Launching music to a new era

The technological age has enabled leaps forward in commercial-free radio. With the introduction of satellite radio stations such as Sirius and XM, listeners have a variety of commercial-free music at their fingertips.

However, just like regular radio, listeners can’t program the music.

This is not always the case with Yahoo’s LAUNCHcast radio, a Web-based music service designed to tailor playlists to the listener’s tastes.

LAUNCHcast, Yahoo’s basic service, is supported by ad revenue and allows the listener to hear 600 songs a month for free. After reaching that limit, users will notice a decrease in the audio quality of the songs they listen to. Certain functions, such as the ability to skip songs, will also be locked.

To curtail this, users can subscribe to LAUNCHcast Plus, which provides higher-quality, commercial-free music for $3.99 for a month-to-month subscription and $35.99 for an annual subscription. Users can also try LAUNCHcast Plus for seven days, free of charge.

Yahoo touts a number of features for its LAUNCHcast service, the first of which is a ratings system with a brain. The listener can opt to rate everything from genres, to artists, to albums and songs, all in an effort to create a personalized station. The basic ratings use a star system similar to that of iTunes, allowing users to rate things from zero stars to five. For the more advanced user, LAUNCHcast offers a slightly more detailed ranking system that runs from zero to 100.

In addition, LAUNCHcast Plus offers the ability to set up influences, subscribers and moods. Influences and subscribers act as a sort of buddy system wherein users – called subscribers – can align their tastes with those of other users – called influencers – and allow their influences’ ratings to impact the variety of music that they hear. Moods are a bit simpler, acting as a genre filter to restrict the music played to certain styles, which can be cherry-picked by the user.

In the event that LAUNCHcast plays something the listener does not want to hear, they can make use of another of the service’s features, the song skip. While basic LAUNCHcast users are limited to skipping through the first 600 songs they hear per month, LAUNCHcast Plus customers get an unlimited amount.

Listeners are also given titles – called rating levels – which are determined by the number of times they have rated songs. A listener with less than 100 ratings is considered a “newbie” and one with more than 10,000 is a “ratings master.” While there isn’t any provided incentive to work one’s way up the rating-level ladder, the titles do give some idea of the breadth of a user’s LAUNCHcast experience.While LAUNCHcast provides a number of practical features, there are also some drawbacks to the service – namely that it isn’t the Holy Grail of free, customizable commercial-free radio listeners have been requesting for years. It is, however, a step in the innovative direction.