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Social music platform brings terrestrial radio into the present

July 1: Back in September, inVocus reported that one of the reasons radio is able to keep its head above the waters of the recession – something that its print cousins, the newspaper and the magazine, are finding difficult – was that it could easily adapt to the times. Now thanks to a company that celebrated its one-year anniversary this week, radio has adapted in a way that while not new, is innovative to the medium and might be drawing people back to their stereos.

Based in San Mateo, Calif., Jelli is a social music service that allows listeners to decide what they want to hear via its website. While tuned into a station, a user can vote on the next song to be played and rate the current song playing by voting either “rocks” or “sucks.” If a song tallies enough “sucks” votes, the song may stop right in its tracks and the next one begins playing.

Sounds a little bit like Pandora, right? Yes, but whereas Pandora is tailored specifically to the user’s tastes, Jelli builds an online community around a single listening experience. In addition, Jelli is not limited to digital radio – terrestrial radio has already begun to embrace it, and it’s only getting more popular.

When Jelli launched in June 2009, the San Francisco-based Modern Rock station KITS-FM (Live 105) served as the company’s pilot FM station. Every Sunday night from 10 p.m. to midnight, Live 105 gave up its programming to the user-controlled platform, allowing local and online listeners to choose the playlist. Since then, Jelli’s popularity – and with it, the station’s ratings – have grown, and consequently, KITS expanded its Jelli-operated programming to six nights a week.

Now available in over a dozen markets in the United States and Australia, Jelli has brought listeners back to music-oriented radio using an old tried-but-true tactic: listener interaction. Jelli’s use of an online platform to plug listeners directly into a station’s programming, allowing for real-time interaction with the playlist, is more credible and, let’s face it, more fun. (Anyone who remembers MTV2’s request show, Control Freak could tell you that.)

While Jelli isn’t exactly innovative to media in general, it does bring terrestrial radio up to date with the digital era in regards to listener interaction. In addition, it could be the saving grace for some radio formats, like Alternative and Modern Rock, which have begun to disappear from some markets over the last couple of years. So happy birthday Jelli, and may you have many more years ahead of you.

–Jeff Peterson

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