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Pandora making inroads on AM/FM radio


Pandora, in Greek mythology, is a woman who opened a box that unleashed evil, leaving only hope behind. Online radio service Pandora has been more positive, unleashing consumer choice and a counterpoint to AM/FM radio.

The concept for Pandora is simple. You pick a song or artist and using a special “genome” breakdown of more than 700,000 songs, Pandora creates a station for you. You can rate each song to shape the station to your taste.

Anchored to computers, the free service was a solid at-work utility but unable to build a profitably large audience until it introduced an iPhone application in 2008.

“It took off like a rocket ship,” said founder Tim Westergren in a recent interview. ”Completely viral. We never advertised Pandora.” About 21 million of the estimated 50 million users now use the service on a mobile device, with 30,000 new iPhone users every day. Average listening time per month: 11 hours.

As a result,  the private-held company said it made its first quarterly profit at the end of 2009.

Weekly AM/FM radio listening has fallen 10 percent in the past three years, according to a Bridge study released earlier this month, while listening on phones has gone up significantly.

Pandora is now bringing in as many listeners in Atlanta as a smaller terrestrial radio station.

It now has 960,000 registered users within a 30-mile radius of downtown Atlanta. Westergren told me they have 30 million active users in a given month, so extrapolating that from total registered users, that’s about 60 percent. In Atlanta, that’d be just under 600,000 people.

In comparison, Dave FM, Project 9-6-1 and True Oldies 106.7 draw between 500,000 and 600,000 unique listeners any given week for at least five minutes. (V-103 and B98.5 bring in more than one million each.)

These are not apple-to-apples numbers since I was only able to get monthly users for Pandora. Its weekly user figure is certainly less than 600,000.

Suwanee concert and TV producer Tony May discovered Pandora two years ago. He used it first through his BlackBerry and recently switched to his iPhone. “I have thousands of tunes in my iTunes library, but I now listen to Pandora more,” he said, partly because it enables him to hear new artists he might  not have otherwise considered.

He has created 25 different radio stations, some jazz (John Coltrane), some rock (Guns N’ Roses), some country (Eric Church). “I get to be my own program director,” he said.

May now listens to Pandora 15 to 20 hours a week, much of it in his car, where half of radio listening happens. It has displaced virtually all his AM/FM radio listening. “I might catch WSB for a traffic report but that’s it,” he said. And the commercials on Pandora (about one ad every 15 minutes) is tolerable, he added.

Pandora hopes to become even more convenient for drivers. It has signed a deal with Ford to have its service integrated into a vehicle’s sound system. A voice-activated version is coming out later this year.

In the fast-moving Web world, Pandora’s current success hardly guarantees future riches. Feisty rivals such as Slacker are nipping at its heels. And royalties for songwriters and performers eat up 60 percent of gross revenues. The more people listen, the more it costs Pandora, so it needs to keep growing ad revenue to keep up.

But compared to its nip-and-tuck existence the past 10 years, Pandora can finally see real hope for long-term survival.

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23 comments Add your comment


April 23rd, 2010
10:00 pm

i absolutely love love LOVE my pandora. i sometimes think its a little creepy that it seems to know what i want to hear and when i want to hear it, but otherwise it’s awesome!


April 23rd, 2010
11:44 pm

I have been with Pandora since the very beginning- before the first ad – before I could spell “genome”, I just used to think some harvard dudes and some students put together a really cool concept. I have watched them grow slowly and then take off – and have been one of their greatest fans. I have about 19 stations from Acostic Guitar to Neo Soul. I have a Latin/Cuban station, Prince Station, KEM/BrianMcKnight, Remy Shand, Piano Acoustics, Ferruccio Busoni, Classical, Smooth Jazz, European House Mix, Ecclectic. I even have a BrownStone station. ( they are playing a Zhane song right now!)

Pandora takes the songs you like and through their proprietary software – they find other songs similar to what you like. I find myself running over to the computer on a great song to ask –” who is that? Oh..that’s really good. I have never heard of them”

I have been exposed to so many types of music. I am thankful to Pandora for exposing me to – Craig Chaquico – the former lead guitarist for Jefferson Starship — whose Jazz album has songs -
Jazz Noon & Circus Beach are which phenomenal. I would have not have known who this gifted artist ever was – if not for Pandora. Craig is now one of my personal favorites.

I got all of my friends hooked on Pandora. Regular radio plays the same 15 songs over and over all day long — even if the person can’t sing — or the lyrics are awful. It’s all manufactured.
The Radio DJ tells me ” Oh this song is hot”, ( Yep a “hot mess”)

Pandora lets me enjoy real music….

Record Execs should take notice — people are starving for REAL Music – REAL Artist — no matter where in the world you find them. Give them what they want or people will vote with their feet ( or IPhones)!

Susan Boyles should have taught them something —


April 23rd, 2010
11:53 pm

PS —if you pay the subscription fee (well worth it!) — you get to listen Commercial Free.

I listen sometimes all week-end — non stop!

Take your musical experience to a whole new level — Pandora – baby!


April 24th, 2010
11:38 am

The quality of streaming audio is AWFUL….WAY too much compression for me.


April 24th, 2010
4:22 pm

PTC Dawg, I’d check your settings because I find the audio is just fine. On the Motorola Droid for example you open Pandora and press menu/preferences/cell network audio quality. I selected high.


April 24th, 2010
4:59 pm

A hint if you like Clapton, he was in so many groups and did solo stuff with other artists, that you pretty much get him if you create a Clapton station.


April 24th, 2010
5:23 pm

What some have failed to mention is that the cost to obtain the hardware in the car is going to be in the 1000-1200.00 range. Also, if you enter an artist, you only hear that artist twice over a period of hours. For those who want to dispute this, sorry, that is fact. I have Pandora on my computers, and I enjoy it. The problem with the cars will be the cost, and the fact that internet signals will be lost, as you will not always be in a wifi zone. I prefer satellite. If you’re going to pay, go for the content. satellite offers more.


April 24th, 2010
7:02 pm

Not true CA. i listened to James Carr earlier today three songs was played within 30 mins.
after reading this article and your post, i tried again beginning at 6:13, it is 6:49 now and
four songs by James Carr have been played. i have had satellite radio for six years, until the merger
xm radio was great, after merging with sirius the playlists have shrunk. the same songs are played
over and over. i still prefer satellite to terrestrial.


April 25th, 2010
4:59 am

I could not agree with you more Edgar. Pandora (and Slacker too for that matter) are outstanding alternatives to the shrinking playlists found on terrestrial, and now satellite radio.

Pandora is great for creating custom stations and Slacker allows you to listen to “canned” formats.

I recently canceled my XM subscription and now listen to streaming stations each day during my drive to and from work. Yes, there are some areas where it may take a second or two to buffer the station, but since most of these applications have that functionality built into them, it is hardly noticeable.


April 25th, 2010
9:13 am

I’m not surprised that someone would think that a 64 bit sound stream is decent quality….I’ve seen/heard some of the quality of the junk that folks download for free….It’s laughable.


April 25th, 2010
1:45 pm

I agree with the above post regarding the horrible audio quality of Pandora. It sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard sometimes because there’s not enough bandwidth, plus I hate commercials! A much better listening experience is Sirius satelite radio. Hooked up to a great audio system, you get the BOOMING bass, super-highs, clear defiinition and NO COMMERCIALS. The only downside is you do have to pay about $12 a month, but that’s a small amount when you listen as much as I do. Sirius XM all the way!


April 25th, 2010
8:32 pm

i have been listening to Pandora since 2005, and i am a huge fan of the music genome. one song is all it takes, and you have a world of music at your fingertips. i feel it is one of the best music ideas to ever come about. i would almost be willing to pay for it. plus all the songs they play are purchasable either through itunes or amazon. it’s an amazing music service.


April 25th, 2010
8:58 pm

CA is you having a problem with wi-fi – swith to CLEAR. They have towers all around atlanta – you should not have a problem getting a signal while you are sitting on I-285 on a Friday afternoon at 4:30 –you won’t be going anywhere soon — you might as well experience the wonderful variety of PANDORA.

One last thing — although you love your favorite artist — this is different from a radio station, where you here the same songs over and over. I am estatic that I get to hear a variety.

And even better – no mindless jibber jabber from DJ’s. AMEN!


April 25th, 2010
8:58 pm

oops should say CA if you…are having a problem



April 25th, 2010
9:00 pm

okay…I give up…I think I will retreat back to myu head phones — cause I can’t seem to spell very well today. LOL


April 25th, 2010
9:25 pm

Pandora doesn’t seem to do news or talk, which is all AM is good for nowadays. FM? Nothing for me there.

My alternative is to use my phone. Between CherryRPlayer and IheartRadio, I get all the stuff I want in much better sound than any AM could ever give me. WSB-AM is there. Sounds fantastic. Coupled with a cheap FM modulator, it plays fine in the car and sounds better than their own AM efforts. What a shame. If WSB gets old, no problem. Hundreds of other things to listen to. Nothing like listening to LA traffic while stuck in ATL. And the phone goes with me in the office or anywhere else I want to listen. I can’t imagine paying for a radio player device that stays in the car. No way. Not now.

James Anderson

April 25th, 2010
10:52 pm

Pandora is great for pop, but when it comes to classical there’s nothing. Looked for a moderately-known composer, Anton Reicha, who was active when Beethoven was, and which many classical stations, including WABE, plays from time to time. They didn’t have it. And there are probably more classical albums out there than any other form. I have to find other venues, like for a good fix, given that WABE is not 24/7 with the format.

[...] Pandora is now bringing in as many listeners in Atlanta as a smaller terrestrial radio station, writes Rodney Ho on Access Atlanta. [...]


April 26th, 2010
7:05 am

I love it when a two second Google search is presented as ‘facts.’

Cost – mobile device – if you have this anyway, it’s free.
Cost – app – Pandora is free. WunderRadio, another great streaming app, is $10. Or at least it was when I bought it.
Cost – device to car – $10-$125, depending on quality. I have an iSimple PXAMG hooked up in my Acura, it charges and plays my iPhone with one cable. And the quality is excellent.

I use primarily 3G on my drive from Kennesaw to Decatur, and I never lose signal. While it’s not DVD-A quality, it’s certainly better than trying to listen to stations like 100.5, for example.

Eric Dye

April 26th, 2010
8:24 am

Why does Pandora prohibit (American) listeners outside the US?


April 26th, 2010
10:47 am

Eric – Why does Pandora prohibit (American) listeners outside the US?

From their FAQ: Our music licenses require our listeners to be within the United States, which is why we require your current US zip code during registration.

We fervently hope one day we can legally make Pandora available internationally.

Also from their FAQ: We cannot play more than four songs credited to a particular artist name in a three-hour period. This is the maximum, so each artist may play even less often than that.


April 27th, 2010
12:50 am

I have a Pandora and a Slacker account. I love them both. For my taste Slacker seems to do a little bit of a better job. Their play lists of songs I am offered seem to be wider and deeper. This is especially true of 40s and early 50s R&B. BTW I enjoyed reading your comments and getting other perspectives on Pandora. Do you think HD radio will make it?


May 13th, 2010
6:39 pm

hey James Anderson, you could not find Antoine Reicha because you spelled it wrong! i found him on the first try. listening now.