May 1, 2012 at 6:17 pm

JPortal Unearthed Injects Up-and-Coming Bands into Live Radio

jportal triple j radio

It’s a problem that exists all around the world: Radio stations can only play on song at a time, and those songs tend to be the ones that a person or algorithm has already decided is worthy of airplay. We all know there’s plenty of great new stuff sitting there, but it’s not always easy to find — especially in a radio context.

So how can radio listeners, which comprise a large percentage of music listeners both online and off, ever find out about those bands? Staffers from the much-beloved Australian radio station Triple J may have found the answer at Music Hack Day Sydney with an app for web, smartphones, and tablets called JPortal (live demo).

“We’re creating a recommendation engine that’s a link between a song that’s playing on Triple J, which might be quite popular, that goes into the large database of unsigned artists that we have, Triple J Unearthed,” said Damien Radford, web developer for ABC. “It’s all [music by] young Australian people, and it doesn’t get around. What we want to do is have a bridge into that.”

Triple J released an API (private for now) that gives developers access to historical play data on the station, its top 100 lists, and the currently playing track. Their creation hooks into that last element, so that the app can figure out what song is playing on the station at that moment.

To form the “bridge” from the track on the radio to the approximately 80,000 “unearthed” tracks uploaded by over 16,000 Australian bands to date, JPortal uses Analyze technology from The Echo Nest (publisher of to understand the sonic attributes of this music. This is necessary because that music, by its very nature, is not already understood by recommendation engines that can only look at well-known music from the past. Essentially, the JPortal app can “unearth” it for a receptive audience that has expressed interest in similar-sounding music.

“The user is listening on the web or radio — [the app] is almost like a ‘second screen’ type of thing,” said Triple J designer, developer, and photographer Russell Privett. “We’re tying a bunch of our media [in addition to the music], like photo galleries about the artists on your iPhone or iPad or whatever.”

According to Triple J’s Jack Moggach, users can either listen to the over-the-air radio and tap into these unsigned bands on their iOS device — or listen to the Tripple J radio stream within the JPortal app itself, viewing the unsigned band information next to that. Either way, fans can view the current and previous ten tracks, folding out the view to see unearthed bands that sound like those tracks. And if they decide to play a track from one of those artists, the app fades out the main radio stream automatically, so you can hear the “unearthed” band. The group plans to add the ability for users to discover similar bands in their locations, so that if they hear a sound they like on the radio, they can hear something similar live, even if they live in a market that the more famous band is not touring.

This is a powerful concept. Triple J concerns itself with Australian music, but it could apply to any market in the world where people listen to fairly popular music, and where other bands make music that’s not as popular. So really, this approach would make sense anywhere except Antarctica.

Read’s full coverage of Music Hack Day Sydney.