The standard business model for radio, I think we can all agree, stinks.
Companies such as the ubiquitous Clear Channel make money by figuring out which songs are least offensive to the greatest number of people. But the Internet is changing things. A number of Web sites now offer personalized radio stations that theoretically cater to your tastes, exposing you to new music you may not have heard. LastFM (www.last.fm) works by tapping the "wisdom of the crowd."
After you register on the site and create a user name, the software logs the music you play on your computer's MP3 player, categorizing it by artist and song. The site's software finds other LastFM users with similar tastes and makes these kindred spirits "Neighbours" (the company's based in London, hence the spelling). You can then listen to "Neighbour Radio," which streams tracks those with similar tastes have enjoyed. You can then rate the tracks, and over time, LastFM figures out what makes you tick and builds your personal radio station accordingly.
Pandora (www.pandora.com) comes at the idea from a top-down angle. Rather than relying on users, Pandora employs massive teams of music analysts to listen to and categorize music as part of what it calls the "Music Genome Project." To use Pandora, you select a starting point a single artist or track that you like and Pandora creates a radio station based on the characteristics of that song or artist. You can then guide the software by rating its selections, hopefully pushing the station in the direction of your tastes. All this, and no annoying DJs! S