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New mobile audio service Agogo takes aim at satellite radio

The new app compiles a breadth of sought-after content online -- music, talk, text, and video -- into an interconnected mobile audio service geared for the car, with big-name partners like Spotify.


The goal is to slay satellite radio. So says J.D. Heilprin, founder and chief of mobile audio service Agogo, which launches Wednesday.

As more music has moved online, traditional and satellite radio services have held onto the last big bastion of music listening, the automobile, because of their deep integration into the dash.

To develop Agogo -- which aims to collect the span of online audio offerings like Spotify, Rdio, and NPR and interconnect them, using a simple interface, with local traffic; text-to-speech news articles and book excerpts; and television programming -- Heilprin logged 15,000 miles driving back and forth across the country three times, he told CNET in an interview last week.

Heilprin zeroed in on what he said makes satellite radio services "lumbering dinosaurs" and what he wanted his audio service to be: something that "channels your world" and turns your mobile phone into "an antifutzing device," he said.

Agogo categorizes programming into curated channels with names like "Bite Size / Sports" and "Audio Book Previews" that adjust to user preferences, with a top-level "go channel" that compiles a user's favorite topics and sources. It compiles free audio, video, and written content online from trusted sources, turns them all into audio, and then interconnects them to bounce between ideas quickly.

The idea is that if you're a lover of NPR's "Fresh Air," putting it at the top of your main channel means you'll hear the radio show's latest installment with a few taps. When Terry Gross's interview with an actor turns to his days performing in Green Day's Broadway musical, you can jump over to a Green Day channel on Rdio or Spotify if you get a hankering to hear "Dookie." If she mentions Edward Snowden, you can flip to the latest text-to-speech New York Times news articles about the fugitive U.S. intelligence contractor.

At launch, Agogo has partners in paid online music services Spotify and Rdio, which Agogo users can connect to their accounts -- and get a free trial of the premium music services. It also has deals with Clearchannel for local traffic information and Simon & Schuster for book excerpts. (Simon & Schuster is owned by CBS, the parent company of CNET.) The rest is free content online from high-profile sources.

Heilprin is trying to do for audio a little bit what his previous project, Modern Feed, did for video, taking hosted video programming from a variety of sources and consolidating it into a single directory that was curated by human beings.

While the design of Agogo revolves around it being useful in the car, the service is limited -- like many other upstart digital options -- to Bluetooth for it to work with steering-wheel controls. It also relies on your phone's connectivity to work, which, depending on your carrier and where you are, can be spotty.

But those issues are secondary to Heilprin, who sees Agogo's main objective as integrating the breadth of what people want to listen to, and making it available in one place.

"Awesome audio programming is bountiful, but today it is trapped inside content silos and spread across apps," he said later in a statement. "We built Agogo to radically improve the audio experience for people on the go."

Agogo launched Wednesday as a free iOS app and is also accessible on any device that can connect to its Web version.