – the internet has provided problematic grounds for the media industry, which doesn’t quite yet know how to deal with it. Radioplayer seems to be grabbing the technological bull by the horns in an attempt to move forward. The partnership of the BBC and commercial radio, on this scale, also says a lot about the current politics of the media industry. It seems that those involved in the project have put any entrenched rivalries to one side, for the benefit of the UK listener – an encouraging first.

So What is Radioplayer all About?

Give it a whirl and see for yourself… One of the barriers to developing more online listening has been the difficulty of allowing audiences to switch between stations in a single visit. Radioplayer offers the answer to this problem, and enables users to switch stations without having to stream and serve the device. Now you can combine anything as diverse as high-brow political commentary with the aussie drawl of Radio One’s Zane Lowe in one listening experience, with very little effort. That isn’t all. With Radioplayer, users enjoy the benefits of digital, including search functionality – so listeners can easily sift via station name, programme titles, presenter and location – and bookmarking. Primarily, the programmes are streamed live, but there is also an “iPlayer-like experience” bolted on, which allows listeners to download shows they have missed, or podcasts. Some tech-enthusiasts have criticized Radioplayer for being “too simple” and “nothing new”, but after giving it a try myself, I think they seem to be missing the point. The exciting thing about the launch, in my opinion, is that it drives more people to listen to the diverse radio we enjoy here in the UK. With this new-found simplicity, users are encouraged to explore the medium of radio, developing their cultural palette in the process. Good stuff.

The Future of Radio

The jury’s out on whether Radioplayer will have an immediate impact on digital listening. That said, we can’t deny that there is a great deal of untapped potential within online listening. Roughly 70 per cent of UK homes now have broadband, but only approximately two per cent of radio listening is through the internet. This has been the case for some time, but optimistic supporters of Radioplayer expect the device to improve the landscape of online radio significantly. Plans are in place to expand Radioplayer and bring it to mobile phones within the next 12 months, including the iPhone, Android and tablets. This may give the service a competitive edge over music-streaming services, such as, Spotify and we7, as it too will allow users to assemble their own playlists. It’ll be interesting to see how the progress of Radioplayer takes shape. So, is all this excitement well-founded? I think so.