The Man Behind 1 Radio News

8/7/2017 10:08:00 AM

Online radio station apps are usually known for their completeness: listing around a hundred thousand online radio stations. Podcasting apps also are full of different genres and an almost overwhelming amount of content.

1 Radio News is a different kind of app. It contains one thing: radio news.

Steven Clift is the man behind it. A digital strategist by day, working to use digital to improve democracy and strengthen communities, he launched 1 Radio News to do one thing.

“What I wanted was a simple way to play top of the hour news headlines on-demand and then switch to a live station,” he told me via email. “As a kid, my Uncle gave me a shortwave radio filled with global perspectives. With the live station section on the app, I’ve curated the best free sources of world news in English. The niche world news radio community seems to love the app - if they know about it.”

The app contains 500 hourly and daily news programs, and spoken-word content from over 65 countries. It contains, in his words, fresh news. “If you want to get lost in millions of outdated podcast episodes, use a normal bloated podcast player,” he adds.

With no marketing, the app has been downloaded over 100,000 times and has an average rating of 4.6: very high for a radio app. His retention levels are also very high — with over half of his US users retaining the app after a month of use.

Tips he gives app developers are:

Keep it simple. Listeners normally press the “play all” button, and listen to a handful of headlines from global broadcasters. “Press a button. Wash the dishes,” he says, invoking a common use-case. “Traditional podcasting is too complicated. It takes five steps to search, subscribe, download,then open play list, then press play for a new podcast. Why would a normal person spend five minutes to set up listening to a five minute news cast?”

Give an obvious name to your app with keywords that people actually use when searching the app store. He points out that many of the venture-funded apps all have clever names. “Clever loses. Utility wins”, he says.

Have an iOS app. It’s the key to getting good amounts of media, he says. According to Clift, technology journalists don’t write about Android-first apps. Given that the smartphone market is around 80% Android-based, this is “too bad,” he says. It might come as no surprise, then, that he’s currently readying an iOS version.

For radio broadcasters, he has a number of recommendations, too.

Get your hourly headlines up on iTunes, he recommends. “That’s what you tell your boss. Don’t use Apple Podcasts, they won’t be excited about that. If they hesitate, toss in an Amazon Alexa skill, so they can impress their friends at the next dinner party,” he adds. (Most stations can automate this, since news headlines are often clock-driven and of a specific duration).

He wishes more broadcasters would publish. He has a “dirty laundry list” of broadcasters who, in his opinion, aren’t doing a good job. “The ABC in Australia just switched off shortwave transmissions... so where is the 24kbps, heck even 16kbps option for people on metered and slow mobile data?” he asks. He points a finger at broadcasters who are forcing listeners to use their own apps. “While you may prefer people to listen via your branded stand alone apps, guide people there rather than trap people. And don't forget your website. Radio New Zealand smartly puts their radio headlines on their home page,” he advises.

He recommends a low bitrate format.“News is not music”, he highlighted to me — and recommends a 32 kbps or even lower aacPlus format file. “Make it super-fast to download, so that people with poor internet can listen quickly.”

The biggest missed audio opportunity, he says, is an audio-only stream from television news services. “Al-Jazeera English has an audio only option,” he says. “It is very popular audio on my app.”

As a listener, Clift likes radio for the serendipity, and is concerned that this is being lost. “There are a number of projects and startups banking on being the Pandora or Spotify of podcasts/news. We’ll track what you like and give you a lot more of that. Yuck, that's boring. I listen to full radio news programs for serendipity — ‘That's interesting, I didn't expect that and I Iiked it.’”

“I’d love to see more “Best of” and “Week in Review” compilation shows. Playback from Ireland is a great “best of” example. In my home state, I’d love see Minnesota Public Radio produce a “best of” weekly podcast for out of state Minnesotans and for radio “visitors.” This is how the post-shortwave Radio Sweden or Swiss.Info are with telling their story to a global audience wanting to understand people and places around the world.”

Clift plans to add more curation and themes in the future. “I am launching a joint venture for a new 1 Radio India app with my technology partner to build a revenue stream for the tech to feed a series of themed and carefully curated radio apps. When you bootstrap an effort like this and rely on actual revenue to fund feature improvements, you have to laser focus on what people actually want to use.”

1 Radio News has a pre-launch signup for its iOS app on its website, and is free with a Pro option that contains more news sources.

“What I hope to learn next is how to get from 100,000 downloads to 1,000,000 app listeners,” he finishes. News junkies clearly need to tell other news junkies of the app’s existence. 

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