Online stations offer excellent alternatives to local radio
By Jim Bray
A special TechnoFile rant.
Are you sick and tired of cookie cutter local radio stations that, even though they may play different musical genres, all sound pretty much the same? Are you tired of having your intelligence insulted by smug, know-it-all deejays who live in a media bubble and prattle "conventional wisdom" and the latest pop culture news as if it's actually important - or even true?
Or do you merely like listening to a talk show in a different city because its host is smarter and better informed - or perhaps shares your ideology better - than the local dude and/or dudette?
Well, friends, there are places you can go to avoid the crap and to find what you want - and it doesn't have to cost you a dime. All you need is an Internet connection and web browser - or a variety of apps - to cut yourself free from the mindless patter and the same old songs over and over and over again (and, in Canada, mandated Canadian content because it's Canadian, not because it's worth playing).
I'm talking about Internet radio, of course, the hundreds or thousands of online stations that stream all day and night and offer genres the "conventional" stations abandoned in their attempt to all eat from the same slice of the demographic pie chart. There are far too many to go into all of them in this column, so I'll concentrate on only a couple that I've grown to appreciate. Some of these services offer music streams, and some aggregate terrestrial and/or online radio station into a "one click listening source" that bundles stations from all over the world into a single streaming source.
I should also mention satellite radio here. I've listened to what was once separate Sirius and XM stations off and on almost since they debuted, thanks to a media account in my home for a few years and the proliferation of satellite radio services in many of the cars I review. I love Sirius XM and miss it when a review car doesn't have it, but I only listen to about 10 of their 130-plus stations regularly and the base price of $16 CAD per month (prices rise from there, depending on what you want) just isn't worth it to me, especially since some of the channels I frequent come with commercials built in and the idea of paying for the privilege of listening to commercials rubs me the wrong way.
Commercials on satellite radio? You bet! Their dedicated music channels are commercial free (and perhaps others I haven't listened to) but even those have Deejays' pontifications breaking up the tunes.
I love satellite radio when I'm travelling, because you can listen to the same station wherever you are - though the service can fade out if you're in the mountains, concrete jungles - or parking garages. But just as often as not I find myself streaming via my smart phone and data plan, sending the signals to my vehicle via Bluetooth. It works just as well as satellite radio, as long as you're in areas that have cell service, and as long as you aren't "roaming" it only uses the data plan for which you're paying already.
Some services require, or prefer, that you open an account but my favourites aren't too intrusive that way - and you may be able to shut off such things as the email notifications they'll surely want to inflict on you.
I first noticed such feeds when I reviewed a Western Digital media streaming box several years ago, thanks to their inclusion of such apps as Tunein Radio. With Tunein, you can surf an abundance of terrestrial and Internet stations so if, say, you like listening to Rush Limbaugh (or some looney left whacko) you can find various streaming stations.
I use the Tunein website or app nearly every day, not only to get my U.S. right wing talk radio fixes, but to listen to many different online music stations, ranging from old time radio shows to all-Christmas music channels, classic rock or whatever. And with Tunein I can listen to the Ottawa Redblacks' local broadcaster, which is great if I'm away from the TV or just want to catch the pre-or-post-game shows before firing up the TV for the actual game.
Yep, if you have a favourite radio station in some far off city or town and you can't get it off the air, chances are that, if it streams, you can find it on Tunein. If Tunein and other such services don't offer the terrestrial station you want, it may stream from its own website or app. There's a classic rock station from Detroit that I listen to this way sometimes - a station I first heard off air while visiting family in that area, and I sometimes like to fire it up to hear better tunes and a better mix than the Calgary stations offer (which isn't difficult).
The Internet being the vast cyber-space that it is, Tunein is just one such source that's available. Another one I like is 1.FM (which is also its url). Here, they stream over 60 different "radio stations" arranged by "top stations," "genres", "moods" etc. There's a 50's and 60's station there that I love, as well as classic rock, movie soundtracks, Spanish hits, music arranged by various decades, etc. They pause periodically for station identification - and the 50's/60's station I like is a tad repetitive, but it's no worse than Sirius XM or the severely limited playlists of most commercial terrestrial radio stations I've heard lately.
And it's free, though 1.fm's website insists you set up an account.
Another free service is Radio Tunes (radiotunes.com). It has something like 100 streaming channels that cover the gamut of musical eras and styles pretty well. They interrupt the music to pitch their premium service, which causes you to miss part of a song periodically, but the basic music selection is good and so's the sound quality - which makes it ironic that part of their premium pitch includes "better sound quality."
Shoutcast.com is another streaming service, in this case one that claims to offer "73,231 Free Internet Radio Stations." This site is more an aggregator like Tunein, and includes stations from 1.fm among others. Shoutcast also has a search feature you can use to find what's playing currently on their offerings. When putting this column together I searched for such artists as John Williams and The Moody Blues and it gave a list of which of their library was playing right then, and on which station (only a click away!).
It didn't work perfectly (one station was claimed to be playing the Moodies' "Question" but when I clicked on it I got the Village People's "In the Navy!" and I thought I was going to die) but it's still a nice feature.
Accuradio tries to get you to sign up when you first play a stream (and they have a great selection as well) but you can ignore it. You do get a short promo when you click on a stream.
As much as I hate the promos and the pitches, I do realize these folks have to eat and the ads I've heard on these services are generally shorter and less insulting to the intelligence than the average radio commercials are.
This quick look at Internet radio only scratches the surface of what's available online, of course - there's a plethora of internet TV stations as well (that's for another column!) - and as with most things in life, Sturgeon's Law ("ninety percent of everything is crap") applies to online broadcasting stations, but no more so than with terrestrial radio and TV. Maybe less…
Who knows, you might find just what you're looking for. I love show tunes and movie soundtracks, for example, and I'm not going to find them on my local stations. Sirius XM has such a station, but some of the ones I've found online are better. But right now, as I write this, I'm listening to "There is nothing like a dame," from South Pacific, on one of Accuradio's Broadway stations.
And it's free.
Copyright 2016 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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