Radio... on the Net
Radio is still a powerful and cheap medium for infotainment. But you no longer require a special receiver, because... Internet Radio is here.
GONE ARE the days when most of India stopped at 9 p.m. every night to listen to the All India Radio news. These days, more often than not, nine o' clock finds many engrossed in some TV serial or other.
But, radio still has its die-hard fans. And thanks to the new breed of local FM stations, many youngsters are discovering the radio as a source of non-stop music with the occasional news updates. But go away from the metros and your radio becomes less useful, as most of the low power local transmitters go out of range. All that has changed... and the reason is the Internet. Today, the World Wide Web is the fastest, easiest way to access thousands of radio stations around the globe, broadcasting news, music, drama, comic shows, you name it, with crystal clear reception quality.
There are websites which function as station directories providing links to hundreds of Net radio broadcasters. Sites like www.radio-locator.com, live-radio.net, internetradioindex.com and radiotower.com, provide search engines so that you can locate stations of your choice by country, language and genre.
AIR was one of the first national radio broadcasting systems to establish a web presence and if you enter `India' as a search keyword in any of these station directories, you are sure to locate its website, www.allindiaradio.com. A convenient navigator allows you to select live news feeds, informative documentaries or a library of audio entertainment: Indipop, Hindustani and Carnatic music as well as short plays in Tamil, Malayalam, Bengali, Marathi and Hindi.
If AIR's selection of South Indian music is not wide enough, you can go to radiotower.com and look for Singapore radio stations. This will lead you to an excellent 24-hour South Indian music channel called `Oli 96.8 FM'. Another useful web address for music lovers is live365.com, which indexes thousands of radio stations exclusively devoted to popular music. A simple search for Malayalam language music will lead you to sites like keralite.com. For Western music fans, there are dedicated sites like beethoven.com and bluegrasscountry.org or jazzFM.com.
The parents of an American community in Idyllwild, California, decided to pool their resources and create a station directory called `Kids Internet Radio' linking radio broadcasts containing safe and wholesome material meant for children. The site, kir.org, deserves a visit.
All Internet radio stations use a technology called `Streaming Audio' whereby sound files are sent to your PC in a continuous stream. A special software stores up this information in a temporary file called a `buffer'. This allows you to start listening even while the download is going on but the downside is that you cannot copy anything.
To hear streaming audio files from Internet radio stations, you need to have a computer with a sound card and speaker (or headphones). All Net radio stations today broadcast using one of the two modes, Real Networks' `Real Player' or Microsoft's `Media Player'. If you are going to make a habit of listening to Internet radio, it is better to download both these players on to your PC.
Windows Media Player comes bundled with the newer Windows operating systems, but Real Player must be downloaded from the Web. Some radio stations are fussy and will not begin the streaming unless your desktop has the latest version 7 of Real Player. They will offer a link to the Real Player site (real.com), but the download typically takes about 45-50 minutes with a 56 K dial-up modem.
But these are just some initial set-up hassles. Once you have installed the two players, a whole new world of online `infotainment' awaits you.
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