RadioFlag review - connective listening

Taking a look at an 'empowering radio app'

By James Cridland
Posted 1 May 2015, 9.42am bst

There's not much joy in writing a review that just slags a product off. There's not much joy in reading one either. So apologies for what follows. But, as someone very important in radio once told me, "your career is based on honesty".

First, watch this. It's the folks behind RadioFlag talking about it at TED. Not the TED, but a TEDx thing in Navesink. Here are two folks explaining about what RadioFlag is, while denigrating broadcast radio in the same breath, in the annoying way that digital types do. It might help explain what it is.

RadioFlag is available for iOS, Windows, BlackBerry (I know!), and Android, which is what I loaded it on. First impressions aren't brilliant. The app looks like a very old Android build, with some of the old Android v2 animations, and a splash screen (something that Google specifically tells developers not to do).

There's no onboarding experience. I tried "Flagcasts", what I presumed was the special sauce of the app, only to be told that I needed to "program my listening profile by selecting your favorite listeners. Then you will have filtered Flags here, authored by listeners you have 'tuned in' as favorites". I have literally no idea what to do here. How do I find a listener?

So I hit 'stations', and navigated into Australia, to see the second disappointment: it's been coded by Americans so used to callsigns that they've not realised they're not used in other parts of the world. Want to listen to chill-out station Buddha? That's called iBDHA-AUS, and illustrated with a very low-res icon. Want TripleJ? That's - oddly - iJJJ-AUS (this one does have callsigns actually, but in Australia the callsigns differ per Australian state). Tuning into the station gives me a listen screen that works, at least; though no now-playing information or anything other than a logo. Swiping to the right reveals messages from other Radioflag users ("listeners"?). The last was posted over a year ago. There's no way to find more information about the station.

Radio stations listed in the UK are odd; BBC1-GBR is there (yes, that's Radio 1); along with VRLM-GBR (Radio Verulam). Halfway down the list, miles away from BBC1-GBR, up pops iBBC2-GBR. There's nothing from Capital, Heart, Absolute, or any of the large commercial brands. Oh, no, I tell a lie - XTRA-GBR is there at the bottom of the list. As you'll not guess, it's Capital Xtra. Not 1Xtra. And Capital isn't there. I counted at least five stations that haven't broadcast for six months.

There's a button marked "Broadcast", which looks interesting, so I hit that, to be given a few twitter-like messages from a few radio stations I've never heard of. I try tuning in to one of them, and it's another radio station. I'm unclear what this feature is.

I searched for The Eels - one of my relatively standard searches - and find a tweet-like message from a radio station from seven months ago saying they were going to play it.

I try a flip through genres, and settle on tuning into an 80s station called KKBG, which is from Hawaii apparently, though "Loading Failure" meant that I couldn't listen to it.

Finally, there's a 'trending' tab, which contains mostly hashtags and isn't scrollable. Many of the hashtags are literally one letter. I have no idea what these are. I hit a hashtag marked #baltimoretruth to find a set of tweet-like messages promoting a programme on WLOY between noon and 2pm. WLOY comes from Baltimore, so this looks quite interesting; yet it's after 2pm EST where I am now, and the station's audio stream doesn't actually load.

I have to say I have no idea what this app is here to solve; no idea how to get the most out of it; and am completely confused by much of the outdated UI which looks like a poor iOS port with no acknowledgement of Android UX patterns. The lack of an onboarding experience and of any form of clear help is baffling. The radio station list is poor, the use of call-letters ignorant.

The 'flags', the tweet-like comments that are apparently supposed to act as navigation, aren't unique; TuneIn has comments, and TripleJ's last comment on TuneIn was posted 17 minutes ago as I type this, in spite of it not being 7.00am there yet. The last comment on RadioFlag was in March. In 2014.

And as a post-script, as I tidied this review for publishing, my phone burst into life, ten minutes after I'd closed Radioflag down, with the last station I'd tried tuning into. It's now uninstalled.

In short, while I recommend many radio apps for people to play with, I can't recommend this one. Sorry.

James Cridland — James runs, and is a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business. He also publishes a free daily newsletter about podcasting, Podnews, and a weekly radio trends newsletter.