Monday, October 05, 2009

A Whole New Type of Radio

Many radio stations, both commercial and non-commercial, stream their broadcasts on the Internet. Thousands of stations “broadcasting” from Cincinnati to Katmandu, can be received anywhere a high speed Internet connection can be established. Most people listen to these stations using their computer. You can walk through many offices and hear most any type of music or entertainment running on the same computers that are being used for word processing or data entry. Much of this listening is discouraged by employers, since if enough people are streaming audio programming it can bog down the company’s network. But that’s another column.

There are options to using a standard computer to listen. There is a whole new breed of “radios” now available that can receive any Internet radio station without using a computer. They are called “Internet” or “WiFi” radios. These devices in reality are special purpose computers designed to look and feel like any AM or FM radio. The big difference is they use the Internet to receive the programming.

Instead of the tedious array of steps needed to listen to an Internet station using a regular computer …turn it on, let it boot up, run your browser, find your station etc., the Internet radio has an on/off switch and a selector that can quickly go to any “station” you have preset. It looks, feels and operates like the radios you now have. It also uses less energy than the standard computer.

The current selection of radios is still limited and those that are available are a bit pricey as is usually the case with new electronic gizmos. I found a few models at Best Buy for between $130 and $250. Several Internet sites like also have a selection. If they do take hold however, they can significantly change the radio landscape since geographic coverage and audience for any station is no longer predicated on the power of the traditional transmitter. In essence, a radio station operating from your basement can have the same potential coverage as a behemoth like WLW.

When high speed WiFi service is a standard feature in cars, we may see an explosion in this technology as it could quickly make the satellite radio services obsolete. Already the selection of programming is almost overwhelming. A quick Google search found not only the traditional WGUC and WLW stations but very targeted services like “ All Sherlock Holmes, All The Time.”

If you, like many of us, are tiring of the bombastic commercial radio airwaves and you can’t find what you are looking for on non-commercial radio, Internet radio might fill the bill.

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