AOL Debuts Broadband Radio Service

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In a first step toward turning up the volume of Web content, America Online Inc. gave its high-speed customers last week a musical front-row seat with debut of an exclusive radio service.

Broadband Radio@AOL went live Nov. 18, offering CD-quality, commercial-free Internet radio stations along with a package of music information links, music videos, concert ticket and CD sales, event information and fan chat rooms.

"It's the first of a couple 'only-on-AOL Broadband' products that we have launched, which are designed from the ground floor to optimize the nature of a high-speed connection," AOL Broadband senior vice president of programming Shawn Hardin said.

That always-on connection literally plays well for Internet radio programming, which many users tap as background entertainment while at work and at home, Hardin added.

"We're seeing increasingly in the research and the observations that we have done with broadband members this idea of ambient entertainment, and really kind of moving that concept through the radio and into our members computers," he said.

Broadband Radio@AOL offers 125-plus radio stations, ranging from in-house AOL channels covering a range of music genres to live streams from terrestrial radio outlets such as AP Network News, KCRW, WDST, WOXY, KPIG and WFMU. On the AOL channels, celebrity DJs — including the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Faith Hill, Britney Spears and James Taylor — will introduce the tunes.

The radio service is based in a proprietary player built into the AOL 8.0 browser, effectively sidestepping the need to download media players from the likes of Microsoft Corp. or AOL partner RealNetworks Inc. Dubbed Ultravox, the AOL streaming-media player not only offers volume and play controls but also cuts buffering time and speeds up channel changing ability.

AOL's radio service also includes search functions to help listeners find other music titles, a 'buy' button allowing them to purchase CDs and links to AOL Box Office to purchase concert tickets. Listeners also can rate the songs and enter chat rooms to talk about their favorite artists.

Broadband Radio@AOL is just the first in a planned line of high-speed programming additions the nation's largest Internet service provider is planning as it shifts the focus toward stronger content. Some of that vision will be laid out when AOL unveils its broadband strategy at a Dec. 3 investors conference.

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