October 7, 2007

Bluetooth streams Internet Radio to your car

Radio comes to Bluetooth, but not just any radio - internet radio!

So - if you work for a radio station, own an internet radio station, or even produce a podcast - you will soon have another way of getting your product to consumers.

As Bluetooth technology has been developed, so finally comes the availability of streaming live radio on your phone. Better still, users will be able to wirelessly transmit this to their car radios via the bluetooth channel.

While this might seem a bit complicated to do right now, and the technology is a little way off, its good to know that it's coming, so the online radio industry can prepare for it. Watch this demo:

So the inevidable question is, "whats it gonna cost the user?". Well, it entirely depends on the next 12 months of developments. One major factor will be how much bandwidth it will take to pull your stream down to your bluetooth device.


Whatever that cost will be, we, as broadcasters must provide the smallest amount of data possible, whilt retaining audio quality. Do you hear "it" calling?

AAC+ is the winner.

It's already out there inside iTunes - the worlds most popular online music shop, and Apple's format - AAC/mp4 is the default downloading format. We are seeing the mp3 format plateau. A newer, better codec has arrived - and guess what? - it loves streaming audio. In fact, thats it's best feature. Right down to 22kbps, in stereo, its near FM Quality - and thats what we've come to expect while listening to 'radio' in your car.

I've been experimenting with m4a - simply with Winamp. I tried it with John Mayers "Tracing".

mp3: at 192kbps (stereo) comes to a file size of 4.652Mb.
m4a: at 64kbps (stereo) comes to a file size of 1.571Mb.
ogg: at 64kbps (stereo) comes to a file size of 1.379Mb.

The test concludes that OGG should be the winner, however that's a face value result. I want to make sure that these 'compressed' formats still stand up and sound great, even in high end environments.. where quality matters. So I listened to all three through a 5.1 surround system.

At these bitrates, the mp3 sounded fine through all speakers. Very little 'washing' of the sound, m4a had no discernable 'washing' at all, while the ogg sounded completely underwater. This is not a good result for ogg.

Quality thresholds of these three formats are so much more apparent now - if you want QUALITY - and this is especially important if you are planning on digitising your library (which I am underway with - finally...)

mp3 - at least 192kbps
ogg - at least 128kbps
m4a - at least 32kbps - note this is HALF the bitrate of what I tested above, yet even this low it still sounded fine in 5.1 surround. Wow. And if you were wondering what the filesize would be for this song at 32kbps? 796kb!

AAC holds the best quality at low bitrates - uses less bandwidth, and is fast becoming the new 'default' music format - and thats GOT to be good for streaming your radio station, not only to Bluetooth devices - but streaming in general. Winamp already has it as a native format, and there's a plugin which even allows your old Windows Media Player to jump on board.

Now is the time to upgrade your stream to AAC+, cos your consumers are gonna want you on their phones. It would be a dark day for you both if you aren't available when they want you.

October 5, 2007

Non music radio - any future?

In the UK, a great "non music" idea is in its trial stage right now on DAB Digital. Traffic Radio: http://www.trafficradio.org.uk/js-index.htm

It's set up by the Highways Agency and Transport for London. A very useful and now seemingly obvious "non music" brand.

As for Chris' comments at Hear2.0, here in New Zealand, one brand is mixing lifestyle news and 'banter' (see John Tesh), on a brand called Easy Mix. I could see this kind of lifestyle essence becoming more of a feature inside genre/niche radio.. it's one reason why Howard Stern is such a huge name. The audience identifies with him, but more importantly, he LIVES the lifestyle himself and the content of his show is a direct reflection of that lifestyle. That's great rock/alternative radio. The same can be said for another station here in NZ - we have George FM and UpFM - both lifestyle focussed brands that are aligned with their psychographic audience.

I think "non-music" may be an irrelevant point, even if CHR/mainstream music brands start taking bigger steps toward incorporating and better reflecting the relevant lifestyle choices their focus audience holds dear.

A music station can still be a 1st port of call if it tries hard enough. Perhaps the idea of rigidly attracting a more focussed target audience will assist and benefit a change in sales strategies, and offset an otherwise uncomfortable truth that music radio will likely dissolve into 'audio'.

Radio, more specifically, music radio still "owns" this unique dimension. Lets not forget the power of street promotion and endorsement, by music radio.