A lot of bands have curated playlists for fans — that’s pretty standard these days. With his new iPhone app, A Wasteland Companion, however, M. Ward puts a spin on that well-tread concept, releasing a tool that curates not songs, but entire radio stations.
In addition to being your standard musician app (A Wasteland Companion was released in conjunction with Ward’s new album by the same name, and features song samples, tour info, etc), A Wasteland Companion also boasts a unique feature called “Public Radio,” which includes nearly 1,000 of the musician’s favorite stations from around the country.
“I had the original idea of trying to create an app that could inform and direct people to radio stations that are focused on non-commercial music and non-biased news,” Ward says of the app. “I think a lot of people don’t think that there’s anything valuable in radio anymore, but I disagree with that. I think there’s a lot of great radio all over America. It just takes a little but of research.” Consequently, Ward’s app makes that research easy.
After clicking on “Public Radio,” you can search for specific stations or drill down by state. Choosing a state will pull up a map with pins denoting each station, and you can click on pins to find out more. You can also search for stations in your exact location. After choosing a station, you can check in to it via Facebook or Foursquare and listen right in-app. Sadly, the listening experience is rather clunky — you have to click on a mobile link to get to the station’s site and listen from there. However, it’s a pretty good bookmarking tool for later listening; you can also add stations to your “Favorites” and share them across social networks and email.
Although it appears as though radio services like Pandora — which use algorithms instead of DJs to serve up music — are growing in popularity and perhaps stealing some shine from traditional radio, Ward stands firms when it comes to choosing humans over programs. “I like Pandora, I’ve used it a few times, but I prefer radio — having a human there is valuable for obvious reasons,” he says. “I think hearing someone’s voice that you recognize is really important. I grew up with that. I feel like the country is getting farther and farther away from having that human connection. I think that that would be a shame — if human radio programming became extinct.”
And that’s the conceit behind the app — furnishing people with that human connection. It’s even right there, baked into the title of the app, album and title song, “A Wasteland Companion.”
“The definition of the title comes from a lot of different places, and people have a lot of different interpretations,” Ward says. “But the best interpretation that I’ve heard is that the title refers to music and what music can be for people and the potential for music to be a companion no matter where you are.”
What do you think of Ward’s assertions about radio? Would you rather get music from a DJ or an algorithm?