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100% User-Controlled Radio?

In his post about Pandora yesterday, Matthew mentioned that he’d like to see a different model of radio on the Internet, where both listeners and DJs have some sort of control over the music selections. Well, we’re definitely in an era full of user-generated content and of success stories like American Idol, where fans vote for their favorite performers and play a role in who wins the big prize. So, it’s no surprise that traditional radio is starting to experiment with giving listeners a chance to control the playlist.

San Francisco commercial radio station Live 105 just launched a show on June 28th that airs on Sunday nights from 10 until midnight which is being touted as “100% User-Controlled Radio.” Listeners sign up for a service called Jelli in order to help formulate the playlist. According to Jelli’s website:

“Jelli is 100% user-controlled radio, enabling users to take over a radio station using their web browsers. Leveraging the power of the web to reinvent traditional broadcasting, Jelli empowers the community to interact with the broadcast in real-time and determine dynamically what plays on the air.”

I signed up for Jelli and have to admit that I was excited about potentially being able to re-shape Live 105’s playlist. However, as you might guess, the song selection that I had to choose from limited. I scanned through the choices trying to shake things up a bit by voting for all of the more obscure bands and for the genres that are outside of Live 105’s current playlist.

Amid all of the expected rock tracks from Green Day, AC/DC, and Rancid, I was surprised to see some wild card song options including soul, reggae, Tom Jones, Bee Gees, jazz from Miles Davis, country from Willie Nelson, hip hop from Jurassic 5, Run DMC, and a Tribe called Quest. There were even selections from college radio favorites like The Cramps, Vivian Girls, Squirrel Nut Zippers, American Analog Set, Sonic Youth, Galaxie 500, Sleater-Kinney, Dead Can Dance, !!!, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Diamanda Galas, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone and old punk like Agent Orange. So, I wonder. If all the indie kids got on here and voted for a list of non-mainstream stuff, could we have a Sunday night commercial radio show that was both listenable and unexpected? I’d love to see that.

Jelli’s press release upon their recent launch reveals that users are selecting songs from a limited, pre-approved universe. And, amazingly, they admit that even though it’s “100% user-controlled,” it’s also automated programming. They describe this as a “social jukebox.” The press release states:

“The Jelli experience is enabled by an innovative ‘social automation’ platform, which combines radio automation capabilities with web services to enable real-time control of radio infrastructure by web applications.  This platform creates fully automated, highly targeted, ‘radio ready’ programming which is format neutral and FCC & DMCA compliant. In addition to live 24/7 online and mobile streaming, Jelli can uniquely transform traditional FM/AM/HD broadcast experiences with its partners around the country, enabling crowdsourced programming in their market.”

It’s an interesting idea, and I definitely found the whole voting experience on Jelli to be a fun time-waster. But will people tune in or feel in control? And will the playlists seem much different than what airs on radio already? One nice thing is that users can request that certain artists and songs are added to the system. Take a look at Jelli’s blog to see some of the recent adds, which include a lot of retro artists, new bands, and some surprisingly innovative choices like Tom Waits. Additionally, you can take a look at the most voted for tracks for a given week. This week’s top picks included the likes of Third Eye Blind, Beatles, Tom Petty, Ramones, and White Stripes.

I’d like to get more rebel users on there voting for non-mainstream artists in order to shake things up and broaden the on-air playlist. Diamanda Galas playing on Live 105? One can dream…

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