Apps & Mobile

‘Alexa, Play Free Bird!’ – Music, radio, and the rise of smart speakers

As smart speaker popularity continues to grow, iHeart Media and Amazon have been partnering to try and make Alexa a bit more interactive, and even DJ-like.

Guest post by Fred Jacobs of Jacobs Media Strategies

Smart speakers continue their growth among core radio listeners – albeit without the momentum we saw just a few short years ago.

Techsurvey 2021 clocked smart speaker ownership at 35%.  But while the “cume” of smart speakers appears to be leveling off, the number of these devices in people’s homes and offices has ramped up.  Today, more than six in ten of those who own a smart speaker have more than one.

Clearly, consumers are getting more and more comfortable with smart speakers.  But the interactive technology seems to be slowing down.  “Skills” development was at a fever pitch just five years ago, as brands were looking to make Alexa and “Hey, Google” more interactive.

Today, not so much.  But iHeart Media is trying to change that.  Earlier in the week, they beta-launched an all-request feature on Amazon Alexa devices in four of their markets.  The concept is that you can now use Alexa’s voice AI to request a song or make an old school dedication.  Alexa forwards them to participating stations where programmers/personalities  take it from there.


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iHeart’s Chris Williams walks us through how this works in this less-than-one-minute video:

Fascinating, right?

But if iHeart and Amazon are dedicated to truly replicating the “DJ experience,” Alexa will need to respond to requests realistically.  In order to match the consumer’s interactions with radio station request lines all these years, Alexa’s AI should be able to easily predict what the actual live DJ (if there is one) might say.

I offer up these representative responses that would make Alexa sound very real:

“I’ll try to get that on for you.”

“Coming right up.”

“Sorry, I just played that.” 

Or my personal favorite:

“I’d love to play that for you, but our lame PD (or consultant) won’t let us.”

I’m thinking many of you are thinking up your own ARRs – Alexa Request Responses.

Technology is at its best when it simulates how we operate in real life.

Alexa, see you in the Jock Lounge.

Fred Jacobs: President & Founder at Jacobs Media.

Fred Jacobs founded Jacobs Media in 1983, and quickly became known for the creation of the Classic Rock radio format.

Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.

In 2008, jacapps was launched – a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,300 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created – a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the “connected car” and its impact.

Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media’s commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.

Fred was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.

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