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iHeartRadio retunes iOS, Android apps for more talk radio

The online radio service, one of the country's biggest, updates its mobile apps to bolster talk-radio content in the format where people are listening most.

With most people listening to talk radio on the go, iHeartRadio -- the digital arm of radio giant Clear Channel -- figured its mobile apps should make finding the talk easier.

Updates to the apps Monday add a directory for talk content so users can browse and select from drop-down categories; a side navigation pull-out screen; and the ability to customize and access Live and Custom Station preset favorites. The update also adds new segments from "The View" and "Jimmy Kimmel Live" coinciding with with the fall television season.

Screenshot of iHeartRadio's app.
iHeartRadio's updated apps for iOS and Android get a directory for Talk programs. iHeartRadio

The updates get talk content more quickly to listeners' ears where people are looking for digital radio most -- on their phones. Unsurprisingly, with most online radio listening is moving to mobile devices, 60 percent of people listening to iHeartRadio Talk since its beta launch in late July are doing so with a portable device, the company said.

iHeart Radio's app updates will be available for iOS on Monday and on Thursday for Android, including the Kindle.

It's the latest maneuver by an online radio challenger to Pandora that tests out weak spots in the armor of the biggest online radio service in the US. With about 72 million active users a month, Pandora dominates online radio listening. By comparison, the monthly unique visitors to iHeartRadio are less than one-fourth that level, according to figures from ComScore, and iHeartRadio is one of the closest competitors.

Yet Pandora's strongest suit has always been music, going back to its origins with the Music Genome Project that catalogs songs by their musical DNA to make recommendations. While Pandora also has a talk element, Clear Channel's long history with talk radio provided iHeart a way to attract an audience that the online leader in radio wasn't as well equipped to woo.

And that audience was already tuning in: Before the dedicated talk feature launched, talk content already accounted for 25 percent of iHeartRadio listening, compared to about 16 percent of terrestrial radio listening.

Launched in late July, iHeartRadio Talk brought online a cache of talk content, not only from shows from big-name personalities on Clear Channel's network of stations but also will allow aspiring talk-radio stars to record their own episodes on Spreaker and submit them to the iHeartRadio library for listeners to pick out.

Overall, the iHeartRadio app has been downloaded 225 million times.

The crowded field of contenders reflects how streaming music is the fastest growing segment of the recorded music industry. But it still lags far behind traditional AM/FM radio. Even at its perch on the top of the online world, Pandora only represents about 7.5 percent of all US radio listening.

And the iHeartRadio app updates arrive on the stage with another competitive threat waiting in the wings: iTunes Radio. The online radio service from Apple is set to launch Tuesday in the US as part of iOS 7. While iTunes Radio may be coming to the game late by tech standards, the 575 million customers iTunes already means Apple is getting an airlift into the race near the front of the pack.