Thursday, December 3, 2009...8:30 am

How Bristol local radio turned into Spotify

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Tuesday’s trip to Bristol to meet fellow blogger and digital evangelist Bristol Editor, and hang out with my old animation buddies from UWE, was enlivened by a drama playing out on local radio station Original 106.5FM.

The station was apparently hijacked by “shock newspaper columnist” Mike Ford – a supposedly controversial contributer to the Bristol Evening Post. A row between Ford and breakfast presenter Jed Pitman sent Pitman storming out of the studio, leaving Ford to keep broadcasting and cause offence to various interest groups.

I missed all this. By the time I tuned in at about noon, the station was broadcasting music tracks interrupted only by the occasional advertisement and a periodic message that:

“This is 106.5FM. The current service has been suspended. Please tune in tomorrow at 6am for more information.”

All very exciting. Though the next morning’s rebranding to Jack 106.5FM and some cynical comments on the station’s web site indicate that, just perhaps, it could have all been a publicity stunt.

Never mind. The really fascinating thing was how familiar the listening experience was.

I didn’t miss the presenters at all.

In fact, listening to the themed streaming track selection (which could loosely be categorised as “dad rock” and “late 70s/early 80s oldies”, and fitted my demographic like a glove), interrupted by a few ads every 15 minutes, was achingly familiar. Where was it that I had such a similar audio experience recently?

Oh, yes. Spotify.

It was almost exactly the same. The only difference was that strange, post-apocalyptic recorded announcement. Ditch that and you might as well have been listening to the web’s most-hyped personalised radio experience.

And you know what? It was great.

Tellingly, though it promises a new breakfast crew from 6am, Jack 106.5FM is still playing DJ-free music into the evening. Is this the future of local commercial radio? Will we see the demise of the presenter in favour of a few pre-recorded links and a computer-driven playlist?

Radio’s doing pretty well in the current media climate (though digital commercial radio is on the slide). But I wonder whether listeners would tune in if the DJ-free, personalised, Spotify experience was as widely available as FM radio.

Maybe radio is making the move first and the DJ is on the way out, along with typesetters and paid journalists.

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