The ridiculous assumption underlying iHeartRadio Canada

Today was launch day for iHeartRadio Canada, a new mobile app, platform and brand licensed by Bell Media.

Aside from a weekly top 20 countdown show, and the rebranding of the Much Music Video Awards, most of the effects so far aren’t on the air but rather on digital media, and affect how you access radio stations through the Internet.

Many people were no doubt surprised when they visited their local radio station’s website today to find out it had been replaced by a page on iheartradio.ca.

Like a lot of website redesigns these days, this change favours style over substance. It’s very simplified, with only four or five pages in the navigation menu: News, Shows, Contests, Audio/Video, and Events. (There are also smaller links to contact pages, a list of recently played songs, and social media accounts.)

Other stuff has fallen by the wayside. One person already emailed me to note that full-show podcasts that used to be accessible on the old websites are nowhere to be found now. (The audio/video section has clips.) Blogs also appear to have little place on these websites.

Putting everything on iheartradio.ca no doubt makes administration easier for Bell Media, but it also strips away each station’s individual branding. It harkens back to the “portal” mentality of the late 1990s, when media outlets owned by large corporations were made into sections of larger websites, like canada.com, canoe.ca and sympatico.ca.

TSN Radio stations are an exception to this, thought they didn’t have their own websites to begin with, and they also have pages on iHeartRadio.

For most stations, particularly music stations, the websites are adequate. The listen live function is front and centre, and schedules and other basic information isn’t hard to find. And it seems as though there is some ability to customize the websites for each station’s needs.

But looking at the bottom of the page, you see links whose usefulness can be questionable. Click on “On-Air Hosts”, for example, and you get this list, of all 892 on-air personalities at all Bell Media radio stations throughout the country, in an unclear order. (It appears to be alphabetically by first name, but that breaks down once you hit Page 2.)

It might sound like nitpicking, but there’s an assumption underlying this design, that all of Bell Media’s 100+ radio stations are interchangeable, and Canadians will be just as interested in a small-town station across the country as their local station.

And that flies in the face of what the industry has been telling us for years now is the power of traditional radio: the importance of being local.

iHeartRadio mobile app: Like TuneIn, but with more bugs and limited to stations owned by Bell

This mentality is made crystal clear by the iHeartRadio mobile app, which is available on Android and iOS devices.

The app is very bare-bones considering Bell has been hyping it for so long now. It asks you to pick styles of music you’re interested in, and then suggests stations (either Bell Media traditional radio stations or themed iHeartRadio audio streams). You can set up an account and save your favourites, but registration isn’t required to use the app.

There’s a “Local Radio” tab that uses the phone’s GPS function to find radio stations in your area.

iHeartRadio app listening to CJAD.

iHeartRadio app listening to CJAD.

Once you’ve picked a station to listen to, there are options to play, favourite, and buttons you can press that will let you call, email or text message the station — assuming the app has the station’s phone number, text message line and email address plugged in, and many stations don’t have that.

The other buttons are previous, next and scan. Those buttons assume that you’ll be spending time switching radio stations, and not just between local stations but between Bell Media stations across the country, regardless of region, format or language.

Occasionally, every handful of skips or so, there’s a 15 or 30-second unskippable video ad. There are also small banner ads that appear in the app.

The app looks nice. Many stations provide titles of songs currently playing, and the app loads album art where it has that information. The name of the current show is also displayed.

But there’s a lot missing. There’s no access to podcasts or on-demand content, no list of recently played songs, no schedule, and no links to Twitter and Facebook feeds.

And there are still quite a few bugs. Some stations don’t load. That “local stations” list isn’t perfect — TSN Radio 690 isn’t listed for people in Montreal, even though it’s available in the app. And sometimes the app just quits for no reason.

And all this to use an app that’s based on skipping between stations but doesn’t include any stations not owned by Bell Media.

Just use TuneIn

Most of Canada’s other major radio broadcasters, including Rogers, Corus, Cogeco, Newcap, Pattison and RNC Media, have signed on to the UK-based RadioPlayer app. By working together, these companies will make it easier for Canadians to access radio streams and skip between them. But without Bell Media on board (or CBC, or non-profit broadcasters, or some smaller players like Evanov), it too will be incomplete.

The RadioPlayer app isn’t available yet. The announcement was made just to get ahead of iHeartRadio. They haven’t even set a launch date yet.

Which brings me to TuneIn.

The 15-year-old radio streaming website and app is the gold standard for this sort of thing. The “Local Radio” page lists 43 stations in and around Montreal, including stations from Bell Media, its competitors, campus radio stations, CBC, community stations, and cross-border stations. It also includes some online-only local stations. (The list isn’t perfect, and includes some far-away stations, but it’s much more comprehensive than any other.)

It also classifies stations by genre, lets you favourite stations, and uses schedule information to tell you what show you’re listening to.

Because it’s not run in partnership with the stations, there’s no current song information, nor a list of recently played songs or contact information.

But if your goal is an app that lets you stream your favourite radio stations in one app, then this is what you want.

If you want an app that lets you skip between radio stations from towns you didn’t know existed, and ensures that you never hear a radio station that isn’t owned by Bell Media, then by all means iHeartRadio is the app for you.

Other coverage

35 thoughts on “The ridiculous assumption underlying iHeartRadio Canada

  1. MBR

    I’ve had the US iHeartRadio app for a few years now. I like the genre-based stations they have on there (also found in the Canadian app). In addition, the US IHR app also has stations from other station groups, and a few non-profits as well. It’s disappointing how Bell is ruining this app for Canadians. I’ll have to stick with the US one for now.

    Reply
    1. Nicholas

      The Digital Stations are fine, I usualy listen to those (when i used the US App, a lot of fm am stations owned by iHeartRadio pulled their DJs from the same pool that are heard over digital stations, came to point it that there was no point to listen to any of the FM/AMs any longer as the djs and shows heard mirriored both z100 and Hit Nation. same time slots, Z100 and Hit Nation air Elvis Duran, Then Ryan Seacreast, then (at the time) JJ from Z100 was heard on both stations. only difference there was if i rather listened to commericals (Hit nation played none outside of syndicated shows like elvis duran and ryan seacrest and they were mere PSA’s)

      I twould have thought bell would their own inhouse channesl. like CTV News Radio or something like that…. I dont see any partners outside of bell or iHeartradio adding their FM, AM or Digital Channels. other broadcasters are looking at a Canadian Assocation of broadcasters controlled app. Bell courted rogers to add their stations into the app. But Rogers said no, because it would give bell an unfair advantage and access to compeititors data. I dont see other broadcasters coming on anytime soon,

      Reply
  2. Jon

    “For most stations, particularly music stations, the websites are adequate. The listen live function is front and centre, and schedules and other basic information isn’t hard to find. And it seems as though there is some ability to customize the websites for each station’s needs.”

    Can’t say that’s the case for Virgin Radio Montreal. The Recently Played feature is pointless as there is no longer a log of the songs played from the last four days. Since yesterday, the log only goes back to the last two or three hours. And even when navigating the drop-down menu to select a page for browsing further down the list, part of the list gets cut off that a block of songs are missing. Today, it’s even worse as in some instances, there’s only one page listing the last four or five songs played. Compare that with other stations and they at least maintain a log of songs played over the past few hours over three pages, but still, that’s a step down from they had previously.

    Also lacking are the lists for all the various countdown shows, including the flagship iHeart Radio Top 20, not to mention Virgin Radio Hit 20, UK Hit Music Chart Show, AT40, etc.

    I understand it’s just the first few days of the launch, but at first glance, I’m not honestly that impressed. I also sent an Email directly on their website to provide my feedback – we’ll see how they respond.

    Reply
  3. Colin

    The app is awful for all the reasons you mentioned.

    All these iHeart music and personality stations imported from the US… can Bell not create their own? They already have the talent and the resources. Why can’t a Virgin MD schedule the music for “Hit Nation”? Can we not have a popular CHOM or CJAY or Bear host on “Rock Nation”, even if it’s voice tracked? The Schnitt Show??? … what about Roger & Marilyn or Éric et les Fantastiques?

    TuneIn is still the best, even without the Bell stations. Although, some of the Corus stations are disappearing now too.

    Reply
    1. Nicholas

      Bell could, but hit nation is programmed from US, it was part of iHeartMedia Format Lab (well the company was called Clear Channel then). The iHeartradio brand took off in the US and it was rolled into iHeartradio. They (US) populate the stations with voice tracked for premuim content from their roster of “Premuim choice” djs and shows.

      I would have hoped bell would have put more channels in-house for the service. The Austrilan Iheartradio has added their own channels that are exact duplicate genere stations
      You have iHeart90s (US Programmed station) and the 90s iHeartRadio (ARN, The Austrilan partner programmed channel) on the same service. Some of US Stations are good, of course the us service does give channels that are hard to find on any other service like 24/7 mix show channel spin cycle. I would expected more than just 3 channels from Canada (Canadian Pop, Canadian Rock and Pop Franco and they dont feel like stations, just an automated jukebox.,atleast the imported stuff from states, The Americans bother to make it sound like someone is actually “Onair” majority is voice-tracked, but there are some live shows syndicated from the premuim roster. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_programming_syndicated_by_iHeartMedia

      Reply
  4. dilbert

    It’s classic “big business” coming to radio. Destroy the local flavor, the local nature of radio and replace it with generic, cookie cutter all the same across the nation look and feel.

    it’s pretty much the same as the generic CTV stations that replaced CFCF and CJOH…. you could be anywhere watching “CTV” and it’s all the same. While for the moment the radio programming is somewhat unique, you gotta feel that the iheart countdown thing is just the first step towards making more of the broadcast day generic.

    As an example, take the evenings and overnights. We were just talking about how CJAD flounders after Aaron Rand signs off. While they tried once before to pipe in content from Toronto (and that didn’t go well) it’s quite possible that a “non-toronto centric” national phonein show might be a good answer, especially if it’s on enough stations to make it matter. In music, it’s much easier to consider national programming for each different music market. Save a couple of hours of DJ time at each station each night… that adds up to a whole lot of bottom line savings.

    Bell doesn’t heart radio.. they just heart the bottom line.

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    I noticed the CJAD page had changed yesterday, but didn’t give it much attention.

    Now, I notice it’s located at iheartradio.ca/cjad. That sees silly since CNAD stopped playing music a long time go.

    Michael

    Reply
  6. Scott

    You have a company with $20 BILLION in debt that they haven’t managed to pay down at all over the years, and their only motivation is to get money from anyone’s pockets into theirs. They are going to spend as little as they possibly can on their products to reap the biggest possible profit, and as you can see, it shows.

    Reply
  7. Marc

    Wonder how long until they scrap all local branding and replace it with generic iHeartRadio Montreal Talk, iHeartRadio Montreal Rock, etc?

    Reply
    1. Brett

      It seems like the new websites are following that of their US counterpart. iHeart radio in the US made their new websites much simpler then before.

      The only changes iHeart made to CHR stations would be their new countdown shows. Maybe new things will be added as time goes on to make them the top station in every market they are in.

      Reply
  8. Dorn

    Interesting, this is the first time I heard of this app, probably because I use satellite radio exclusively. Oh well, it is a ‘free’ app for ‘free’ radio.

    Reply
  9. Jillian Page

    Bell Media ads says iHeart Radio is free. I’m assuming they mean the app is free, but the actual streaming is not free, i.e. I have a 6-gig deal with Rogers, and listening to iHeart Radio on my smartphone will use up those some of those gigs, right? Or wrong? Can you enlighten me on this, Steve.

    If it is not free, how could anyone see this as a better deal than the activating the FM chip on smartphones and getting real free radio?

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Bell Media ads says iHeart Radio is free. I’m assuming they mean the app is free, but the actual streaming is not free, i.e. I have a 6-gig deal with Rogers, and listening to iHeart Radio on my smartphone will use up those some of those gigs, right?

      The app is free, data rates are up to you and your provider. It’s like saying the highway is free to use but you have to pay for your own gas.

      Reply
  10. Johnny Caravella

    I prefer to use Tune-In, but it looks like iHeart stations have bailed from it, and Tune-In has been good with my Canadian stations, but I hope that won’t change now?

    Reply
    1. Ted Duskes

      I use Tune-In for CJAD and a few other BM stations… CFRA, CFRB, etc. They are still there. As for the Iheart App (Canadian), Bell went so far as to even remove the “alarm” feature (but left the “sleep” feature. Must have saved them $20 or so. The bigger they are, the more arrogant they become – and Bell seems to have mastered that policy

      Reply
  11. Zeke

    Howdy!

    Apologies for being late to the party (and there is no pressing need to publish this) but what I find silliest about the IHR and the ads on Bell stations promoting other bell stations is how Bell is actively trying to get me to switch the dial and listen to something other than the station I am already listening to.

    It would be interesting to know if all Bell stations have ad breaks at the same time, or if it would be possible to avoid the ads by listening to a “sister” station or on one of the “hundreds” on IHR?

    Reply
  12. Keith Sketchley

    Yet another example of why few businesses are perennially profitable to adequate degree.
    And that few marketing people are profesionals. (I’ve worked with a few, most are hacks, many of course are sleazeballs.)

    Reply
  13. DL

    I love radio, but sadly not so much local stuff. My preference is for shows like Radiolab, Reply All, This American Life, The Gist, Freakonomics, Pop Culture Happy Hour, and others delivered via a podcast app. (I use Pocket Casts on my Android.) The point is that I don’t know how local radio is going to survive as “background car radio” hemorrhages listeners to beautifully produced radio shows that are an order of magnitude. Background car radio only works if you don’t have a better alternative. Anything that Bell can do to make these shows available on phones is good. But it may not be enough. Because if you audience is capable of streaming CJAD, then they are also capable of downloading radio’s best shows.

    Reply
  14. bobintoronto

    The other issue is that Bell Canada has started geo blocking it’s stations…at least those that do music or comedy. So, impossible to listen while out of the country. Also, makes it impossible for other radio station stream aggregators like Tune in, Streema etc. that may have servers located outside of Canada.

    An interesting approach to aggregating streams is by the “Community Radio Browser” website at http://radio-browser.info

    It’s a crowd sourced “Wikipedia” type approach to aggregating radio streams whereby anyone can upload stream links and participate in keeping them up-to-date (radio stream links constantly change and “break”).

    In fact I’d go so far as to say that “broken” stream links get fixed on the Community Radio Browser site much faster than they do on sites run by the “big guys”.

    Community Radio Browser isn’t “pretty”…in fact it’s rather ugly. But, it’s very functional.

    Growth has been phenomenal. There were about 7,000 links back in January, 2017 and at present (coming up to the end of May, 2017) there are about 12,000 stream links.

    Also, anyone building a webapp, mobile app or desktop computer app is free to “pull” data from this particular site. “Radiodroid 2” for Android does this and there’s an exceptionally well done streaming radio app for GNU/Linux called “Gradio” that also pulls from the site.

    Needless to say, Bell owned radio stations (other than TSN) don’t work on the site as the server is located in Germany. But since most of the Bell stations are playing pretty mainstream music, you can listen to that stuff from just about anywhere on the planet.

    Reply
  15. Geekboy

    Sadly, it looks like B(h)ell has canned some its radio stations from TuneIn. Well, I guess that is more B(h)ells loss than mine. I’m not downloaded another stupid branded app when TuneIn is a fabulous app that provides access to station all over the world.

    Thank-you Bell, for forcing me to broaden my horizons – you won’t be missed.

    Reply
    1. John C Jepson

      This is just another dumb Bell Media move that has characterised the George Cope era . Their PR hacks will tell us all the Bell stations pulled from Tunein are available on Iheart app. However NO Bell stations are available on the USA Iheart app which people outside of Canada would be using. And the Iheart app does not allow for time shifting. I like to record several hours of TSN690 and listen later in the car or at home in the evening at home. That simple pleasure is gone thanks to these customer haters at Bell Media.

      Reply
    2. Driver0204

      Yup, I guess I’ll be broadening my horizons, too. iheart sucks. Bell, YOU suck. Glad I switched all my services away from you. Buh bye!

      Reply
  16. peterdtown

    Since everything was pulled from TuneIn I have been giving IHR Canada a try. Am I a complete moron, or in the web interface (on a computer) is it impossible to change the volume? What kind of 2nd grader level programming is this?

    Reply
    1. John C Jepson

      That’s definitely not the case on a mobile device. I haven’t tried listening on a desktop or laptop. I will try.

      Reply
  17. Anonymous

    Can’t hear Aaron Rand anymore since CJAD is geoblocked in the USA on iHeart. Always used to listen to CJAD AM when we lived on the border but we moved and had to stream it. Not anymore, I guess. Don’t know why they did this.

    Reply
    1. John C Jepson

      Are you using the Canadian I heart app or the USA iheart app. Unless the change has. Been made recently using the Canadian App you should be able to listen to all the Bell Media stations. Also try Tune-in radio app. CHAD is on that app

      Reply
  18. JJSPOG

    Update: sucks that we can’t get American stations on Tune-In in Canada anymore. I like Detroit stations, having grown up in the Windsor-Essex, ON area and many Canadian stations have zero interest in going HD (I’ve asked them), so I want to listen to American, but there is no “legal” or non-VPN way of doing so.

    Reply
    1. John C Jepson

      I am at a loss to understand your statement that we can’t listen to USA stations on TuneIn anymore. Some stations, notably those owned by CBS do geo block their outlets but there are tons of American stations available on Tunein. I live in Niagara Region ontario

      Reply

Leave a Reply