Despite the proliferation of streaming music, somehow radio is still thriving: 91 percent of Americans still listen to old-fashioned AM/FM terrestrial radio. With those kinds of numbers, it’s no surprise that Dash Radio, an online radio service, is looking to bring that audience into the digital age. After racking up over 1 million listeners while in beta, it looks to be well on its way.
"It’s something everybody has been ignoring while this streaming war is kind of going on between Spotify and now Tidal and even Beats," Dash Radio founder and CEO Scott "DJ Skee" Keeney told me. A well-respected DJ throughout the music industry, Keeney has been a longtime staple on radio, including stints on LA’s KISS-FM and Sirius XM. Dash Radio isn’t based on algorithms like Pandora, and doesn't simulcast existing radio stations like iHeartRadio. With over 60 stations curated by DJs with no commercials and no subscription fee, Dash Radio is attempting to build a better version of the radio online.
Dash Radio has over 60 curated stations with DJs including Snoop Dogg and Odd Future
The company, which exited beta after a year and launched iOS and Android apps this week, believes radio is still the place where people discover new music, and that it can coexist with streaming services, instead of competing with them. "We don’t want to compete with them," Keeney said. "People discover music on the radio, and if they like it they go buy it on vinyl, or tape, or CD, or MP3, and now they’re going to be streaming that album on one of those services. But radio has always been that place for discovery."
The stations on Dash Radio are curated by artists like Snoop Dogg, Odd Future, publications like XXL, DJs, record labels, and brands. Operating like traditional radio station DJs, the curator's pick what songs they want to play, without restrictions. When the station host isn’t online, old mixes and songs the curator has previously selected can be played until they come back on.
"Radio has always been that place for discovery."
But don’t expect to turn on Snoop Dogg’s station, the aptly titled Cadillac Music, and hear Doggystyle all day. Snoop — who performs DJ sets around the world and at one time tried to buy an FM station, according to Keeney — plays an eclectic mix of rap, soul, funk, and gospel. At the time of this writing, Cadillac Music was playing the disco smash hit "Ring My Bell" by Anita Ward.
You won’t be hearing any ads on the Dash Radio anytime soon, thanks in part to the $2 million in seed funding the company has raised to date, and in part because Keeney doesn’t think they work. "We don’t believe in traditional advertising. We think that 30-second spots on radio don’t work. Stats show that consumers tune them out." Instead, the company plans to utilize ads read by the DJs, much like you would hear on a podcast, and limited-run stations that brands can use to market their products. Stations have already been created around EA Sports FIFA, The Grammys, and the upcoming Entourage movie.
Apple's entry into market may pose problems for Dash Radio
Dash Radio has a lot of things going for it. It’s free, there are no ads like you would find in Pandora or iHeartRadio, and there are no limits on the songs it can play, unlike the 1 million song library of Pandora. If you don't like making playlists, you should probably give Dash Radio a try. And having Snoop Dogg is always a plus. But the big question for Dash Radio is the impact that Apple’s upcoming service will have on the company. Apple has reportedly hired artists including Drake and Pharrell as DJs for the upcoming relaunch of iTunes Radio, and could cool off the hot start Dash Radio has gotten off to.
Like every other CEO before Apple enters their market, Keeney is welcoming them, while noting that its entry justifies his company’s work. "We think it’s great. We think what Apple’s doing with its radio service is justifying everything that we’ve been saying and doing. We think it’s flattering that they’re entering the same lane," Skee said. He was quick to note, however, that Dash Radio does one thing, and does it well. "We’re very clear on what we are; we don’t want to try to be all these different services in one. We don’t want to try to sell you your music. We don’t try to be the record label. We want to make the best broadcast radio content in the world and do it authentically and organically for the right reasons."