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Radical.FM launches free, user-supported digital streaming radio for iPhone

Steve Sande
Steve Sande|@stevensande|August 20, 2013 12:15 PM
Streaming radio services are pretty common for iPhone; with the release of iOS 7, for example, iPhone users will have access to iRadio, Apple's own streaming radio service. Also in existence at this time are Pandora, Spotify, BBC iPlayer and others. Now a new streaming service, Radical.FM, is arriving with a rather interesting business plan -- they want you to pay them what you feel the service is worth.

The free Radical.FM app is available today, and as the name suggests, it appears that the founder seems to wish he was living in the late 1960s -- "Radical is a corporation with a conscience; we believe in a sustainable planet, global humanity and local action. We compensate artists, composers and labels for all the music you stream. And we believe everyone is entitled to a great musical experience, even the unemployed and working poor."

As touchy-feely as that sounds, it ignores the fact that all of the other services also compensate artists, composers and labels. And I can't help but thinking that the working stiffs in the world are going to be subsidizing "the unemployed and working poor," as well as everyone else who decides that they don't feel like paying their fair share. Sure, being commercial-free is a nice goal, but altruism doesn't necessarily pay the bills. I'm wondering how long it will take Radical.FM to resort to the PBS/NPR model of "no advertising," but tons of blurbs for corporate sponsors as well as monthly beg-a-thons for support.

The app itself is unexciting. You sign in or create a new account -- it said that my attempt to sign in with a Facebook account was rejected due to my security settings -- and then select the stations you want to listen to. Being a true child of the '60s and '70s, I picked '70s Classic Rock as my first station... which ended up being called "My First Station." At least you can rename the stations.

There's a "tune station" feature that makes no sense, using a + and - continuum to do something to the station -- what it does, I have no clue. An explanation in the app of what this feature does would be helpful. Does it skew the music towards the beginning or end of an era? Does it give a Led Zeppelin channel more or less Jimmy Page? Who knows?

As it is, you're presented with a grid of album covers, with the playlist set up to go from top-left to bottom-right. The album containing the song you're listening to covers up six of the other album covers, and features a progress bar for the song in question. A simple play/pause button is located at the bottom-left of the screen, and there's a "fast-forward" button if you absolutely cannot stand the song you're listening to.

Unlike the "commercial" streaming stations, Radical.FM provides no way to purchase a song that you like. iRadio has a simple button at the top of each song page with the price clearly listed: if I want to buy it and add it to my iTunes library, it's a simple tap away. Even Pandora lets you opt into purchasing a song that you may have loved years ago, but totally forgot about. It seems like selling music through Radical.FM would be a great funding opportunity, so it's odd that the service doesn't offer any way to buy songs or albums.

One feature of Radical.FM that is touted quite heavily is the service's 25 million song library, which contains -- and I quote -- "online rarities like The Beatles, AC/DC and Bob Seger." That's quite interesting to hear, since I can't seem to get away from AC/DC on the iRadio beta; Bob Seger shows up between the ads on Pandora with no problems (even on the free version); and the Beatles are easily accessible on Pandora as well.

Anyway, it's a new service, a new app and a new day. In the end, Radical.FM may end up being the most successful streaming radio service on the 'net. It's up to you, the consumer, to decide whether you want to try the service and how much you want to donate to Radical.FM. In the end, perhaps my lack of faith in the generosity of the general public may be overpowered by all of you opening your wallets.