chapter  4
15 Pages

The Past and Future of Music Listening: Between Freeform DJs and Recommendation Algorithms Elena Razlogova

In 2010, in response to a New Yorker article on Pandora Radio, an online music recommendation service, a Vermont reader objected: “All this new technology has yet to improve on the old radio model: putting yourself in the hands of independent, passionate, and deeply knowledgeable disk jockeys-the likes of which can be found at New Jersey’s incomparable WFMU, for example-and following them blissfully into the world of unknown and unexpected sound.”1 This argument comes up repeatedly in online debates-in comments to a New York Times blog post on Pandora a reader put forward freeform radio pioneers from the late 1960s, KMPX and KSAN in California, and WNEW in NYC.2 The unexpected freeform sound is something programmers of digital recommendation software strive for as well. As Sasha Frere-Jones noted in the New Yorker article, “the job” of a radio DJ “lingers as a template for much software.”3 One programmer echoed many blog posts when he called for a “serendipity revolution,” arguing that the ultimate goal of a system should be to recommend “something new, non-obvious and appreciated that the user would likely not have discovered on his/her own.”4