While FM radio stations are flourishing, the other form that is making its presence felt is Internet radio

When Marconi commercialised the transmission of information using radio waves in the late 19th century, little could he have predicted the tumultuous ride that radio would take, going up and down and up again in popularity much like the sine waves that it transmits.

Initially used to communicate information through Morse code pulses by switching off and switching on the transmitter, radio has come a long way since with radio waves being used in innumerable devices these days.

Radio reached the pinnacle of popularity in the 1920s during World War I with listeners tuning in for war news and entertainment channels. With the television boom in the 1950s, the popularity of radio took a beating in the West, while it continued to be popular in countries like India. Now, in the 21st century, with a large number of FM radio stations flourishing, another form of radio is making its presence felt — Internet radio.

Internet radio stations can be broadly classified into two: stations that stream music, and those that put up audio episodes or podcasts for download. When music is streamed, it is received as and when it is played. Initially, a buffer is created to store a certain amount of audio information, and in the time taken to play this portion of the audio, more audio is received from the server. Podcasts, on the other hand, are uploaded onto the server and users can download their favourite podcasts as and when they come out or catch up from the archives. Live music is obviously always streamed.

Start your own station

Anyone with a good broadband connection can start their own Internet radio station. That is why a significant number of burgeoning Internet radio stations are run by young bands and artistes playing self-composed music, music in the public domain or music licensed under Creative Commons. Radio theatre and documentaries are also quite popular.

Internet radio consists mainly of three sections: the computer of the broadcaster, a server which is responsible for streaming audio over the Internet or storing the audio, and the receiving device. The broadcaster’s computer needs to be equipped with a sound card and codecs that help in encoding audio signals into a format that can be streamed, or broadcast. The codecs compress the music, so that it can be channelled as waves over the Internet to a server that then streams the information over to the receiving device, by again using the reach of the Internet to its advantage. The codecs and sound cards on the receiver’s end decompress the signals, which are then heard by the listener. Sharath, who recently purchased a car PC/radio that utilises WiFi and 3G Internet, says: “My radio can play over 20, 000 radio stations. There are certain websites like shoutcast.com that host several free radio stations, and signing up to a few of them is enough for all the music I need. I can also record streamed music by using software like Audacity if I want to.”

Range

Traditional radio stations are constrained by the range up to which they can transmit information. This means that as a listener, you can only listen to a few radio stations that are playing within around 100 km of where you are.

When Marconi began his experiments with radio waves, one of his first findings was that the range of communication is the square of the height of the transmitting tower, which is why radio towers are some of the tallest manmade structures in the world with the height of several radio stations being over 500 metres.

Internet radio on the other hand, can reach everywhere that the Internet has reached, which means that someone in India can tune in to an Internet radio broadcast happening in Japan. This greatly increases the variety of broadcasts on Internet radio.

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