Anchor Launches To Take Radio To The Next Level

Welcome to the next generation of broadcasting.

New York-based Anchor, which launched today for iOS, is offering a new, easier way to record and transmit interactive audio content.

The company’s two co-founders Nir Zicherman and Michael Mignano, who previously worked at the photo-editing toolkit developer Aviary, hatched their new company over a shared love of radio. And have even enlisted some of New York’s heaviest high-end radio broadcasters to help with the app.

Local National Public Radio affiliate WNYC and Radiolab are both signing on to be initial “anchor” (I had to), users of the app.

“WNYC and Radiolab are audio-first brands, and we’re always looking for new ways to incorporate listener voices into our programs in thoughtful, meaningful ways,” said Delaney Simmons, Director of Social Media at WNYC, in a statement. “Anchor gives us another way to reach listeners with the stories we’re interested in, hear from  people around the world and connect with new audiences.”

Here’s an example of how the radio station is already using the service:

For the two co-founders, the work with NPR is the fulfillment of a years-long love affair with radio.

“Around high school I got really into NPR,” says Zicherman. “And when I went to Cornell NPR was a big thing up there too.”

In Mignano’s case, it was a lifetime of listening to sports radio in the morning that turned him into a junkie.

In the wake of the Adobe acquisition, the two cast about for something to do that would bring them back to their love of radio. So in January 2015, they started working on the technology that would become the Anchor app, and in July 2015 they left Adobe to work on the business full time.

“As popular as this medium is we feel it’s really hard for regular people to contribute to it,” Zicherman says of radio technology. “Unlike photos and videos and writing, recording and publishing your voice has not been democratized [and] radio and podcasts aren’t interactive. You can listen to Grantland on the air, or NPR, but you can’t talk back to NPR.”

Mignano agrees.

“The products being built for this space aren’t being developed with audio in mind. The products put visual ahead of audio,” he says.

For both founders, the future of the medium is multi-directional. Just as people can comment on Youtube, Instagram, and other forums for media, there should be a way to verbally comment on audio streams as well, and this is what anchor provides.

Basically, it turns everyone into their own anchor or newscaster. “Our thesis is that this hasn’t happened because the tools haven’t existed to allow it to happen,” says Mignano. “Radio is basically the same technology that existed 100 years ago.”

In part, Anchor also looks to bring the conversations that people have in-person online to reach a broader audience. People broadcast their thoughts on Reddit and Twitter and other platforms, but without the proper training they can’t do the same in audio.

“People have things to say, they just don’t have the means to say them with their voice,” says Mignano.

So let’s say someone want to become a full-time, or even-part time, Anchor. They’d just sign up for the app, download it, and then use the app like they would any recording tool on a smartphone.

A broadcaster can record up to two minutes in an initial message and anyone who wants to respond records a one-minute response.

The idea is that users record these “waves” and the waves get replies. The more people that listen to these waves and respond to them, the more the broadcaster can engage with an expanding audience.

Waves can be embedded and shared like this one from Avi Muchnick, the creator of Aviary, where he talks about hiring a startup.

The vision for a new kind of responsive broadcasting was attractive enough to bring on several bigtime investors.

The company raised $1.6 million in a round led by SV Angel and Eniac Ventures, with additional participation from Acequia Capital, Scott Belsky, betaworks, CrunchFund, Homebrew, Avi Muchnick, Questlove (of The Roots and The Tonight Show), Quire, and Vijay Vachani.

In the past few years a few apps have emerged that are coming up with new ways of toying with the old notion of voice broadcasting as a social media platform.

Thanks to the success of podcasts like Serial, and the lasting power of radio, people are again embracing the intimacy of the audio broadcast.

The Indian-based telecom services firm Altruist acquired the voice-based social media platform Bubbly in 2014, and apps like HearMeOut and Hubbub also offer voice recording and distribution technologies.

While HearMeOut and Hubbub have gone quiet, the early adoption of marquee names like WNYC and Radiolab bodes well for Anchor’s chances.