Robot radio, new and ‘improved’

The news that iHeartMedia, the conglomerate that owns more than 850 US radio stations and an online radio service, is laying off as many as 1,000 employees, including hundreds of on-air personalities, as it transitions to programming by artificial intelligence (AI), is the latest sign that the music people hear is not selected or sequenced by . . . people.

Drew Harrell, The Washington Post’s technology writer, examines the trend that began with automated music programming at radio stations – outside of morning and afternoon commuting drive times, many stations have not employed live DJs or talk-show hosts for years – is now being extended to fully automated, AI-generated content that can “seamlessly interweave chatter, music and ads:”

Harrell’s interviews with affected DJs, one of them earning $12 an hour, another working off the air as a restaurant server, suggest that the radio jobs being eliminated weren’t exactly prime employment opportunities. And those who think that popular music sounds ever more robotic probably won’t fret too much about it being programmed by robots.

Still, when an AI music programming firm, Super HiFi, touts its service as blending music selections “in concordance with the salient temporal moments” to produce a “more engaging overall consumption experience,” you’ve got to wonder whether the transition from listening to music to living with aural wallpaper, under way since the introduction of Muzak in the 1930s, is now being taken to a new, more disturbingly manipulative level.

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