This morning, I posted an email from NPR to its member stations announcing that the iPhone Public Radio Tuner had made it to the iPhone apps store. That email to a member station list prompted a thoughtful response from Steve Yasko, GM of WTMD in Towson, Maryland. I'm posting this response with Steve's permission:
"This is a wonderful application, but there are several items that make it less than the perfect first choice for stations, particularly music stations. I’ve had the public radio tuner on my iPhone for several weeks, and have transitioned from version 1 to 1.1. I’ve done my own sort of “quality testing” and here is what I’ve found.
1. The sound quality between 1 and 1.1 is vastly improved. There were a lot of streams that sounded so bad in 1 it was kind of embarrassing to call it “public radio quality”. Even through noise cancelling earphones, several us sounded ..well…yuckie.
2. The connection times for some stations has not been improved. This is most likely a station issue and I urge you all to make sure your streams are working correctly with this tuner. I can tell you since I have started writing this email 2 of 5 stations clicked on have failed to connect. Many stations have load times that are unacceptable to the average iPhone user.
3. [snip] Users cannot search by “format.” The search function is based on the line of text on the front screen of tuner. For example, searching for AAA music yields no stations and WUSF in Tampa doesn’t show up when the user searches for “classical.” There are dozens of others. I urge you to change your front screen description of your station to include a word that users will commonly search by.
4. The most important feature for music listeners is still missing. Music listeners want title and artist information. Without it, this app is inferior to those that do. Music listeners have cited this feature over and over again in research [snip] as their most important desire. A new version of the public radio tuner should not be released without it. Clear Channel streams artist and title information in their directory app—and check out their “shake it” feature where a shake of your iPhone randomly chooses a city and format! We should have this in public radio tuner so that all stations have the opportunity to be heard by all users.
The larger question of course, is whether or not being part of directory iPhone application is beneficial to a station. I don’t believe it is…for the most part. Here’s why. Having your own app gives your station front screen branding in users iPhones. Their favorite radio station is before their eyes every time they look at their phone. You stand apart from other directory apps and most likely will limit the number of stations a user actually “thinks” about using or “actually” uses.
Second, it provides one touch launching of your station. It just took me 5 taps (iPhone jargon is so cute isn’t it?) in the Tuner to get to WTMD after launching the app. Our stand alone app is one tap and you’re on. Think of it this way…you own app’s icon is a car radio preset. One touch and you’re there! It’s also safer when driving. We’ve all worried about the day when in care internet listening will start. Here in Baltimore, the debut of Wimax has been greeted by so so reviews and service. But all I can tell you is I drove from NYC to the end of the NJ turnpike listening to WTMD on my iPhone and it only cut out twice and never disconnected fully. I had it plugged into my car stereo through a cassette adaptor, Mario’s car has an auxiliary plug for the same purpose.
If Verizon, not ATT had gotten the iPhone agreement with Apple, it would already be a different world. By choosing a carrier with a smaller share of the 3G network market, we have a little more time get better at something most of us are not good at….Branding Our Stations.
If you want your station right in front of your iPhone users eyes there are many ways to get the job done. WTMD and KUT used Jacobs Media to create our apps $1,000 and 10 working days and we [were] in the app store on iTunes. I suggest all stations pursue both the Tuner and their own branded app. Best to cover all the bases in the new media world."
Thanks for allowing me to post this, Steve. By the way, as Steve describes above on his trip to NYC, I've used Sprint's non-WiMax 3G service with a wireless PC card to listen on extended trips with good success and also listen to Northwest Public Radio's stream on my Nokia N95 while bicycling around Washington, DC on many weekend days. --Dennis