Dash Radio’s ambitions in lean-back listening [INTERVIEW]

scott-keeneyDash Radio is a platform for free (and ad-free) radio, offering about 80 stations with 24/7 programming. RAIN has followed this service since its early days, and a chat this week with founder and CEO Scott Keeney offered insight into where Dash will be heading next. Also known as DJ Skee from his on-air days, Keeney shared how Dash Radio hopes to lead the lean-back listening space.

A big part of that plan is tied to radio’s deep roots in cars. “I think the vehicle is everything,” he said. “That’s why we call it Dash, we want it to mimic the dashboard of your vehicle.”

He’s approaching in-car listening by looking at the trends happening among auto companies, especially the integrated solutions manufacturers have been developing. He pointed to the latest Tesla announcements as signs of the times.

“One of the key talking-points about the vehicle, other than being electric, has been the screen in there and having all apps,” Keeney said, also noting Tesla’s divisive move to start taking away AM and FM from some models. “The writing’s on the wall for that.”

He acknowledges that the lean-back space goes beyond listening behind the wheel. Keeney said Dash is already making forays into the home, getting its platform on new tech such as Sonos speakers. “We’re not trying to compete with the streaming services, that’s not what we do and that’s not what we’ll ever do. We really want to own that lean-back experience.”

Another part of Dash’s lean-back success plan is being sure to have audio for any listener who might tune in. To that end, its model of pop-up stations brings in money from sponsorships while reaching new demographic groups. “We’re really about casting a broad net,” Keeney said. “Our philosophy is that we want to have something for everybody, whether it be ranch country to the most credible indie station in the world to the most mainstream stuff.”

And not just something, but the best somethings. Keeney emphasized authority and authenticity in these pop-up projects, ensuring that they deliver high quality audio around whatever theme the station centers. “We want every station to be as credible as they can in the field,” he said. “So when we launch pop-up stations, we want them to stay as true and authentic as they can to whatever that base is and the numbers that we’ve seen are phenomenal on them.”

Keeney’s dedication to the lean-back space stems from his history as an on-air DJ. His career began with a local radio show when he was 16, and went on to include stints on Sirius XM and Los Angeles’ KIIS FM. He’s focused on finding a space for the ethos of traditional radio in the digital world.

“You see all these services that call themselves radio that aren’t radio in the sense that we mean it,” he explained. “They’re playlists, or mixtape generators or playlist generators. less personalities. It’s not a live community listening.” He said the combination of misunderstanding what radio is, as well as skepticism among younger listeners about how great it can really be, are big challenges left for digital radio to tackle.

Anna Washenko