Top 5 Reasons Why Radio.co is a Bad Choice for Music Broadcasters
A point-by-point, technical discussion of the drawbacks to using radio.co to broadcast music.
After 3 weeks of running a music broadcast on Radio.co, I was forced to move to different service, for reasons I will explain. Although they have an extremely attractive product, when it comes to running an internet radio station that features contemporary music (like we do here), there are some very significant drawbacks in terms of support, product configuration, and customer experience, and these issues can be difficult to see at first. Below is a technical review of Radio.co for music broadcasters that are looking for a radio platform.
TL; DR: the cost is simply too high for a flawed product that is not being actively improved.
Radio.co makes a compelling promise, and I'll admit that I fell for it. With good SEO and a polished presentation, when you search for 'internet radio platform,' or anything similar, you are likely to see their listing high in the search results, and soon you will see their value proposition:
Yes starting a radio station can be tricky, but Radio.co has built the most intuitive and powerful radio broadcasting platform available. So you need never worry again. Ever.
Intuitive, yes. Powerful, maybe. Never worrying again? Hardly. Compared to a product like radiojar.com, for example, radio.co wins on UI (user interface), but almost nothing else. Compared to its competitors, radio.co is about twice as expensive as it should be. Let's take a look at the 5 biggest issues I ran into setting up a broadcast for CHILLFILTR Radio.
Reason #1: Too Expensive
For what you are getting, the price for radio.co is just too high. If you are going to start an internet radio talk-show, and you have a lot of budget, than radio.co might be a good choice. Otherwise, you should really spend some more time looking at other options. Radiojar.com, Aircast.pro, RadioKing.com, and Streemlion.com all provide similar functionality at much lower price-points.
Reason #2: The Product is Static
My experience with support was lukewarm at best. Response times were a bit slow - in some cases, it took 2 days to get a very simple question answered, and the engagement was pretty lackluster. If you are looking for a radio platform where it feels like you are working with the tech team towards a better product, radio.co is not it. Simple product feature requests will be met with a simple we don't offer that. Nothing about whether or not there is a timeline for improvements, or even a basic "we will take that under consideration." At least he said he was sorry.
Reason #3: The Focus is Selling Add-Ons
Radio.co was built with one thing in mind: profit. The pricing is set up to squeeze the money out of you. You want an iOS app? Add-on. Android app? Add-on. Many of their competitors offer these thing for free. Because radio.co is a venture-backed startup, these kinds of monetization strategies might make sense from a business perspective, but certainly have a negative impact on customer experience. You will quickly get tired of the up-sells. Do yourself a favor, and research the alternatives. You will quickly see that you can get more for less in terms of bitrate, hard drive space, and mobile app integration without spending a minimum of $49 dollars a month. Also, I wouldn't surprised if the prices continue to go up, because capitalism.
And you will get tired of the pop-ups.
Reason #4: A Frustrating Product Experience
First of all, their broadcast app is useless if you are interested in playing music. Also, it only runs on Windows. So your experience will play into what is certainly a fluffy presentation - radio.co has a fair amount of vaguely helpful articles (in what they present as "radio university") but it is mostly clickbait. Much of their article references are out of date, and nothing feels particularly in depth. But even beyond that, there are a few serious flaws in their product. I will explain two of the most frustrating.
The first issue: playing station 'drops.' When you schedule an automatic broadcast, you will soon become interested in adding interludes - things like 'you are listening to the Indie Rock playlist on CHILLFILTR Radio!' - I ran into some issues setting those up. The radio.co product is tag-based, which is great, except that there is no way to combine tags. So if you want a playlist that plays only tracks tagged BOTH as indie rock, and USA, for example, that's just not possible (radiojar.com, for example, has a powerful feature called a 'pilot' that does allow this). Okay fair enough - but it gets worse. If you want to set up voice segments - radio.co calls it 'voice tracking' - then you will be forced to do that live - it is impossible to pre-record voice segments, and upload them as such. You will be forced to upload them as regular media 'tracks' and tag them creatively. Vocal segments can only be recorded live via the web site, and I had a lot of connection issues - so I would record the segment, and listen back, only to hear my voice cut out. Rinse, repeat. I was able to get it to work, but only after a bunch of tries, which ruins the flow. Also, unless you can invite people to your house to record segments for you, you will be stuck as the only voice used in your voice tracking. I had the idea of using AI-based automated voices to create segments, but that was incompatible with voice tracking, so I was forced to upload those parts as regular media tracks. This, in turn created an issue where those vocal segments were listed in the 'recently played' widgets. What a mess. Finally, the same issue was there for what they call 'recordings' (as opposed to media tracks and voice segments - stay with me here!). If you record a live on-air segment, it goes to a separate space in the UI called recordings, which is a nice feature. If you want to rebroadcast some of your past episodes, it is great to have old broadcasts in their own space. The problem is that it has to be live, with no exceptions. If you want to upload something - maybe you did a live session somewhere else you would like to import, or in my case, want to make some small edits to the broadcast for clarity before scheduling it for rebroadcast - then you are forced to put it in with your songs in the 'media tracks' section, and you have no way to push that into your 'recordings' - which quickly makes the whole thing pointless, because if you can't keep all of your old broadcasts as 'recordings,' then what really is the point?
The second issue: scheduling. Everything on radio.co, in terms of scheduling, is based around playlists. This is pretty common. The problem comes in when you try to position a radio drop at the top of the hour, for example. You can set your playlists schedules to reset every hour - this is what I was forced to do - and that will allow you to add a voice tracking segment that plays first (see below - the mic icon represents voice tracking).
And in theory, if you set your schedule to run a different playlist every hour, your voice segments will play at the top of the hour.
This leaves you with two problems - 1, it would be nice to run a playlist for more than 1 hour and still have a way to play a voice segment at the top of the hour; and 2 - there is absolutely no way to reliably have a 'voice tracking' play at the 30 minute mark, for example. Because you will mostly be playing random songs that are pulled according to a single tag, there is no way to plan anything relative to the actual clock. You can set up your playlists like I did above, where a 'welcome to the top of a playlist' message plays first, but beyond that you are forced to schedule a message after a certain number of songs, and that's it. Welcome message, x number of random songs, another message. Streemlion.com, for example, offers a functionality for what they call 'jingles' where you can schedule station drops at any time - it is powerful and very feature-rich. I was quickly able to set up the same station drop to run at 15, 30, and 45 minutes past the hour, while at the same time having a playlist-related message play at the top of the hour, while also scheduling certain playlists to run for 2, 3, or even 4 hours. It makes the whole process of scheduling intuitive, and much more simple than my experience with radio.co.
Reason #5: Just a Terrible Choice for Licensing
This was the issue that forced me to find a different platform - the reports that are available to you via radio.co will not allow you to adequately report your stats to SoundExchange. There are two main issues: album titles, and Total Listening Hours (TLH). You cannot access either of those metrics via their reporting, and you will need those to come into compliance with SoundExchange, or any similar Performance Rights Organization. Compliance is a big enough headache without having inadequate metrics. For me it was a hard stop, plain and simple.
Conclusion: there are a lot of alternatives to radio.co. If you are considering a radio broadcast platform, unless you have plenty of money and will be mostly just playing copyright-free content and talk radio, radio.co is probably a bad choice. To their credit, the features that allow for live broadcasting are pretty solid, so if you are going to just schedule guest DJs and broadcast live most of the time, their platform is a good choice. But if you are going to play music that needs to be licensed correctly, or if you need to do any sort of complicated scheduling of rebroadcasts and station drops, there is almost certainly a better option.