After putting up with painfully slow DSL Internet service for the past few years, my family just switched to cable and in the process moved to cable TV. I have always been a huge television consumer and was the master of my video cassette recorder (VCR) back in the day. Digital video recorders (DVRs) came on the scene just in time for me, as I had a frustrating period in the 1990s when my cable TV/VCR situation couldn’t handle heavy nights of taping multiple shows on different channels. I remember being addicted to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and having class at the same time and being frustrated by the limitations of VCRs at the time.
I got my first TiVo in 2002 and fell in love. Finally I could record multiple shows at the same time, search for shows by genre or channel, and so much more. After a few blissful years and an upgrade to HD TV, I had to abandon my TiVo for a few different (and inferior) DVRs. It was never quite the same.
This week I rekindled my relationship with TiVo. After setting up our new cable service, we installed the TiVo Roamio. When I perused our cable channel guide last night, I initially thought that we no longer had music channels like we did with our former satellite service. Curious about that, I started searching around and found a “music/photos” section on the TiVo menu.
It turns out that my TiVo Roamio is an Internet Radio! On the music menu, I have the option of tuning in to Live365, Pandora, and Spotify. I can also check out podcasts from the Podcaster menu.
So, today, my 9-year-old daughter and I took our new TiVo Internet Radio for a spin. Although I have been an early adopter as far as television, I’ve fallen behind when it comes to Internet music, being more of an old-school radio gal. Ironically, TiVo may change all that.
TiVo was my Gateway to Pandora Radio
It’s weird to admit that TiVo was my gateway to Pandora, as I set up my first Pandora station today. Although I’ve always eschewed these computer-generated music playlists (how can they possibly compete with human-curated content?), my daughter and I had a lot of fun creating various Pandora stations.
The Pandora set up was super easy, as we were prompted with an on-screen sign up option. After retrieving a code listed on our TV screen, I was able to set up a free Pandora account on my computer. Moments later we got going through the TiVo interface. I started things off by building a station based on one of my favorite artists, Smog. The playlist launched with a Smog track and then transitioned into familiar (and expected) favorites by Neutral Milk Hotel, Cat Power, and Bonnie Prince Billy, before transitioning back to another Smog song (one of my favorites, “Bathysphere”). Although I didn’t discover any new music through this short stint with “Smog Radio,” it was a satisfying listen, taking me through music that I already like.
Growing impatient (because she wanted to take control of the TiVo), my daughter asked for a turn. Instead of letting her try out Pandora, I asked her to take a look at Live 365 for me.
Perusing Live 365’s Radio Options on TiVo
I’d taken a cursory look at TiVo’s Live 365 offerings last night and was pleased to see that I could tune in to a wide variety of stations, including some college radio stations (in the “alternative” and “freeform” sections). My daughter checked out the main menu and initially chose “classical.” After an unsatisfying listen to “All Relaxing Classics” (she said, “This looks weird” after seeing the album cover artwork), she changed her mind and said, “I want to listen to blues. Wait? Is there more? I want to listen to jazz.”
So then she did a survey of various jazz station options on Live 365. I had to laugh when she asked, “What’s the difference between soft and smooth jazz?” as I don’t see much of a distinction myself. After trying out “Soft Jazz FM,” “Smooth Jazz 247,” “Soft Jazz Mellow Blend,” “The Jazz Mix,” and “Jazz all the Time,” she came up with her answer, saying, “Clearly soft and smooth jazz are not good at all, they should be called bad jazz.” She liked “The Jazz Mix” a lot more and said, “Overall this is really awesome.” We both enjoyed “Jazz all the Time” the most, but by this point my daughter said, “I need to listen to something else besides jazz.”
We then switched over to the menu of Pop stations on Live 365 and my daughter selected “the Rhythm of the City” station. As we launched it we heard an ad for the Live 365 Android app and then a Geico ad, followed by yet another ad. My daughter grew frustrated with the whole endeavor, exiting the station before we even heard a track.
I asked her if we could try some college radio and she relented. We went to the Freeform category and chose SFCR/KUSF-in-Exile, our local San Francisco community radio station (which is made up of many former college radio DJs from KUSF-FM). I recognized the DJ’s name that popped up on our screen (Fari), but the interface was a bit confusing as it wouldn’t have been clear to most that we were looking at a show name as opposed to a track name. After listening to a track that “sounds very Spanish,” according to my daughter, she was ready to move on, saying, “Now, I want to make my own music one.”
Before steering her back to Pandora, I made my daughter take one more detour to Podcaster.
Podcaster – It’s Like Radio on TV!
On my initial look at TiVo’s Podcaster last night, I was amazed and amused that I could listen to radio podcasts through my TV. There’s popular stuff in the Featured section including “The Adam Carolla Show,” “the Moth Podcast,” “the Nerdist,” and “Radiolab.” You can also listen to sports, comedy, entertainment, and music podcasts, as well as to a bunch of NPR podcasts (I’m listening to a NPR “Pop Culture Happy Hour” podcast about Stan Freberg as I write this). There’s also an option to type in RSS feeds for other podcasts, so in theory you can listen to whatever you’d like through TiVo (is this what Paul dreamed of last year, when he wrote that podcasting needed to enter every room of the home?).
But what’s really surreal, is that from the Entertainment menu you can tune in to “Old Time Radio Suspense” and “Old Time Radio Thrillers.” Sadly, I got an error message for both podcasts (“Sorry, there was a problem accessing this podcast. Please try again later.”), but I can’t wait to check again to see if I can really listen to old time radio on my TV.
My daughter was pretty confused by Podcaster, saying, “I thought you were able to do podcasts on the TV. When you can do a video and put it online and it will be live.” She plowed through anyway and selected “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” She noticed an episode about a plane crash and asked if she could watch it. After listening for a bit she said, “It needs to have pictures.” I then broke the news to her that podcasts are just audio. After hearing that, my daughter told me, “I don’t want to do this anymore,” so I let her go back to Pandora.
My Daughter Learns that Pandora isn’t really On-Demand – Where’s “Skyfall” on “Skyfall Radio”?
After our brief tour of Podcaster, we returned to Pandora. My daughter was desperate to create her own station and decided to do one based on the Adele song “Skyfall.” The station launched with a James Newton Howard track (“The Hanging Tree”), which my daughter recognized, telling me, “It’s from the Hunger Games. I like it.” We then heard tracks by One Republic, Garbage, as well as some by Adele. Overall it was a mix of songs that my daughter knew and songs that she didn’t know. Ultimately, though, she was a bit frustrated because she really wanted to hear “Skyfall.” After skipping through a few tracks and still not hearing the song, she retreated to her room so that she could hear “Skyfall” on her own devices.
I Learn that Pandora Really Can Be a Discovery Tool
After my daughter left the room, the addictive nature of Pandora became apparent to me. I kept thinking about other stations that I wanted to create and was curious to hear what other tracks Pandora would come up with. For my next station, I picked another old favorite, the 1990s band Tiger Trap. Although the station started out with some familiar bands, including the Crabs, Heavenly, and Chin-Chin, I was also happy to hear some bands that I was less familiar with, including Veronica Falls and Cloud Nothings. I’m guessing that since I chose a more underground artist for my station, I was presented with some more adventurous options than my daughter’s more mainstream Pandora channel.
When in Doubt, There’s Always YouTube, even on TiVo
As I was finishing up this story, I was listening to a New York Times music review podcast through TiVo. My daughter wasn’t all that interested in listening to music critics chatting about Sleater-Kinney’s new album, so she grabbed the remote control and scrolled to the main TiVo menu in order to select “Find TV, music, and videos.” From that screen she had the option of searching on YouTube. Of course that’s now the ultimate music library for the 2000s, so she searched for “Skyfall” and finally had her moment of satisfaction, getting the chance to listen to the exact song that she wanted to hear when she wanted to hear it.
And Don’t Forget MusicChoice, Digital FM, and even Spotify….
After spending much of the day investigating our music/radio/podcasting options on TiVo, we still haven’t explored it all. In order to make use of Spotify we need to sign up for a Spotify Premium account. I think we’ll have to leave that for another day…
And, by the way, after checking out all of these newfangled online music options, I found out that our TV does actually have standard TV radio fare, including “Music Choice” stations across a range of genres, as well as some digital FM stations, where I can tune in to local San Francisco Bay Area stations like KQED, KSJO, KPFA, KOIT, KUFX, KFRC, KDFC, KFOG, KITS, KSAN, and more.
Who knew that there was so much radio on my TV.