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Is Future Perfect Radio the Future of Radio?

I spend a lot of time exploring Internet radio stations. And while most of it is for fun, I’m definitely on a Diogenes/Morpheus-looking-for-Neo sort of mission. I’m searching for Internet radio that feels like real radio. What is “real radio?” you ask. It’s radio that feels like it is situated in some actual place and immediate time, with real people giving you information, playing music, and speaking to you in ways that make you relate to them and sense that you are part of something. That’s what real radio is, to me.

So far, I have not found much of that out in Internet radio-land. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy Slacker and Pandora. But they’re not radio. They’re juke box—basically very creative and effective dispensers of discrete individual songs. Beyond that, there is no sense of location. There are no DJs. Sure, there are methods by which members of the audience can communicate with each other, but no “station” to communicate with.

Bottom line: the radio part of Internet radio just isn’t there yet. Or at least I haven’t found it.

That having been said, I’m very much enjoying the new streaming site Future Perfect Radio, which is part of the AccuRadio group. Redesigned in January, the site describes itself as an “indie Internet radio station,” that is, a station that broadcasts the musics of indie labels. “Folk, dance-rock, twee-pop, post-rock . . . it’s all here,” the About page of the site declares. “Whatever your taste, you’ll find it on Future Perfect Radio.”

Here’s what I like about the site.

the music is good; it’s obvious that they’ve given it some thought

I believe that there really is this thing called “good taste.” Admittedly, it’s an amorphous, hard-to-define entity—in the case of radio stations a know-it-when-you-hear-it phenomenon. I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert on indie pop and start rattling off the names of the bands on Future Perfect’s program lists (or the categories, “bleep-pop”??). But I enjoy listening to them. The selections clearly strike a balance between giving you the stuff you won’t hear on commercial AM/FM radio and the stuff that you shouldn’t hear on AM/FM or anywhere else. Creative, lyrical, beautifully performed—I’m having a great time listening to Future Perfect’s tracks.

Equally important, I sense that they’re thinking about what they’re giving me. Slacker and Pandora’s lists often feel stretched pretty thin. And while everybody is raving about how you can program Pandora to meet your individual listening desires, I’m looking for music services that challenge my comfort zone and expand my sense of the possible. Of course, like Pandora, you can ban bands from various Future Perfect stations—at least ban them from your particular computer. And you can suggest stations to Future Perfect in a variety of ways.

the website is attractive; you want to look at it

A lot of streaming music websites are really depressing, at least visually. Live365 looks like one of those visitor traffic suckup sites you get when you spell the domain name you wanted wrong. ElectricFM reminds me of a really cheesy dance joint in New Jersey where if you aren’t friends with the bouncer you should consider leaving soon.

Pandora and Slacker aren’t so bad. Slacker’s site looks like, well, a nice portal that sells people stuff: albums, cell phones, ringtones, Slacker T-shirts and hats, whatever. . . . which is what it is. Pandora has clearly decided to go the bare bones route—your last three selections and some ads, all supported by a Fortress of Solitude light silver background.

Future Perfect is really kind to the eyes. It’s all shades of Ocean Blue with big white type. You feel like you are on the beach on a pleasant, cool day. There’s just a big expansive mood to the design. Plus, there are no ads on the front page. They eventually show up on the broadcast pop-up window, and you can buy the album being played by clicking the link to Amazon. Presumably Future Perfect gets a share of that sale, but the absence of ads up front contributes to the overall attractiveness of the site. It makes me want to stay.

you can listen to music by region

Remember I said that real radio gives you a sense of real place? Future Perfect gives you a choice of real places. As of this writing it has twelve city and region channels: U.K., Austin, New York City, Chicago, Georgia, Great Lakes, Aussies, L.A., Canada, Nordic countries, Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco. Since I’m never going to go to a club bar again unless someone pays me, this gives me a chance to check out what the pop music scene actually sounds like here in SF, something I’ll never get in a hundred years from commercial AM/FM radio.

Turns out that it sounds really nice. I recommend “Brand New Sun” by Jason Lytle, “S.F.O” by French Miami, Matmos’ “The Struggle Against Unreality Begins,” Maus Haus’ “Reaction,” and Or, the Whales’ “Call and Response.” Thanks Future Perfect. Listening to your site gives me another reason to feel good about living around here.

So, so far this has been a really good review, right? Mind you, I still don’t think that Future Perfect Radio is really radio. But it comes as close as a DJ-less streaming service gets. You can get AccuRadio’s programming on your iPhone via FlyCast, and Future Perfect’s Michael Schmitt told us the company is working on a Palm Pre app.

As for DJs, that’s a long term project, he said. There are a lot of challenges facing this medium right now: performance royalty rates (still), bandwidth costs, and business models that mostly depend on partner sales and ad clicks. It would sure help if the economy got back on its feet. Given all this, Future Perfect has accomplished a lot. I hope its audience recognizes a good thing when it hears one, and sustains the service through these difficult times.

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