Personal video recorders, or PVRs, have revolutionized the consumption of broadcast television. Now Michael Robertson, the Web entrepreneur who founded MP3.com in 1997, wants to bring the same “time-shifting” capability to broadcast radio through his new site, www.dar.fm.
Short for Digital Audio Recorder, DAR.fm allows users to select their favorite radio programs from a station list and have them recorded on DAR.fm’s servers. The content can then be streamed by the user to a PC, smartphone or Internet radio — for radio listening at their convenience.
“Radio has become the ‘forgotten medium,’ while everyone has been focused on improving the video experience,” Robertson said when Radio World touched base with him.
“DAR.fm remedies that bringing radio listening into the 21st century.”
Tuning without receivers
In contrast to conventional AM/FM listening that requires radio receivers, or TV-based time-shifting that requires specialized PVRs, DAR.fm merely requires its users to have a Web-connected PC.
“Everything involved with the system is done by our computers, remotely from the user,” Robertson said. “All they need to do is create a free account on our website and choose what they want to record, and that’s it. There’s no special equipment to buy; no monthly subscriptions to pay.”
Here’s how DAR.fm works. Once you sign onto the free site, you can select programs based on three categories: Talk, Music or Station Guide. The Talk category lets you drill-down to programs such as “The Sean Hannity Show,” “The Jim Rome Show” or “The Glenn Beck Program.” Select a show, and you are taken to a menu where you select the station it is accessed from. The show is then recorded for you on a daily and/or weekly basis.
The Music category is divided along format lines, covering well-known genres such as Adult Contemporary, AOR, Country, Hip-Hop and Top 40 (among others). Click on a genre, and you are taken to a list of radio stations. Click on a station, and DAR.fm asks you when you want to start recording their program, and for how long a time period. The Station Guide works the same way. The Guide is organized alphabetically by city.
“Once you have selected your programs, we record them for you,” Robertson says. “We get the audio from stations who are offering the content on their websites. We just connect to them like any user would, and record the audio to our servers.”
Accessing the audio is simple. Simply log onto the site and access your account, and the programs are ready to be played. DAR.fm is not configured to support actual file downloads. The audio is streamed in real time to the listener.
To allow for easier mobile listening, DAR.fm has developed and posted free device-specific apps for the Apple iPhone/iPod Touch, Android smartphone, Palm smartphones and Windows 7 phones.
Is it legal?
Michael Robertson isn’t looking to make money from DAR.fm; at least not yet.
“Our goal is to build up a critical mass of, say, 10 million users,” he says. “Once we have a base that’s substantial, we can look at doing something with it. But right now, all I want to do is add users. That’s why everything associated with DAR.fm is free.”
Of course, DAR.fm is building its business on other people’s content, namely content from radio stations whose programs it will be recording. Given what happened to Napster, an obvious question comes to mind: Is recording other people’s radio shows and then relaying them through DAR.fm legal?
“The question as to whether this is legal was resolved a few years ago, in the Cartoon Network vs. Cablevision case,” Robertson says. “Cablevision had set up a remote PVR system for its subscribers, with the content being recorded and then accessed from Cablevision’s own severs rather than home-installed PVRs. The New York federal court ruled that this was not an infringement of copyright, and that Cablevision could offer its remote PVR service legally. That’s the model we are operating on: We are serving as a remote PVR for radio programs.”
The radio industry likely will watch as DAR.fm compiles early subscriber numbers. As for DAR.fm’s business premise? Logically, the recording model makes sense. So too does the fact that the content can be accessed over iPhones and other mobile devices, allowing it to be heard at the user’s convenience.
What is not yet clear is whether or not consumers will record and then playback radio at a later date, in the same way they time-shift TV programs via cable and satellite today. Literally, only time — and DAR.fm’s released user numbers — will tell.