SlotRadio could thrive with more eclectic music

The $99 MP3 player comes with microSD card containing 1,000 songs curated by Billboard editors, but big hits aren't enough to drive sales. Instead, SanDisk needs to draw music fans in.

I'll readily admit that I'm not in the target audience for the new SlotRadio MP3 player from SanDisk, which became available last week.

The $99 device comes with a microSD card containing 1,000 songs, selected by Billboard editors from top-charting radio hits of the last 40 years or so, arranged in seven playlists--rock, country, hip-hop, and four others.

You can't edit or rearrange the playlists, you can't move the songs to your computer or any other device, and the only way to get new songs is by buying new 1,000-song cards for $39.99 apiece.

For a music control freak like me--I used to be the jerk at parties who'd secretly rifle through the host's CD collection looking for something I liked more than what was playing--turning my audio programming over to somebody else isn't easy.

There's a wee tiny rock band in there, and they're playing my favorite Steely Dan song. CBS Interactive

But I got a chance to play with the SlotRadio today, and there's something refreshing about its simplicity. I took it out of the box while sitting on the bus and was listening to music in less than 30 seconds.

There's no software to install, no USB cable to plug in, no CDs to rip, and no need for the instruction booklet. It's an MP3 player for people who don't know what MP3s are--and don't really care--but just want to rock out to some good tunes without carrying their entire CD collection around in their car.

While I agree with CNET's Jasmine France that the sound quality is only mediocre, the bigger problem is the mainstream, middle-of-the-road selections chosen by Billboard.

SanDisk had to start somewhere, and Billboard is one of the biggest names in the biz, but each playlist sounded like a heavily audience-tested radio station programmed by some anonymous machine in a building in New York. That is fine...but if I wanted the risk-averse sensation of radio, I'd just turn on the player's built-in radio. I ended up using the skip button quite a bit.

As I said when I first heard about SanDisk's SlotMusic strategy, the format will succeed only if SanDisk quickly signs up some more eclectic curators. I'd gladly pay $40 for 1,000 blues songs curated by Buddy Guy, or 1,000 reggae and dub tunes collected by KEXP's Kid Hops, or the top 1,000 songs of the year as chosen by the editors of Pitchfork.

Better yet, what if SanDisk teamed up with Pandora ? The target audiences seem almost identical: music lovers who can't find a radio station that matches their taste, and don't have the time or motivation to hunt down and buy (or steal) a lot of music themselves.

Users could order customized cards based on their musical profiles or Pandora stations. They'd have to be created on demand, which would be more costly than mass-producing the same card thousands of times, but Pandora already has the algorithms and infrastructure to create customized radio stations on the fly, so how much more expensive could it be to rip 1,000 songs onto a microSD card?

Anyway, SlotRadio is an odd but interesting little device, and I hope that SanDisk gives it the chance it deserves by branching out into the niche markets in which music lives today.

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