Wondering what Internet radio is? Well, you have normal radio on airwaves, Internet radio is just it’s counterpart in cyberspace. The music is ‘streamed’ to you, that is, in small packets which allow instant play. Hooray, no waiting for slow downloads from P2P networks. The second advantage is, that it’s COMPLETELY legal, so no sleepless nights thinking that fearing that RIAA will slap a violation-of-DRM case on you tell you to pay thousands of bucks.
Requirements for different providers are different. And different formats may be used to stream the music, like mp3, Real Audio streaming, WindowsMedia streaming, and sometimes even more obscure ones like Ogg Vorbis (which is the open-source alternative to mp3; don’t panic Winamp and Real Player can easily play this). In the time when dinosaurs ruled, Real Audio was the preferred format, but post-Microsoft, many have shifted to MP3 or Windows Media. Also, some allow you to simply play, by just going to a site and tuning in, others require users to download special software. Some use external software, but leave it up to you to choose which one. Then again, some allow you to create your own customized station by allowing you rate songs, artists and albums; others have fixed stations which you can listen too.
Now I’ve been using Internet radio for quite some time, and I feel that Yahoo! Music LAUNCHcast is THE BEST service, because of the fact that it has one of the largest collections, and run special features like Y! Music Live, Dig it or Dis it (visit the site to know what I mean), videos. It also allows anyone with a Yahoo! ID to setup their own customized station. I tried to find out about similar services and spent the whole day trying out new Internet services, all for mine (and your) benefit. Since I’m a freebie-loving guy, I’ll only include the free services. Note that some of them have free, as well as paid services. The drawback about free service is that it is generally ad-supported, but I don’t mind being interrupted once in while, it provides the ideal opportunity to go to the loo if you have to. I’ve already talked about Yahoo!, so now on with the rest. Also, I’ll omit the ones which don’t offer mainstream music, like the Download.com music section, or the n-number of alternative stations. So let’s begin.
Almost forgot; for most of these you need a reasonably fast connection, let’s say at least 64 kbps be the bare minimum. Otherwise, the music will be intermittent as the streaming packets will take time to download. There are stations aimed at narrowband / dialup users though, and you’ll have to look out for that. When choosing a station, make sure that you check the speed (it’s generally mentioned) and steer clear of the ones with bandwidth requirement way above yours. An important thing to note is don’t do too much of multitasking while browsing other websites (while listening to music), it’ll only hamper your music stream; i.e., unless you have a high speed connection, let’s say about 128 kbps above. Again as I tell you, what you can do is limited by your connection speed.
- MSN Radio: Sorry, I’m allergic to Microucks, so forget about a review on this one.
- AOL Radio: Windows required. Why?
- BBC Radio: Needs Real Player, but that can be downloaded free. It has a distinctly British flavour, and is basically a recording of whatever is aired on the actual thing (the one that requires a small box with a knob and a long shiny metal rod, whatsitcalled?). The thing that becomes boring after a while is the natter, I prefer to have jockeytalk-less streams.
- RealPlayer Radio: You’ll obviously require Real Player for this. Thankfully, there’s one for Linux too. But the variety of stations is less and many of them require subscription, although free previews are available. There are free unrestricted ones too, but they are provided by third-parties. Overall, could be better.
- Rhapsody: Only for US, which is a bad thing in an internationalised web. Obviously, the free service is just meant to lure US subscribers into the paid service, so they don’t bother with others.
- Mercora: It’s a P2P and legal radio service. You’ll need to download special Mercora software to browse. You can also download a Google Talk plugin from them. Innovative. But again, Windows only.
- SHOUTcast: A free service, originally for Winamp, but supports any player. It itself won’t provide the service, it’ll just allow you to search for whatever you want.
- Pandora: A part of the musical genome project, it has a good collection. It’s web-only, and works by asking you an artist or song that you like, and playing similar artists, including the one you gave. The problem is, I just don’t want to be restricted to one artist or genre, and it’s a serious drawback in this concept. Plus, the music keeps skipping, so it is irritating.
- Last.fm: Whichever platform, you’re advised to use Mozilla Firefox for this. Frankly I’d approached this with the most amount of hope. I’d probably rate it the best service after Yahoo!. You can sign up for a free account, and download a free plugin called Audioscrobbler, which will integrate with whatever player you have and upload the songs played by it. The service will then create stations based on it. You need to download the Last.fm player too, and it’s free. You can discover people with the same music tastes, you get a personal music blog too. The selection is huge, and you have pre-set stations too. You can discover artist info, previews, buy downloads etc. The best thing about this service is the ranking feature, which will tell you the ranking of any artist, song or album and help you make your choice. The most disappointing thing – it didn’t work on my system as the player kept on crashing. With a bit of configuring, it might have worked, but with one last site to go, I abandoned it.
- Live365: At last I’ve found my service. It has a HUGE database, lots of cool software to start your own station, free downloads (not mainstream though) and no player requirement. Lots of ads though in free mode; and the inserted ads in the audio streams would remind anybody about Yahoo!. It is formed by users creating stations, and has music to suit anyone’s tastes. All that you need is any media player capable of playing streams. The best thing – you don’t need an account (although you can make one for free), just go, browse and listen.