A whole radio station dedicated exclusively to one artist? That's what US satellite radio broadcaster Sirius is offering from next week in the shape of E Street Radio, promising "round-the-clock Springsteen music" — at least until the end of next January.
As well as the standard album tracks, there will be musical exclusives and interviews. Whether the music will be wall-to-wall Bruce, or whether it will include related material like the artists that influenced him or were influenced by him, is unclear. But this radio 'first' may be a harbinger of a new format of music listening that combines the cyclical patterns of broadcasting with the niche targeting of on-demand technologies.
On the one hand E Street Radio is another example of the proliferation of music products I referred to a couple of days ago. But if you've been reading many of the entries on this site, you'll know how I go on about radio, how its value changes with the extra control that digital format offer, and how it complements the on-demand listening modes offered by MP3 players. (My essay What does on-demand media really mean? is the most comprehensive collection of my thoughts.)
Crucially, once the amount of content the listener is interested in exceeds a manageable amount, programming or curating this content into a useful sequence provides extra value for the listener. And that's what radio does.
One problem with radio used to be the scarcity of frequencies and air-time, which meant that the content that the listener was interested in only got a limited amount of coverage. E Street Radio shows how far radio has come, thanks to satellite and DAB technologies. There are now so many stations that each can effectively narrowcast to a niche community of interest.
Another problem with the radio was that if you were away from the radio at the time of broadcast, you missed it and that was that. Now we have online 'listen again' features, and many niche stations repeat their programming. As well as repeats, listeners to E Street Radio using the Sirius S50 radio will be able to record up to fifty hours of the programming digitally (though apparently this is causing rumblings of discontent in the record industry).
So E Street Radio provides another example of how 21st Century radio can provide the best of both worlds: fresh content that can be intelligently sequenced, plus the control to decide when and how often you listen to particular parts of content.
The idea of an exclusively on-demand media world — everyone plucking their individual tracks from the ether of a celestial jukebox, but never coming together to hear what others are listening to — isn't a sensible or efficient way to give people what they want. So it makes sense to retain cycles of publicity and programming as some artists come briefly into the spotlight before being replaced by others. A month ago we were all splashing around in pools of '60s Bob Dylan, and here comes '70s Bruce in Bob's shadow, as ever.
Even Napster, a major totem of the on-demand experience, recognises the necessity of programming periodic features and content: according to today's Five Eight daily, next week is also Burt Bacharach Takeover Week on Napster, with content including Bacharach's new album, his own playlists and an exclusive interview with him.
Like emergent pattern formation in chaotic, dynamic systems, the rhythms and sequences of programming evolve to make sense of the atomised pieces of digital content.Posted by David Jennings in section(s) Curatorial, Future of Music, Music and Multimedia, Radio on 28 October 02005 | TrackBack