Radio Waves: 10/25/19

New app could accidentally save AM radio

Recently I surmised that perhaps the future of radio — and a way to save AM radio in particular — is to put it all online.

Well, not exactly. But my thought process went something like this: in many parts of the country, especially large cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, the property that an AM station requires to transmit a strong, quality signal is often worth more than the station itself. Add to that the technical problems AM faces (though they are not insurmountable) and it seems and alternative might be worth pursuing.

I am not sure technical hurdles can be dealt with, but it’s an interesting concept. And it would cut the cost of broadcasting tremendously, just by cutting out the electricity costs needed to run a transmitter. What it takes is the ability for a station to reach a large broadcast-sized audience and an app on a phone — and eventually worked into a home or car receiver — that would make it easy to tune into a chosen station.

The first problem I don’t have the technical expertise to answer. I have no clue how many streams a station can realistically have at a reasonable cost, and if the internet could indeed reach as many potential listeners as an over-the-air broadcast.

But the second part — the app — is available right now, at least for smart phones. If radio manufacturers could agree on a standard, this app or something similar could be added to new radios and a radio revolution could be under way.

The app is called MyTuner. I found it almost bu accident, when I was searching for any generic radio app to see what was out there. It’s certainly not the only radio app available. But it is by far one of the easiest to use, and it works flawlessly. 

Find stations by searching by “most popular,” genre, city, state, country, “near me,” a selection of “best of” genres, or just by call letter. That’s fairly typical of all similar apps, but MyTuner was quite a bit easier than most to search.

Once you find the stations you want, you save them as favorites, and here’s where MyTuner shines: it doesn’t just put them into a hard to read list, it uses the station logo as a button preset. In other words, it’s just as easy to use as the AM pushbutton radio in a ’64 Impala. Push the button for KCJJ/Iowa City, Iowa or our own locals 88.5 FM, Go Country, or internet-only stations like Boss Boss Radio and the app tunes right in. Almost instantly, in fact, faster than some electronic tuners tune in regular stations.

In addition to the intuitive regular mode, there is a special simplified car mode that you can use when in your car; put your smart phone on your dash phone holder and you can basically use the app as your car stereo tuner. Easy peasy. Keeping in mind that I have most certainly not tried every possible internet radio app, of the ones I have tried, this is absolutely the easiest I have ever used. And I still can’t get over how fast it tines into the stations when you press the button. It can even be set to start playing right where you left off when you relaunch the app.

Is it perfect? No. Close, but no. But the one noticeable flaw is not the fault of the developer at all: stations owned by iHeart Radio and CBS/Entercom cannot be found on MyTuner because those two companies want you to use their own apps, iHeartRadio and radio.Com, respectively.

The problem with those apps is that they are awful. Both are designed to make iHeart and Entercom money, not promote their stations. iHeart wants you to log in (and give personal information) so you can have targeted ads sent your way, and both are cumbersome, difficult, and annoying to use. They certainly cannot be used in the car, as they require you to take your eyes off the road just as if you were texting.

I’d rather just skip listening to any iHeart or Entercom stations than to use their terrible apps. The fact that they refuse to allow their stations to be heard on competing apps is even more incentive to not use them.

You can also use it for podcasts.

Anyway, I could see a day when radio stations, especially AM, could very well find success via an app like this. And then all stations would be on an even playing field. Try the app if you feel adventurous, and let me know what you think. Available for iOS, Android, Google Play, Alexa, Galaxy, Macintosh and Windows.