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Online Radio Stations

Online radio stations open up a world of listening opportunities beyond traditional means.

Online radio stations can be streamed from any location. [©Jupiter Images, 2010]
©Jupiter Images, 2010
Online radio stations can be streamed from any location.

Online Radio Stations

Online radio stations typically offer a stream of audio music and/or voice thats broadcast on the Internet. Many of these worldwide online radio stations are associated with a traditional terrestrial radio station such as New York's WABC, New Orleanss WWOZ or Radio Havana Cuba. Radio broadcast networks like BBC Radio  and Clear Channel also have a strong online presence.

Most Internet radio stations, however, reside online as standalone DJ programming set up by music genre fans, such as the 5,000-plus do-it-yourself playlist broadcasts produced independently for Live365, an online broadcast hub since 1999. SHOUTcast, another such broadcast hub with thousands of online music programs, is now a part of AOL Music.

Online radio developers have made their mark with popular technological innovations such as Pandora, an online radio service created by a group called the Music Genome Project. Listeners enter a song or artist, and the Pandora service generates a broadcast playlist of additional songs that are musically similar. Last.fm developed its own listener-generated custom radio station technology known as the Audioscrobbler. Both of these technologies have since been bought by major media corporations.

History of Online Radio

Some people call Carl Malamud the father of Internet Radio and consider his station, Internet Talk Radio, the first online radio station. In 1993, he was the president of the Internet Multicasting Service, a nonprofit organization in Washington D.C. that began broadcasting government documents as well as National Public Radio programming on the Internet. With the financial backing of Sun Microsystems and OReilly & Associates technical publishing company, Malamud launched Geek of the Week, a 15-minute original Internet broadcast aimed at engineers and other computer technology enthusiasts. This evolved into Internet Talk Radio. The show was broadcast through a technology known as IP Multicast, a network where anyone could send a packet of data (such as sound files) through a network of point-to-multipoint paths. This was radio broadcasting without a costly transmitter or restrictions enacted by the Federal Communications Commission.

In 1994, a Rolling Stones concert was broadcast exclusively online via a type of multicasting known as M-Bone, an experimental broadcast backbone for the Internet developed by Xerox. Today, M-Bone is mostly used as a videoconferencing or online collaboration technology.

Also in 1994, North Carolina's WXYC in Chapel Hill became the first terrestrial radio station to broadcast online. They used CU-SeeMe software, an early Internet videoconferencing technology, for their early broadcasts.

In 1995, Progressive Networks, a company founded by former Microsoft executive Rob Glaser, announced RealAudio, the first streaming Internet broadcast software. This technology eliminated the wait time for audio downloads and delivered real-time broadcasts in AM radioquality sound. The only downloading required was the free download of the RealAudio Player. Soon National Public Radio and ABC Radio signed on for the technology. In 1996, Virgin Radio became the first European radio station to broadcast 24 hours a day on the Internet through the use of RealAudio technology.

In 1997, programmer Justin Frankel created the WinAmp Media Player, a digital streaming audio technology using MP3 decoding format, a type of file compression.

In 1998, Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which required performance and publishing royalties to be paid to artists and publishers by satellite and Internet radio broadcasters. The Act was controversial, because it threatened the existence of small Internet-only independent radio stations. As a result, online radio stations have come and gone throughout the years as new rules and regulations have emerged from the Copyright Royalty Board, a government office spawned from the DMCA.

In 1999, Microsoft entered the media player fray with its Windows Media Audio (WMA) streaming audio format. At the time, the chief advantages of WMA were that its files were half the size of MP3 files and were comparatively easy to create for the Windows platform. Also by 1999, Apple developed its Quicktime streaming media software for Mac-compatible Internet radio broadcasting.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Radio

Thousands of Internet radio stations broadcast from all over the world, and listeners can locate many of these stations through online radio station aggregator Web sites such as Radio-Locator.com, which links to over 2,500 radio station audio streams and over 10,000 radio station Web sites worldwide. The varieties of online offerings are a chief advantage for listeners.

Other advantages of online radio include the ability to listen to specialized audio thats not commonly available on commercial stations, fewer advertisements and less DJ talk, and a clearer signal than terrestrial radio stations. Some stations, such as New Jerseys WFMU, offer years of archived radio shows on demand. For do-it-yourself broadcasters, the comparatively low cost and easy accessibility is a big plus.

Disadvantages of online radio include lower sound quality compared to local terrestrial station broadcasts and faulty reception due to bandwidth limitations, poor connections or a buggy media player application.

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