How to use iTunes radio

11 February 2014

iTunes Radio has opened up availability to Aussie users. After the US, Australia is only the second country to get access to Apple’s Radio service. Radio services like this are a great way to expand your music tastes without spending money or relying on the occasional recommendation from a friend.

It’s a free, ad-supported streaming service in the familiar style of Pandora, Spotify Radio, Google All Access or numerous other examples. The difference is that it’s built in to iTunes, which makes it appealing for iTunes and Apple device users. It works on Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and Apple TV.

A family-friendly feature of iTunes Radio is the option to allow or block explicit songs. There’s a little toggle on the main page (defaulted to Off) that lets you switch between the two.

Of course there are ads if you’re not an iTunes Match subscriber. Thankfully, these ads tend to only last between around 3-12 seconds. They crop up anywhere from between each song to once in every four or five. They never happen mid-track; only in-between songs and tend to average once every three tracks. Very occasionally you’ll get two ads in a row, but even then the total time taken tends to be around 15 seconds.

If you happen to be an iTunes Match subscriber (AU$34.99 per year), you’ll get iTunes Radio ad-free.

How do I get it?

To get setup on a Mac or PC, just open iTunes and download the latest update. If a [Radio] button doesn’t appear next to your [Songs/Albums/Artists] etc toolbar then you’ll have to visit the iTunes Radio website. Click [Start Listening] and select [Listen in iTunes]. Then select iTunes as the launch application if you are prompted.

If you have an iOS device (iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch) it’s just as easy. Launch the Music app and there should be a [Radio] tab along the bottom. If there isn’t, check to see if you have a pending update for your Music app on the App Store.

A bonus for iOS users is that Radio has Siri integration, so you can tell your phone to launch the app and play a certain station if you prefer voice interface.

Using iTunes Radio

iTunes Radio is a randomised service. The only control you have over what plays is by selecting what type of music you’d like to play. You can also skip a limited number of tracks.

The idea is that, based on your activity, iTunes will learn your listening preferences. As it gathers more data it will deliver more and more music tuned to your interests.

When playing a track, you have a few options:

  • Play More Like This
  • Never Play This Song
  • Add to iTunes Wish List
  • New Station from Artist
  • New Station from Song
  • Share Station
  • Show in iTunes Store

Any selection that reflects positively on the song will increase your likelihood of hearing it or others like it again. Anything negative will decrease those chances, or even banish the song permanently.

[New Station from Artist] or [New Station from Song] both start up a new radio station built around that specific artist or track. If it’s around the artist, it will select other artists that have been deemed similar. If it’s the track, it will try to keep the same overall feel, be it chilled, pumped, grungy etc.

Radio stations

There are a bunch of default stations that have been curated by Apple. Among these are things like ‘Hot Today’, ‘Hot Alternative’, ‘Classical Showcase’, ‘Unwind’, and a few featured artists or albums.

You can also create your own ‘My Stations’ based on a genre, artist or song. Artist and Song stations will always begin with that artist or song before moving on to music that has been deemed similar by iTunes.

One particularly nice touch is that you can ‘tune’ a radio station to focus on Hits, Variety or Discovery. Hits focuses on the most popular matched titles, Discovery on the least popular. Variety is a mixture of the two.

Discovering new music

iTunes Radio is great for finding new music, but it does have its drawbacks as well. The biggest issue is that there’s no way to save a song to a playlist without paying to download it. You can add tracks easily to your Wish List, which is handy for remembering songs that you want to buy but can’t grab right now for any reason, but you can’t build your own streamable playlists like on Spotify.

On a more positive note, Apple has made it really easy to buy music through iTunes Radio. Every single track has a little purchase button next to it on which its price is written. This is also true for every track in your iTunes Radio History.

If you want a whole album, you can click on a track and select Show in iTunes Store. Alternatively just clicking the track name will do the same thing. This will take you to both the track and the album it’s from, after which buying is as easy as clicking.

Be careful not to bust your cap

A final word of caution: iTunes Radio is a streaming service. This means that every time you listen to a track, you are using up as much data as if you downloaded that track from the iTunes Store. If you have a limited download quota then be careful you don't go over or you may incur overage fees.

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