Could Slacker Radio Unseat Pandora as the King of Internet Music?


For the Love of Pandora

I have been a loyal and devoted paid user of Pandora Radio since it was first available back in 2005.  I use it almost every day, in one form or another.  In fact, I may even buy a new truck when it becomes available in-dash, just so I can get my alternative country music fix without having to suffer through the unbearable Mojo Nixon.

While Pandora’s Music Genome has pretty accurately mapped my musical tastes, Pandora is not perfect.  The biggest problem by far is that, thanks no doubt to the idiotic music label cartel, you can only skip 6 songs an hour, even if you’re a paid user.  Even worse, that hour seems to be of playing time, not just of the passage of actual time.  I use Pandora almost every night for the last part of my workout (more on this when I start my “Nerd on the Run” series later this month).  Often, I’ll try to skip a song for the first time that night, only to get the 6 song limitation message- even though it’s been over 20 hours of real time since I last skipped a song.  This is a horrible drawback to an otherwise awesome service.

The Once and Slacker King

Nothing is as good for consumers as choice.  I tried Slacker Radio a couple of years ago.   Even then, it had unlimited skipping for paid users.  I liked Slacker Radio, but I eventually went back to Pandora and stopped using Slacker altogether.


It looks like that may change.

Today I read that Slacker Radio is about to release an on-demand streaming plan, called Slacker Premium Radio, and a related iPad app.  This app will reportedly give you on-demand access to Slacker’s entire song library and playlists.  This feature will work on the web, and with lots of mobile devices, including  iPhones, iPads, Androids and BlackBerries.


With my renewed interest in Slacker Radio, I listened briefly to my classic rock station, Kent’s Vinyl, and The Rancho Room, my alternative country station.  I heard some good stuff, including excellent but obscure songs by Old Crow Medicine Show, Luna and the Scud Mountain Boys.  I also heard some ads, which is a no-go for me.  If I start using Slacker again, I will immediately buy a subscription.  Premium subscriptions currently cost $48 a year.  That’s a little more than Pandora’s $36, but it gives you both unlimited skipping and mobile station caching- the ability to cache your stations for offline play.

Web of Confusion

One thing Slacker badly needs to do better is explain the differences between their current and forthcoming offerings.  It seems there has been some manner of on demand streaming available since late 2008, under the same name: Slacker Radio Premium.  It sounds good, until you read this cautionary note: “Saved songs are based on licenses, not all songs are savable to your Slacker Library or Slacker Portable Radio Players.”

The most important question to ask when you hear the phrase “on-demand streaming” is “of what?”  The biggest issue with these services is their ability to provide access to the major label catalogs.  I assume this new service will be a meaningful expansion of the existing premium service, but we won’t know, well, until they tell us. Notwithstanding the web of confusion currently surrounding Slacker’s new service, I’m definitely interested and on the lookout for details.

Pandora’s Device Advantage

Hopefully this flurry of life by Slacker Radio will spur Pandora to make some significant improvements to its service, including unlimited song skipping.  Pandora is not without weapons in the battle for our ears.  It has a much bigger brand.  More importantly, it has made its way onto just about every online media box or service this side of Apple TV (bad call by Apple that will eventually make me all Boxee all the time).  Every newish TV and DVD player in my entire house will play Pandora.  As will a couple of my audio receivers.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen Slacker Radio on any of them.  To reach the top of the hill, Slacker will need to find its way onto more devices.

I know, for example, that it is much easier to listen to Pandora in my home gym, via my DVD player, than it would be to access Slacker Radio.  When I finish a DVD, it’s a two click process to bring up Pandora.  I would have to get off the treadmill and change all sorts of settings to get to Slacker Radio.

Either way, competition is good for us.  So let’s rock on.

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