At 5 p.m. today, Cox Radio's 97X becomes first area station programmed by fans via smartphone app
In an age where your smartphone can call up TV images from the other side of the world, it might not sound like a stretch to use it for programming a local radio station
But Cox Radio is making a bit of radio history today, turning Tampa Bay area alternative rock station WSUN-FM (97.1, 97X) into the first local station where every song played is chosen by fans through a free smartphone app.
After 65,000 votes logged since the station began telling listerners about its plans over the air and social media Thursday, Foo Fighter's Best of You rang out at 5 p.m. today at the first song chosen by users under the new system.
Users can pick titles from a list of 1,800 songs covering 30 years of artists, ranging from Weezer’s Buddy Holly to The Beastie Boys’ Paul Revere, moving songs up and down their personal playlists.
Fans can also record a personal message with the song they pick, receiving a text message to alert them when the song and message is about to play. Another feature encourages fans to log in via Facebook to earn badges and spread messages across their social media circle.
The change also means that the station’s current lineup of personalities will vanish, including the Morning X starring Drew Garabo — cutting the station’s expenses by reducing staff and turning listeners into programming executives.
But Garabo, who also hosts a midday talk show on Cox Radio’s WHPT-FM (102.5), was upbeat about the changes, saying on air staffers would get new jobs in the transition and no one would be laid off.
“Certainly, this could be called a cost-saving measure, but this is also really changing the way music is delivered to listeners,” said Garabo, whose WHPT talk show will expand by an hour in the changes. “The alternative rock radio format isn’t that viable. This is new; gone are the days of you requesting a song and waiting around to see if they play it.”
Despite Garabo's enthusiam, fans filled the station's Facebook page with complaints over the change, saying they had trouble finding the app in their smartphone's software store and noting the new system could encourage people to try recommending songs while driving in their car. A new Facebook fan page named "Tampa Bay wants the Morning X back" already had over 100 likes by 6 p.m. Friday, with the tagline: "picking music from an app on your phone is not radio...it's an iPod!"
The technology is provided by Ohio-based Listener Driven Radio; just one other station in the country, WHPP-FM (now known as ClickHop.com) in Fort Wayne, Ind., has turned their entire format over to listeners in this way, though Cleveland-based WHLK does allow listeners to choose songs in parts of its broadcast day, according to LDS' chief revenue officer, Maureen Lesourd.
She said Cox Radio has set up its system so a live person must implement the results of the app voting; that could make it tougher for a group of listeners to hijack the results, along with settings allowing a single person to vote only a few times. By providing information on where people are voting from and what they like, the system acts as a real-time research study, encouraging fans to become more engaged with the station, Lesourd said.
"The way we communicate has been reivented in front of our eyes with social media," Michael Sharkey, 97X program director said in a press release. "And today we are injecting that experience into radio."
Warning: The video clip below has some NSFW profanity.