Internet radio stations creating a new wave

Last Updated 08 January 2010, 17:03 IST

Early fans of the iPhone bemoaned that, unlike many of its competitors, their favourite ‘do anything’ device couldn’t do one obvious thing: play local radio stations.
They didn’t get it. FM tuners are passé. Why include tuner technology to play a few dozen stations when you can harness thousands of radio stations over the internet?
Unlike standard broadcast radio, internet radio stations can be heard virtually anywhere (copyright restrictions aside), as long as you have a device that can go on the web; that can be a PC, a smartphone or a stand-alone receiver.
An internet radio station may have started out life as a traditional local broadcast outlet, and then management decided that it would be great to let people hear it everywhere. Or an internet radio station may be nothing more than one person in a basement uploading music or talk to the web, hoping that someone out there will listen.
Literally thousands of genres of internet radio exist, from oldies, classical and religious to ultraradical talk, from the right and left. The first trick is finding them, and the next is playing them. Fortunately, with a little information, both tasks are rather easy.
Tune in to find an internet station of a particular genre, start with the basics: a web search. Type in ‘60s’, ‘NPR’ or ‘Catholic’ and the words ‘internet radio’ and you’ll come up with a list and links to those channels. Another useful source is streamingradioguide.com. The website lists more than 14,000 stations that can be searched by genre. While extensive, the list is not complete.

Internet radio hardware and smartphone apps that offer radio transmissions don’t typically accumulate station offerings themselves; rather, they use aggregators, companies that create a selection of channels. On the web, you can access radio channels directly from those aggregators as well; they include Reciva.com, Radiotime.com, Vtuner.com, 1.fm and Freeradio.tv.
In addition, Apple’s iTunes software (Mac and PC) offers hundreds of internet radio stations. To listen to them, click on ‘Radio’ under ‘Library’ in the left vertical column.
A wide variety of stand-alone players are now available that allow consumers to listen to internet radio without using a PC.
One compelling feature: many offer wireless connectivity — with a wireless router, you can place the player anywhere in the home within range of the signal, and use the player as you would with a normal radio.
Livio Radio’s wireless line includes its AARP, NPR and Pandora models. Pandora’s music service allows listeners to ‘create’ a radio station based on an artist or genre they like. Then, Pandora automatically plays other music that the service believes fits the same category.

Each $200 unit features programming from its model name; however all are capable of playing any of the 16,000 internet stations offered in the unit’s menus, from ’80s music to police scanner intercepts.
The models can be connected to an external stereo system, or the unit’s built-in speakers can be used.
Logitech’s Squeezebox line of internet radio devices ($200 to $400) include, depending on model, a colour screen, speakers and the ability to play both internet radio and music stored on connected home PCs.
Models range from a tabletop unit to a boombox to the Squeezebox Duet. They are designed to send the internet feed and your PC’s music collection to a home stereo system, and they come with their own remotes.
For about $120, Myine’s Ira internet radio receiver connects to a home stereo or powered speakers, and offers 11,000 internet stations. It incorporates a simple, two-colour display and a remote.
Sanyo’s R227 model, $180 at Amazon.com, takes its styling cues from the KLH Model 8 radio of the 1950s, and includes not just the ability to receive internet stations, but FM ones as well.

The unit features eight presets for both internet and broadcast stations, and also functions as a music-playing clock radio.
Philips offers a number of wireless internet radio models under its Streamium brand. The NP2900/37, about $300, includes a colour screen, and is housed in a sleek, horizontal sound bar, with a stand reminiscent of an iMac’s.

With four speakers and 30 watts of power, this Streamium can also play music stored on a network-connected Mac or PC, and can display cover art. It also includes a month of Rhapsody, a subscription-based music service.
Hundreds of radio apps are available at Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch app store, both free and fee-based. AOL Radio (free) does what its name implies: it simply offers 200 internet stations across 25 genres, plus 150 CBS radio stations, and includes not just music, but comedy and sports as well.
Crave real-life drama? Police Radio and Scanner 911 (both 99 cents), as well as Emergency Radio ($3) allow you to listen in to dozens of police, fire and emergency service broadcasts around the country.

For public radio fans, at least three apps will give you easy access to ‘All Things Considered’ and other shows. Public Radio App ($3) allows listeners to pause and rewind 300 public radio shows, and bookmark them to return to listen later. The app also displays the web page associated with the show, and can be set to play as a clock radio.
Other public radio apps are available at no charge, including Public Radio Player and PRI; the latter plays only shows from Public Radio International. In addition, many public radio stations have stand-alone apps for their programme stream, including KPCC in Los Angeles, which is free, and New York’s WNYC, which costs 99 cents (for podcasts). Android users can get streaming internet stations using apps like Streamitall and Last.fm, which are also available to iPhone users (Pandora also has an Android app). BlackBerry users have FlyCast and Slacker Radio (which are also iPhone-friendly) among their options.

So the next time you are browsing through your music library, wishing you had something new, do not lament the absence of AM or FM. Instead of a limited number of stations, a global selection is merely a click away.
International Herald Tribune

(Published 08 January 2010, 16:56 IST)

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