SiDo you ever find yourself poised to defend your sanity by outdrawing that one annoying song-of-the-week with a quick punch of the "seek" button? Have you been a victim of dead air or static noise as you travel through the far reaches of desert and mountains in search of any signal your car's antennae will pick up?
If you've answered yes to any of the questions above, it's time to join the revolution. No longer shall you be subject to the whims of a local DJ's music selections and commercial breaks. Take control of your tune time with a 21st century alternative to the transistor radio.
Tech Specs: Audio files enter a broadcaster's encoding computer through a soundcard. The encoder translates the audio into streaming format, sends the compressed audio data to a server and then to a listener's computer where software translates the stream from the server into music heard by the listener.
The Tools: A computer with speakers or headphones, a soundcard and an Internet connection. Most Internet radio is free, but to listen to music, your computer must have the proper software to process streams enabling you to hear the music. Most new computers have a soundcard, speakers and the proper software to process streams. Many Internet stations broadcast using RealPlayer, RealOne or Microsoft's Windows Music Player. Downloading both programs as well as WinAmp to play MP3 feeds gives listeners maximum capability to listen to stations.
Cool Factors: An Internet broadcaster in Boise can be heard by a listener in Bangkok. There are no geographical limitations to Internet radio; where there is Internet, there is radio to be heard by anyone anywhere in the world. Second, Internet radio is genre specific thereby allowing listeners to satisfy nearly any musical craving.
Technical Difficulties: The quality of Internet connection and the level of Internet congestion can affect your ability to receive streams. The higher quality your connection is, the less likely you are to experience problems. If you're behind a firewall at work or school, you may need additional software to receive streams.
Web Faves: The Guardian voted www.somafm.com out of San Francisco "the best way to avoid the Top 40." From Groove Salad featuring ambient beats and grooves to Indie Pop Rocks with classic indie pop tracks, SomaFM has seven stations where music travels off the beaten path. Former islanders in search of a little aloha can check out www.hotspothawaii.com/irhpages/irhlive.html. It's all Hawaiian all the time with Web cam views of Kailua. Or take an international voyage and check out the coolest continental radio station in existence: Australia's Triple J is Parliament-funded, commercial free radio that is as many miles from the Top 40 as Uluru is from Nashville. At www.abc.net.au/triplej/, catch live broadcasts from any of Oz's states, or previously aired interviews, music specials and programs. To find your niche, check out the links on your player, www.music.yahoo.com or Google the obscure stuff.
Tech Specs: Three companies (XM, Sirius and WorldSpace) control the market. XM Radio owns "Rock" and "Roll." Two Boeing HS 702 satellites placed in parallel geostationary orbit approximately 22,000 miles above Earth, receive signals from XM's ground station and transmit those signals to individual receivers on the ground. Sirius Satellite Radio uses three SS/L-1300 satellites to form an "inclined elliptical satellite constellation" which receives and transmits signals from a main ground station to individual receivers. WorldSpace, like XM, has two geostationary satellites in orbit with a third on the way. While XM and Sirius only broadcast to North America, WorldSpace reaches nearly 4 billion people worldwide. The only continent not covered by WorldSpace is North America-despite WorldSpace headquarters being located in Washington, D.C.
The Tools: Jumping on the satellite radio wagon is like getting your first cell phone. Get a receiver, pick a monthly plan and activate your service. Depending on your preference, you can choose a receiver that will transmit to your car or home stereo, or you can purchase a system to replace those units. Receivers range in price from $50 for an FM transmitter to nearly $1,000 for multi-room units for your home. Service with both XM and Sirius sets listeners back about $12.95 per month.
Cool Factors: Anytime, anywhere service. State to state, mountainside to seaside, desert to prairie, set the station and forget about having to search for a signal. With 150 channels at XM and 120 at Sirius, music, news, weather, traffic, sports and special broadcasts are available 24 hours a day. And it's completely commercial free.
Technical Difficulties: Unlike Internet radio, charges apply. Don't expect to be able to travel abroad with XM or Sirius, and if you're out of the country enough to be a WorldSpace customer, know that you'll not be picking up service in the homeland.
Tech Specs: Enclosed files are delivered by a subscription model using RSS 2.0 XML format. Listeners subscribe to broadcasts using podcatching software that automatically checks for updates and downloads new data.
The Tools: A computer with Internet access, podcatching software and an MP3 player or computer with audio software.
Cool Factors: Podcasting allows syndicated radio shows, large Internet broadcasters and independent producers to create shows and publish them on the Web for downloading. Podcasts are free and once a listener subscribes to a show, the software does all the work of finding and downloading updates. The coolest factor of podcasting is its role as an avenue for amateurs and aspiring radio personalities to self-publish and distribute material cheaply and regularly to a huge population.
Technical Difficulties: Sifting through podcasts is a like searching for that proverbial needle.
Don't be afraid to turn your radio up just because FM isn't delivering. Tune into the alternative radio scene and exist on a whole new frequency.