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Radio Reinvented

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

It's time for the annual pilgrimage to Austin, Texas for South by Southwest. For the last few years, the famous music conference has been preceded by a separate interactive conference.

The interactive conference is filled with digital entrepreneurs and cyberspace visionaries. Amidst this confluence of progressive thought, lays the question of where music radio is, where it's going and what will it sound like. Unconstrained by limitations, the digital world offers new expansive side roads to live on.

Americans recognizes the commercial radio that dominates the AM and FM bandwidths. But commercial radio listenership is steadily declining. In contrast, non-commercial and community based radio, has grown exponentially in the last 10 years. XM and Sirius, who make up the satellite radio stations, quickly have earned themselves a place in the lives of radio listeners, forcing many old thinkers to reconsider the notion of what makes interesting radio, and whether anyone would pay extra for it.

But that just scratches the surface of innovation in the field. One new idea about radio is Pandora.com. Pandora is the back engine to Tim Westergren's very ambitious Music Genome Project. Five years ago, Tim assembled a team of musicians and technology junkies to attempt to capture the essence of music at a most fundamental level. They mapped the unique dominating elements of individual songs to consider the core similarities with others songs. Once the database was built, they designed Pandora, a music discovery service. Pandora offers listeners the opportunity to create their own radio stations online. Listeners choose their favorite artists, and from there, Pandora creates a personalized radio station. The listener's key music is programmed in depth, with new music peppered throughout the stream for discovery. Pandora makes the experience highly interactive, soliciting feedback from the listener after each song. Armed with their preferences and dislikes, the radio station becomes a well-refined extension of the listener's own taste and sensibilities.

At least, that's the concept. Pandora is not perfect, but it's far more interesting than other stations in the market. Many of the huge portals have created their own radio stations, including AOL and Yahoo. You can also listen to various streams on your TV with Music Choice. Then there are lesser known services like somafm.com.

Somafm offers pre-programmed music online, but the streams are highly focused, and well chosen. If you're into indie rock, or ambient groove, chances are, you'll like Somafm.

A true survivor in the ranks is WOXY.com. WOXY was once a terrestrial modern rock station out of Cincinnati, Ohio. In 2004, they lost their broadcasting license, but retained their music library. Since then, WOXY.com has been broadcasting 24/7 on the Internet, providing a great mix of modern rock, without commercials and without a terrestrial counterpart.

There are literally thousands of Internet radio stations on the web, all available for free listening. If you want to narrow your search for the perfect radio station, check out 365live.com. 365live gives voice a broad swath of radio stations, from classical, to hip-hop, from inspirational to reggae, metal and much more.

Whether you listen to radio to be a part of something larger, or listen to tune out the world around you, the medium is changing dynamically. It will be very interesting to see just how things continue to evolve, moving forward.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat on KCRW.

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