FM-World Turns 25: From Analog to AI. A Conversation with Nicola Franceschini
The FM-World System
Our articles cover radio broadcasting comprehensively, but also artificial intelligence, the future of infotainment on the go, and everything else that’s coming up. However, it’s nice to look back sometimes, especially for something like FM-World whose pioneering role in the Italian web scene risks being forgotten or overlooked. That’s why we decided to speak with Nicola Franceschini, who needs no introduction for our italian readers. Stay tuned, it’ll be worth it.
A Quarter Century
*Marco Hugo Barsotti: FM-World has a long history, it seems like it’s been around forever…
Nicola Franceschini: It’s been exactly 25 years, on June 5th, that FM-World has existed. So we’re approaching an important milestone, marking a quarter century. There are really two distinct eras for FM-World: before you mentioned Supereva but that wasn’t even the beginning… and of course the more professional part, with the app and everything else, which started in 2011.
But let’s go in order: FM-World was born as a completely amateur website on June 5, 1998, in a period…
*MHB: 1998? Around the era of Netscape Navigator 3.0*, with the big “N” logo?*
NF: Actually Internet Explorer was out too, that was the big innovation. I was still in university, so I was using the internet directly on campus while studying, and it was a time… you know, like it was for local radio in the 70s: there were amateur websites popping up everywhere.
Of course I followed the ones related to radio, where there was an embryonic Newslinet, which later evolved. But I remember there were so many similar sites, like the one in Milan for example, I don’t know if you remember, called…
*MHB: The Daxmedia observatory! BSB, STM, RPB and all the Milanese station codes invented by Dario Dossena.
NF: Yes, DaxMedia created in collaboration with Andrea Lombardo. But there were so many similar sites, scattered in cities across Italy. Basically all aimed at offering very similar content in their own region, mostly to talk about radio but even more to report frequency changes, what could be received in those areas, etc…
*MHB: …and when the Christmas cap would appear on the logos of analog TV stations: thrilling, much more than predictions on who would win Sanremo…
NF: Exactly! Anyway, FM-World was really born very simply as a site for reporting frequencies. It wasn’t so much about content in terms of programs and such. Then gradually, we didn’t even realize it, but we started getting feedback, emails from readers and even official press releases.
Initially I had published it on Geocities pages, the very first version, you remember Geocities.com?
*MHB: Of course, I remember Geocities_ very well, it was a hugely popular free web hosting service in the 90s!_
NF: Yes: it was one of those sites that gave you free space, with the Geocities.com address and then slash (“/”, ed), and then slash, and slash, until you got to FM-World at the end.
And then Supereva, which at the time had the “guide” project, basically single-topic channels, making it a real portal, with many ‘experts’ on individual topics. They were the ones who wrote to me, proposing to move the content from my site into an already organized space, within their radio channel, which I essentially became the manager of.
When FM-World entered Supereva – 2000/2001 – I gradually expanded it, also inserting the first news related to radio in general… I remember finding the launch of m2o (2002) a few months ago, for which I had written a short article, a project that took the place of Italia Radio, a station with a completely different format.
*MHB: From Radio Regione of Fegiz to the PCI…. to Dance!
NF: Exactly, there had been this epochal change. Then I talked about the debut of LolliRadio in 2006 and other native digital stations. Until 2011 FM-World was always hosted on Supereva and in parallel had a site called Frequenze Radio.
*MHB: Sorry to interrupt, before moving on to step 2 which I think is coming up, there’s one aspect I think is interesting – the news gathering*, that is, how you got the news. It seems to me we can say you were a pre-social pioneer of the bottom-up model, in the sense that news gathered locally by readers who in some way became co-editors. Quite remarkable, in a pre-Twitter, pre-Meta era.*
NF: Of course not “all readers”, but a series of trusted contributors, some of whom have become real friends who still share the project with me today. There were some areas of Italy that were uncovered, but news from Milan, Rome, Naples, Turin or “my” Emilia-Romagna was constantly updated.
But consider that at the time I was already collaborating with Millecanali and this was a big advantage for me. There I was one name among many others, but it was a prestigious publication, edited by Mauro Roffi who we are still in constant contact with.
And then, as you say, there were grassroots contacts, people who spontaneously sent emails with information.
In 2002 Talkmedia was launched, which today is the social side of FM-World on Facebook: born as a ‘guest’ of Yahoo!Groups.
The method was very simple: anyone who joined (via email, of course) this group automatically became both a reader and a participant, because anyone could write something that would be delivered to everyone.
And Talkmedia remained this until the arrival of social media…. When did Facebook start in Italy?
*MHB: I’d say around 2008. Still without the “like” button.
NF: Facebook started when I wasn’t working with Busi (Gianluca Busi, founder of 22HBG, ed.) yet. And the first FM-World page was actually a private profile. Then came “groups”.
So in 2011 the official page and TalkMedia as a group were born, and it’s also the year I personally met Gianluca. At the time I was working at a local radio station and he came…
*MHB: “One?” At Rete Alfa…
NF: Yes… Gianluca came to visit me at the radio station saying “we know each other…”, because technicians and industry operators were talking to him about me, just as they were talking to me about him.
At that time there was no 22HBG yet, which would be born by combining the start-up with the development process of FM-World as an app too.
FM-World at 22HBG
I was also tired of “playing alone”, so I was happy to have an evolution, capturing Gianluca’s enthusiasm and that of the nascent 22HBG.
Our “roles”? I basically maintained management of the website’s content and he handled everything else, namely the app, technological developments, and the beautiful headquarters too.
An app – FM-world – that today aggregates the audio and video streams of many Italian and foreign stations.
Words, words, words
*MHB: But you don’t provide connection numbers publicly.
NF: Those are company choices, but I can give you some important information. For example, not only major networks work online, but also native digital radios, especially if they have a well-defined format. There are totally “vertical” stations that achieve significant results.
Reality Check: Any Web Radios in the Top 10?
*MHB: But for example right now, at this moment, do you have any radios that are not also on FM among the top 10?
NF: Right now (8:55 AM on Monday May 29, 2023, ed.) the most listened to… let me see… yes: the most listened to is Radio1 Rai, then the private networks we know… and in ninth place 70-80.it, the first digital one.
FM-World for Broadcasters
*MHB: An application like FM-World records a sea of information: real-time listening rankings, listening duration, bounce rate, individual user habits. And it can display metadata. Have you thought about providing interfaces to radio stations so they can analyze and operate on this data? Or maybe enrich what radio offers through your platform with those famous metadata – and I don’t mean just the title of the song on air, but everything else that’s been dreamed up for years?
NF: Of course, obviously this is a very useful service, also demonstrating the importance on the app of prominence, studied positioning, the right logo, the right name: a service we can provide.
But not me: I handle the content side. You’d have to talk to 22HBG directly about that.
And that’s exactly what we’ll do in the second episode of our series “Entertainment and Work in the Car” (M.H.B. with the support of Peperoni AI, for FM-World).