Old, boring radio remains strong—but this app wants to change that
The radio, an invention that first started entertaining and informing the public nearly a century ago, has proven a surprisingly difficult institution to upend — even for the internet.
That doesn’t mean people aren’t trying.
On Monday, 60dB launched a refreshed version of an app that its founders believe can start putting a dent in radio. It’s meant to work like radio — turn it on and just listen — but with a degree of personalization and a library of short-form content that the app’s founders believe can pull listeners away from the airwaves.
No, not podcasts.
“When we started out on the product, our intent was not to make another podcatcher,” said Steve McLendon, cofounder of 60dB.
McLendon and fellow cofounder John Ciancutti are former Netflix employees, so they know a thing or two about creating new media platforms. Their third cofounder, Steve Henn, worked in radio for 15 years before leaving to start 60dB.
The three of them launched 60dB in October 2016, gunning for the sizable market of people that have tried on-demand audio but aren’t die-hard podcast listeners.
That turned out to be a tough task, McLendon said. The app found its initial users tended to be that podcast-friendly crowd. It’s not a huge surprise, McLendon added, and one they hope to build on.
“They’re early adopters. They’re into podcasting. They’re interested in using that new audio app,” he said.
Those early adopters are great, but not what 60dB is meant for. Podcasting has evolved into a solid niche, but there’s some sense that podcasts aren’t for everybody. McLendon points to a recent Edison Research study that shows 60 percent of Americans are aware of podcasts but only 15 percent have listened to one in the past week.
It’s easy to understand why. Podcasts have plenty of wonderful qualities, but they tend to be long and difficult to find. 60dB, by comparison, is aiming to be highly personalized with short-form content.
McLendon and 60dB aren’t the only ones seeing an opportunity in shorter content. NPR and the New York Times both recently launched bite-size, newsy audio projects meant to attract morning listeners who want a breakdown of the news.
That’s the kind of content 60dB hopes to find more of. Right now, the app draws content from partners like WNYC, publicly available RSS feeds, and the company’s own in-house editorial team.
The more content it has access to, the better 60dB can personalize playlists to its users. It’s early days, McLendon said, but he said the company believes personalization is what will make the difference.
He envisions a mix of old content and new. Classic radio news isn’t going anywhere, McLendon said, but the prospect of national rather than geographic audiences means there’s a chance to find new niches.
He used as an example a daily, short-form news show about video games.
“That could never live in a terrestrial audio environment, but it could in a digital audience environment,” he said.