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Digital radio: music to your ears

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By Andy Huttwww.andyhutt.co.uk

When they said that video killed the radio star, they hadn’t banked on the wonder of digital radio

World music

Up until recently, radio seemed to be the simplest of all mass-media technologies. You bought a radio, switched it on and turned a dial to find the station of choice. Simple. The introduction of Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) made things a bit more complex, and now retailers are trying to persuade us to part with our cash in exchange for Wi-Fi internet radio. And then there’s radio on your computer…

From Cuban beats to Turkish tones

Surprisingly perhaps, using your PC is one of the simplest and most satisfying ways of listening to radio. The greatest difficulty is probably in choosing what to listen to – there’s an estimated 8,500 internet radio stations! Broadly, these divide into two camps: stations that also broadcast traditionally, and those that transmit only over the internet. And because the radio on your PC is transmitted over the net, the choice is now a global one. Tired of Radio 2? Then listen to Lucky 777 Radio – Latin Salsa, from Cuba. Driven mad by the ads on local radio? Akra FM provides some rather more exotic sounds from Turkey.

It’s a matter of taste

You can find a lot of sites by using a search engine, but other sites can save time. Both www.radiostations.co.uk and www.radiofeeds.co.uk provide links to UK-based internet radio stations, including live broadcasts online, while www.radio-locator.com and radiotime.com allow you to find internet radio stations by country or genre. Favourite radio sites are, of course, a matter of personal taste, but the BBC is a good source because of its range of music and talk, its live broadcasts and its ‘Listen Again’ facility. Other sites you might want to consider include Virgin, Jazz FM or, if you prefer the classics, Classic FM.

No ads, no DJs, just music

On that matter of personal taste, wouldn’t it be good to have an online radio station that only broadcast music to suit your taste – without adverts or DJs? That’s part of the premise behind sites like Last.fm where you simply type in an artist or group name to listen to music in a similar genre. When you’re tired of listening to bands in that genre, just type in a new artist for a new musical flavour – similar sites are Pandora and finetune. With a very innovative and alternative interface, Musicovery lets you choose music by mood and genre, and for a very different and anarchic audio experience – more like an audio YouTube – take a peek at Odeo.

Wi-Fi listening

Listening to these stations on the internet is often straightforward and the quality is usually excellent. Ever tried listening to a medium wave broadcast at night? The signal wanders in and out and other stations intrude. On the internet, it’s a much better listening experience. The downside of all this is that you do need a PC and internet connection. That’s where those Wi-Fi radios I mentioned right at the beginning come in. These devices look like conventional radios, but instead pick up a Wi-Fi internet signal to tune into internet stations, so you don’t need to be at your PC to listen. There are many great examples to buy on the high street or internet and cost anywhere between £80 and £200.

But as you’ve probably got old and perfectly good FM radios in the house, why not save money and use a short-range FM transmitter? Plug this gizmo into the headphone socket on the PC and send the signal to that old FM radio. In this way, you use the internet to access the radio signal where your PC isn’t!

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