NextRadio wins a “Pogie” from David Pogue

nextradioDavid Pogue made his name at the the New York Times, and recently moved to Yahoo as head of its tech publishing division. when it comes to mainstream tech information and recommendations, Pogue and Walt Mossberg (of the WSJ) are the most influential voices.

So when Pogue bestowed a Pogie Award (“the most amazing, incredible, deliriously exciting tech ideas of 2013”) on Emmis-owned NextRadio, the chip-plus-app system built into select Android phones, he probably introduced the concept and the feature to a new user population. We checked with Emmis SVP Paul Brenner about the endorsement. Brenner said that Pogue “fell in love with the simple but effective NextRadio product. Our team greatly appreciates the acknowledgement from David that radio is doing innovative things in the tech sector.”

For Pogue, the point isn’t any rhapsodic affinity with radio. The appeal for him seems to be streaming audio that doesn’t eat into the phone’s data plan. Fair enough — data use and mobile bandwidth expense are definitely speed bumps in the adoption of streaming music through phones. In that context, NextRadio offers clear and compelling differentiation on behalf of broadcasters.

For us, it’s also about radio itself as a desirable portable medium. And our tenacious memory stretches back to years when FM reception was part of the standard feature set in mobile devices. We’re talking about MP3 players, not smartphones, in the era before Apple introduced the iPod. The first-generation iPod came out in January, 2001 — rather late to the mobile-music party, competing with existing players that typically received FM in addition to playing music files. The iPod omitted radio, surprisingly and distressingly to many observers at the time.

Apple’s tactic was not surprising, considering the iPod’s intended role as a component of the iTunes ecosystem. Apple wanted us to be downloading music from its store, not listening to the radio. The market-demolishing success of the iPod established a new standard feature set — radio not included.

That is the unhappy situation that NextRadio is trying to solve. It’s a steep hill to climb, because the solution requires OEMs to build specialized devices with FM receiver chips in them. Users of those devices have access to the NextRadio app, which provides an interactive presentation of local radio stations. (For example, users can take action on contest promotion on their phones.)

We have no prediction of NextRadio’s chances in the large market. (The system has been adopted by phone makers HTC, Samsung, and LG, distributed by carriers Sprint and Virgin.) But David Pogue’s endorsement doesn’t hurt, and must be generating some smiles in the NextRadio offices.

Brad Hill