Saturday, 30 August 2014

Internet Radio may be the future...kind of

To be honest, I always obtain technology when it becomes outdated.  As a kid, AM radio was still the main way to listen to radio for me, until the big ILR split of local radio stations in the late 80s when the chart music moved to FM and AM became the home of golden oldies.

So it may come to no surprise that I only had landline ADSL2 broadband installed yesterday.   It's on TalkTalk's dirt cheap 'Simply Broadband' deal where for £1.75 plus line rental, I can now discover the wonders of various radio stations thanks to the unlimited broadband they provide.

In the noughties, I'd visit easyeverything, a internet cafe in London where they had banks of computers which had headphone jacks so you could listen to music.   Back then, it wasn't very good.  32k Windows Media Streams or the inferior Real Player ones were the norm with some sounding sub AM quality.  Considering we just got out of dial-up, this wasn't surprising.

Now the possibilities are endless. Hi-fi quality streams providing better than FM with higher bitrates, although 128k mp3 or 48k AAC+ appear to be the norm for your average listener.   You can listen on your smartphone etc either on wifi or on mobile broadband, so you're not tied to your PC.

One of the best things about internet radio is that anyone can set up a niche format station.  I'm a big fan of the 1990s rave scene and numerous stations playing the music from my era of the scene from 1991-1996 have popped up, such as Break Pirates Radio and Rave Tape Radio just to name two and simulcasts of London pirate radio stations.    While the pirates are on FM, the coverage on FM isn't as great as in the 90s, so listening on wifi around the house takes away the issue of interference.  

Having that amount of choice, reminds me of the days of London Pirate radio of that era when I could tune into any number of stations from across the capital playing underground dance.

I did try mobile broadband to listen to online radio.  It does work, but I did it when my phone provider Virgin Media offered unlimited data for £10 on PAYG.  It's now only 1GB, so limits you to low bitrate AAC streams for short periods, so the phone is now used for looking at social media while the trusted old PURE PocketDAB 1500 is used to listen to radio stations.

Bauer's Absolute stations are offered to registered listeners in high quality stereo with less ads and extra music.  This means I now listen to their 80s and 90s decade stations online instead of 64kbps MP2 mono on DAB at home at least.

Wifi has clearly opened up internet radio to the masses who don't need to buy an internet radio by simply using their smartphones using either the TuneIn or UK Radioplayer apps, yet mobile listening using the 3G/4G networks are still not ready for it.  Data limits and coverage are still an issue, so I wouldn't give up on FM or DAB just yet.   But when it does become popular, commercial radio will have to up it's game again.   There's only so much you can do with tightly formatted radio, however good Heart or Smooth is programmed.