If you’ve used other radio portals, you may have noticed that the quality of our search results is somehow… different. Searching by genre on Radio Tuna produces results that are surprisingly accurate and consistent, though it’s not easy to see why this is the case.

Traditionally, if you own a radio station, you choose one or more genres and set them on your server. This data is normally used to categorise stations, so when you search for ‘Rap’ say, you get a list of all the stations that have Rap as one of their genres, often ordered by the number of listeners that they have. On the surface, this seems fine but there are two main drawbacks: i) Large stations dominate search results, remaining popular because they are popular; ii) The amount of Rap that each station plays can vary wildy (some may not play any Rap at all).

We think this system is inadequate when there are thousands of stations to choose from – to use Long Tail terminology, the filters are unreliable and too coarse. Finding stations can be hit-and-miss, frustrating and require persistence – some people give up searching altogether (we know because we were those people). From a station’s point of view, it’s hard to differentiate yourself from others (and crucially to attract listeners), particularly in popular genre categories.

So how to create better filters?

Our idea was pretty simple – we ignore the genres that stations assign themselves, and instead use our own system to categorise them. This has benefits both for users and for stations – users get accurate search results with a visual breakdown of genres for each station, and stations get a ranking according to the amount of each genre that they play, not the number of listeners that they have. This democratises the radio search-space, meaning that search rankings are according to relevance, not station size (and budget). If a station wants to rank more highly in a particular genre, they only have to adjust their output to play more of that type of music.

Unlike the idea, the software that makes it all possible is not simple at all. But that’s for another post…

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