The Internet radio looks deceptively simple. Prop one on your bedside table or your bookshelf, and ordinary folks may get fooled into thinking it is just another radio with knobs and dials. What people cannot see is that this radio is connected wirelessly to your broadband Internet at home or office.
Your broadband needs to be connected to a Wi-Fi router. An ordinary router or switch would also do, but you’ll have to run a network wire to the Ethernet port at the back of the radio. The Net connection is not dedicated, so your family can surf the Net while music streams to the radio.
That said, despite a fast 256kbs connection here in New Delhi, with unlimited downloads, I still find a few stations jitter or stall while playing music, especially in the daytime. Over time, you just learn to discover other radio stations that do not suffer from such problems.
Music to your ears
Usually, the basic models come with regular AM and FM analogue radio, with alarm-clock and sleep-timer mode. Almost all models also let you play your personal collection of MP3 music, either by offering iPod or MP3 player connectivity; by letting you plug in a USB-thumbdrive or smartdisc; or even by streaming it directly from your computer to the radio.
For some models, you may have to use your computer with a special software for the initial set-up.
This is only to configure your favourite channels on the knobs of the radio, and sometimes to set up your wireless connectivity. Some advanced models can plug directly into home theatre systems with surround sound, and offer hi-fi playback quality for the most discerning audiophile. This is no trivial feat, considering Internet radio streams usually “compress” subtle frequencies and tones.
The greatest joy of Internet radio is how it enriches your musical tastes and expands your listening habits. You discover hundreds of genres of music you did not even know existed. Categories of music that you love, but never find on mainstream radio, or are unavailable in music shops comes floating to you, 24x7.
For more than two months, I’ve been listening to 10-18 hours of Internet radio daily, and have not heard a single track repeated in this period, thanks to the plethora of stations and artistes. This may happen if you are willing to break your existing listening preferences and habits.
Apart from this diverse palette of music from around the world, you can also discover a few India or India-specific channels, such as music from Indian films, channels in Punjabi, Tamil, Malayalam, Goan trance; bhakti and devotional songs, and much more.
Recent legislation in the US may throw a sledgehammer at the Internet radio movement. Steep licensing fees to be applied retroactively by the music industry may rein in the free ride of broadcasting on the Internet. If implemented, no one knows so far how this may impact both end-users worldwide and radio stations not based out of the US. However, none can deny the power of this medium to bridge the digital divide, overcome language barriers, and bring the Internet literally within earshot of ordinary folks worldwide.
Now if they’ll only figure out how to stream broadband Internet to car stereos, the daily commute may just become a joyride.
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