Home Hacking the Tower: Jelli Crowdsources FM Radio

Hacking the Tower: Jelli Crowdsources FM Radio

In a few weeks, moviegoers will flock to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s latest rock ensemble flick Pirate Radio. A fictional period comedy about an illegal station in the North Sea, the film embodies the same anti-authoritarian sentiments that Gen X and Y audiences have grown to love. Jelli.net, a crowdsourced radio station with a Web-based interface, has found a way to democratize sound waves and captivate that same 18-35-year-old audience. The Bay Area company launched in June, allowing users to access a Digg-like interface and vote up or down real time on FM radio during CBS’ Live 105 KITS’ Sunday programming. As of this evening, the company has penned a national deal with 450 Triton Digital Media radio stations and a distribution deal with Australian broadcaster Austereo.

Says Jelli’s CEO Mike Dougherty, “What makes this different than request radio is that while program directors set up the broadcast sandbox, there is no actual middle man between a request and radio play.” According to Dougherty, Jelli’s voting platform directly informs programming servers sitting at the radio station’s transmission tower. In other words, if the community decides to vote up a War of the Worlds-style radio scenario, it’s entirely possible to do so. As of today, the community now has access to a nationwide network of stations, and in a few months time, they’ll also have access to stations in Perth, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne.

Rather than kowtowing to advertisers and labels, programming is directly affected by the likes and dislikes of the Jelli community. According to Dougherty, on average two tracks are voted off the air per hour. Just as music fans vote their favorite songs onto the radio, they can also “bomb” them down into the lower echelons of Jelli’s charts. In some cases, waring factions of fans have rallied to take over the airwaves, and in other cases programming revolves around a specific theme. Jelli’s chat feature makes it possible to sway the music mob.

In the past, community music sites have struggled to increase their catalogs because of the balancing act they had to maintain between freemium music models and major label licensing fees. With Jelli, the community gets the music they want via streaming web service or traditional radio, and stations continue to tackle the ad placement and legal work.

With radio transmission towers constantly connected to the cloud, Dougherty believes that there is a world of opportunity to pull in Facebook applications, mobile interfaces and additional levels of a web-based feedback loops. For developers, stations and advertisers, this cloud-based data means the difference between waiting on a quarterly Arbitron radio rating and gaining access to demographic data on a weekly (and soon daily) basis.

Instead of changing the radio station, Jelli empowers users to simply change the song. To check out the service, visit Jelli.net.

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