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Lost in Cyberspace

Radio moves to the 'Net

This article was originally published on September 15, 1998 by SignOn San Diego and Copley News Service.

Internet radio is a pretty neat result of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Think about it: The Internet was developed to protect the nation's military infrastructure in case of a nuclear attack. Twenty-five years later, the World Wide Web was developed to allow for greater use of hypertext among university researchers and archivists.

Nobody predicted the commercial explosion of the Internet or the Web, and few foresaw the possibilities of live audio streaming via computer.

But sound files can be digitized like any other, and with the improvements in RealAudio and other streaming servers, radio stations can now "webcast" their signal over the 'Net.

All of which is going to combine to radically change the broadcast industry, just as desktop publishing permanently altered the printing industry.

Much as DTP exponentially lowered the cost of starting a print shop, so digital streaming is cutting the cost of a radio station. Establishing an Internet presence costs only a fraction of what a broadcast station would run. For the price of a high-end personal computer, a mixing board and high-bandwidth Internet access, you can have your own radio station. No more Federal Communications Commission license. No more tower. No more transmitter.

And it isn't just alternative or private outfits that are putting their broadcast signal on the 'Net. From a commercial station's point of view, an Internet presence extends their signal footprint globally. No longer is their potential audience limited to those folks in the geographic area their signal covers. Once they're on the Web, anyone with an Internet connection can listen to their programs – and advertisements.

And consider this: As portable, digital, PCS-type phones become more powerful and more affordable, and as computers continue follow suit, the ability to use a computer to access webcasts while on the road in rush hour – the meat and potatoes of the radio industry – will rival that of broadcast radios. A few months back, Microsoft debuted an in-dash palmtop-type microcomputer/radio combo with the Windows CE operating system. By connecting to a built-in PCS phone via a modem, the computer was able to retrieve e-mail and display it on the small LCD panel. How long until they can access and play RealAudio files from online radio stations via modem?

The FCC may not like it, but the technology is coming and as long as there's money to be made, no government bureaucracy on earth can stop the market from growing into a new area.

The first place you'll want to go to get started is the RealPlayer site so you can listen to the stations – RealAudio remains the de facto standard for audio streaming.

From there, you can hop over to a couple of differnet lists that link to both Internet-only and broadcast stations on the Web. links to hundreds of stations with live webcasts. They also sort the list by format, by call letters, by location, by Internet-only or not, making it easy to find what you're looking for. is phenomenal – it's like an entire cable feed with dozens of different stations, only the sound quality is not quite as good. But on a T-1 or cable modem connection, it has pretty passable sound. In the jazz and blues area alone, choices include all blues, all jazz, big band, avant garde, bop, electric blues, Chicago blues, crooners, Sinatra-style, country blues, swing and female jazz. The rock area has 21 subcategories; world and new age has 10.

At any one time on, there are more than 100 different songs playing in an incredibly wide range of styles. Nobody, not even Aunt Madge who only likes Glenn Miller, nor your younger cousin Bernice, who thinks any band with a major record deal is a complete sellout, will be unable to find something to listen to here.

Music Radio links to hundreds of stations – commercial, public and college – that webcast live over the 'Net.

Of course, Yahoo has an area dedicated to radio with links to all kinds of stations on the Web.

Netscape's Netcenter also has a radio page – with categories like Internet broadcasting, pirate radio and public stations.

As always, running a couple Internet searches will turn up hundreds of sites not mentioned here.