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Why Old Fashioned Thinking Might Let Spotify Win

Everywhere I go to talk to music programmers the talk turns to the threats and opportunities of online. Rarely, if ever, do any of them engage me in chat about music streaming services like Spotify, Pandora and the upcoming iTunes Radio.

I always ask how big the threat is from the music playlists listeners have compiled, presented in high quality & uninterrupted in the car or on headphones. “Not a threat”, they intone. “Our presenters bring compelling content to every link – the playlists can’t do that”.

Now to a point that’s right. But last week I listened to the excellent ‘Get It On’ on Radio Scotland build a show around the tapes and CDs listeners loved in their first cars. I didn’t hear any mention of the DJs and radio stations I listened to. With the arrival of smartphones in cars it’s even more likely that listeners will listen to digital ‘mixtapes’ of their favourite music.

Many music stations major on sweeps of 2 or 3, with speedy DJ links. The longer links generally go into commercial breaks and are given over to promotional messages or ‘throwing forward’. Not a lot of personality in most cases.

Now one thing the streaming services don’t do is segue properly. The noble art of playing songs back-to-back in a way that they blend and compliment each other is one of the great skills of the good music presenter that computers simply can’t emulate unaided.

Meanwhile, almost all radio stations insist on playing short station IDs between every song. The official reason given for this clutter is that it reminds the listener who they’re tuned to just in case they get asked by RAJAR, especially in crowded markets.


Most listeners have FM or digital receivers that display station name, track title and much more as part of the DAB or RDS information streams.

Adding in this unnecessary clutter replaces the silence between tracks with something that jumps in and distracts from the music experience. It also prevents the listener from enjoying carefully crafted segues by presenters who care about their music – the very thing that the streaming services don’t offer.

It’s just another example of clutter getting in the way of great content that should be unique to radio.

And in this case clutter that represents the thinking of 10 years ago.

Author: johnco

Born in 1963, been involved in radio since 1977.

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