In the program’s own words: “Poolside FM was conceived one awfully rainy summer in the highlands of Scotland — a virtual vacation, if you will. The audio and video streams are curated to inject a healthy dose of serotonin into your brain… we hope you’ll grab a sun-lounger and stick around.”
This is one of the most succinct descriptions of Poolside FM you could come up with: it’s a place to chill and absorb some 80s retro aesthetic, through both the music, VHS-looking video-clips, or just the interface — designed to emulate the original macOS.
On the site you have access to a fully functioning music-player which works as if it were a real radio. Without an account you can listen to random songs from several radio stations with slightly different styles (Poolside FM, Indie Summer, Hangover Club, Tokyo Disco, and Friday Nite Heat), and if you register you can save particular songs to make your own playlists. The video player plays a collection of old VHS video recordings from skateboarding clips to Jazzercise videos (yes, really).
There is also a “PoolChat”, which is a simple live chat which users can connect their Twitter accounts to, enabling them to hang out and talk with other users. Having spent some time on Poolside FM, it’s a weirdly comforting feeling amid a second lockdown in England to see so many strangers chilling in chat, talking about how they’re running the program in the background whilst they finish an essay or do some programming. There’s also a “Mixtape” app that functions similar to the music player but, as the name implies, it plays a selection of songs put together like a classic mixtape for any listener to kick back with.
These are the major features but the software has a few extra perks. A guestbook allows people to leave comments in a more permanent way than the chat, just to let people know that they were there. There is an Instagram account linked to the software. Although, humorously, the like and comment numbers on the in-program version of Insta are greatly overinflated.
For budding musicians, you can even submit your favourite songs (or as Poolside affectionately terms them: “bangers”) to play on the different stations. This means you could entirely compose your own 80s inspired piece and submit it to the Poolside devs, and they could well decide your song is worth airing to any internet strangers looking to warm up a dreary Autumn/Winter day. If you love the song curation but want to run it in a more familiar environment, you can always follow Poolside FM’s Soundcloud account too.
In a world full of micro-transactions for apps, and especially in the current Covid-throttled social climate, this is one of those free little internet passion projects that just puts a smile on your face. It is downloadable as a free app on iOS and Mac (Android apparently coming soon) or is usable in a browser. The little retro macOS environment for the browser is a joy to play around with as a little internet toy, with a faux startup sequence (complete with ASCII art cocktail glass), and a few little eastereggs for those willing to hunt them down.
80s nostalgia has seen something of a surge in popularity, from video games to TV shows like Stranger Things. Poolside FM however goes for a nice mix of that standard 80s feel and mixes it up with a sunny aesthetic that does place you right at some Miami Beach or LA Pool Party, an aesthetic I most strongly recall being explored in this Gorillaz music video (the opening line “calling the world from isolation” in that song has taken on a new meaning now, huh?).
Overall, Poolside FM is a brilliant example of that special kind of joy the internet sometimes seems to decide to bestow on users when the planets align: a small, free, simple project made with love for an appreciative and (rarely for the internet) incredibly chill audience.