Los Angeles-based radio broadcaster Dash Radio closed a $8.8M seed round last month. It was led by Nimble Ventures, Lazerow Ventures, Muzik, Arab Angel, etc., as well as Dash Radio’s latest board members: Kevin Tsujihara and Michael Zeisser.
Scott Keeney or DJ Skee, a well-known DJ with stints on LA’s KISS-FM and Sirius XM, launched Dash Radio in 2014 in stealth mode. “Despite nearly everybody listening to the radio (96% to be exact)”, he said announcing his resignation from traditional radio a few days before launching the startup, “most listeners are dissatisfied due to the repetitive playlists, a lack of variety and originality, and the massive amounts of commercials.”
A disenthralled Keeney, therefore, started Dash Radio, an Internet-radio platform (then available on Apple iOS, Google Android and mobile web) with $2M seed funding from backers that included Facebook executives, music and radio industry veterans, and US sports stars. A name among the list is Peter Ferraro, best-known for East Village Radio, who, after announcing the closure of his path-breaking internet radio station, Ferraro had wondered what next till the opportunity to start Dash Radio arrived.
“Radio was the first social network, the first time people really listened together,” Keeney said about starting Dash Radio. “And we want to bring that feeling back, but with more freedom than what FM and satellite can offer.”
Dash Radio Is Reinventing Radio
When everyone online was focused on live video, the founder of Dash Radio decided to concentrate on live audio. It had clearly been an ignored medium despite a huge audience. According to Nielsen’s second-quarter 2017 Comparable Metrics Report, 93% of U.S. adults 18 and older listen to radio every week—more than those watching television or using a smartphone, TV connected device, tablet or PC. It’s these listeners who can benefit from more than just algorithm-based mix-tapes and stale playlists some apps offer. Dash Radio, therefore, embarked upon meeting that need and unsurprisingly, by June 2015, when it came out of beta mode, it had more than a million users and 60 curated “stations” for listeners.
Since its launch, Snoop Dogg has been a DJ at one of Dash’s curated stations. He is now joined by others like Lil Wayne, Ice Cube, Oscar De La Hoya, Monsters Of Rock. Today, the startup also has 400+ shows across 75+ stations and it’s broadcasted on 40+ distribution outlets like Amazon Echo, SONOS, Google Home, as well as Pluto TV, Chrome, Fire Stick, Apple TV. Additionally, the company claims, “deals (are) in place that (will) put Dash inside almost every new connected vehicle”.
The genesis of Dash Radio is rooted in the fact that Keeney wants to recalibrate radio and redeem it to its former glory. “A lot of kids think Pandora is radio, but there’s a gross mislabeling that’s happening,” Keeney says of its competitors. Digital streaming platforms like Pandora or IHeartRadio, he continues, are “not broadcast, they’re not live, they’re not curated, it’s all algorithm.” Neither is Dash Radio competing with numerous streaming apps like Spotify or Deezer, but perhaps a competition remains in Apple which introduced Beats 1, a live, 24-hour, human-curated Internet radio station featuring top talent, in 2015. Keeney believes that Apple got much of the idea for Beats 1 from his own multiple meetings with the company about Dash, but regardless of that, its existence, for Keeney, validates Dash Radio’s business model.
He argues that Apple’s Beats 1 launch supports his idea of how radio is evolving. “Despite all the negativity around what traditional FM radio has become, it still remains the number one way people discover music today. The problem is not with the concept but with the execution. By shifting radio to the Internet, we can return radio to its original state and get rid of what people hate—like how 25 percent of an hour is commercials, and the other 75 percent plays the same few songs and formats over and over.”
His sternest criticism, in fact, is against this dilution of FM from what it used to be. “FM stations now find themselves in the same place as old taxi companies when faced with Uber and Lyft,” he argues. “Rather than competing to get better, they simply dug in and doubled down, focusing on simulcasting FM feeds digitally in apps, and it’s not working well for either party.”
Dialling Down FM
Despite the arguments, radio is not dead. It’s still the most important medium for audio and music discovery and has its loyal listeners. It is also why Dash Radio has seized the opportunity to lead the lean pack of digital radio. Success hasn’t been elusive, for one, it is aiding discovery of music—which, many argue, is the primary role of radio—and also executing the role of adding the newness, variety and richness traditional FM lacks. No censorship, and audio curated by humans (often celebrities) is winning it admirers too. In doing so, it claims to have become the largest digital radio platforms in the world, reaching over 10 million monthly listeners.
“We don’t want to be anything more than broadcast radio.”
Dash Radio is also innovating along the way. The digital platform has disregarded traditional advertising for more engaging models. Unlike subscription services or ads that most others use, Dash curates listening of free original content without traditional commercials. “We don’t believe that traditional 30-second spots work: people turn off the second the ads come on,” Keeney says. Instead, Dash has explored the idea of pop-up stations. “Our pop-up stations are co-branded content, but done in a meaningful way.” It recently had a Michael Jackson Diamond Celebration pop-up celebrating the 60th birthday of Michael Jackson in conjunction with Cirque Du Soleil.
Keeney, now 34, joined radio when he was 16 and stayed put for more than a decade before launching Dash Radio. Roughly four years and a well-performing startup later, there’s no reason for him to doubt his vision. “We see other people trying to get into this space, but we’re very confident about who we are,” he says. “We don’t want to be anything more than broadcast radio.”
Dash Radio has been reimagining live radio and with this latest funding, Keeney says, “Dash will continue to rapidly expand and take advantage of the $45 billion per year radio market as it evolves from analog to digital.”
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