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Internet radio loses a pioneer as David Goldberg passes away at age 47

david goldberg 250wDavid Goldberg, an Internet radio pioneer who founded LAUNCHcast in 1999, which became Yahoo! Music Radio, died unexpectedly Friday night. He was 47 years old. No cause of death has been disclosed.

Goldberg was CEO of polling and opinion platform SurveyMonkey, which he founded in 2009, and a venture capitalist. His surviving wife is Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook.

David Goldberg was an innovative early mover in streaming audio, founding LAUNCHcast as an extension of LAUNCH Media, which included a music magazine that started in print and moved into digital in the mid-1990s. Goldberg left Capital Records to start LAUNCH.

LAUNCHcast withstood legal action from record labels which litigated against interactivity which allowed users to create stations and playlists customized to their music tastes. Yahoo! acquired LAUNCHcast, inheriting the legal defense of the service. Yahoo! prevailed in 2007 when it defeated a final infringement lawsuit from Sony BMG. In that decision, which ended a six-year trial process involving other major labels, the court determined that Yahoo! could use statutory licenses for use of music recordings, rather than negotiate special label permissions.

“LAUNCHcast was the first meaningful brand of personalizable radio, with its tagline ‘Radio that listens to you,'” said Kurt Hanson, founding editor of RAIN News and founder/CEO of AccuRadio. Its court victory over the four major record labels (and the subsequent appeal by Sony) secured the legality of personalizable radio under the statutory license of U.S. copyright law. In other words, Pandora, Slacker, AccuRadio, Songza, and 8tracks might not exist today but for the groundbreaking achievements of Goldberg and LAUNCHcast.”

david goldberg 2005

David Goldberg in 2005, speaking at RAIN Summit West

David Goldberg appeared at the annual RAIN Summit West conference in 2005, where he delivered a well-received keynote address. At that time, LAUNCHcast played to a weekly audience of 2.1-million listeners, and served over one-billion songs per month. The platform was already turning that media delivery operation into a Big Data factory, having collected over 200-million “ratings” (votes on songs) generated by user interactions.

Goldberg’s view of the future was prescient. This 2005 quote from his RAIN keynote came just before the iPhone was launched, starting the smartphone and mobile music revolutions: “We hope that 10 years from now almost no one is accessing Yahoo services on a PC. It needs to be in my living room, in my car, on my cellphone. This will affect the change in replacing the CD, as well as moving music off of broadcast radio which is also what we believe will happen.”

The stab at radio seems, in retrospect, a premonition of Pandora’s central competitive ambition to disrupt and displace radio. Goldberg was as explicit as Pandora execs are during their earnings calls:

“We really want to replace broadcast radio for music discovery. We believe music will migrate off of terrestrial radio to the services we are offering because we can deliver the music consumers want, when they want it, where they want it,” he explained. “CDs will be replaced by on-demand subscription services. ‘Personalization’ and ‘community’ features will be key ways we’ll be able to deliver the right music to people at the right time, on devices, on a global basis.”

Goldberg predicted during that speech that broadcast radio would continue as a mostly-talk medium: “We don’t believe music will continue to be broadcast on analog radio,” he said. Whether that plays out as predicted remains to be seen, but the recent rise of podcasting, with its clear on-ramp to streaming for talk radio, gives special interest to Goldberg’s remark.

Memorials to David Goldberg are easy to find, and most of the effusive recollections remember him as a man, father, and friend, above and beyond his business accomplishments. Jason Calacanis, (also a RAIN Summit keynoter, 2014), played poker with Goldberg, in a long-standing weekly game, two days before David Goldberg passed away. Calacanis noted that Goldberg always jeopardized his game strategy by revealing his cards after each hand, and explaining his strategies after winning. “He cared more about your feeling in defeat than his victory in the next hand,” Calacanis said. “He carried himself with an effortlessness that you can only have when you’ve found peace in your life.”

Kurt Hanson summarized the personal dimension and David Goldberg’s impact on the industry: “In addition to being known throughout the industry as a wonderful human being, Dave was a true visionary in terms of online music, and when the history of online radio is written, he will be remembered as, by far, one of its most important founders.”

Brad Hill

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