Internet Radio: Broadcasting on the World Wide Web
From the 1920s to the early 1990s, the only way to listen to radio shows was to tune your radio in to whatever was being broadcast in the air around you. Your radio would receive a signal being transmitted through the atmosphere from a large broadcasting tower and turn it into audible sound for you to enjoy. Back in the day, this was ground-breaking stuff. Times have most definitely changed, and with the arrival of the internet; they’ve changed more than a 1920s radio presenter could have ever imagined!
Internet radio, sometimes referred to as webcasting, is the ‘live’ transmission of audio data from the broadcaster’s server. The listener is presented with a constant stream of audio that, like normal radio, cannot be paused or replayed. There is a very large number (more than 40,000) of internet radio stations available to listen to. This may be in part because of the low start-up and running cost of internet-only radio stations. A large portion of stations cater to niche audiences for specific music genres and talk show topics, however many stations that broadcast on traditional DAB, FM, and AM radio and offer a wider range of content will also broadcast via internet streaming too.
Internet radio services are accessible from anywhere in the world with a suitable internet connection. For example, you can easily listen to a radio station broadcasting from Auckland in New Zealand while you are cooking at home in London in the UK. This is something that traditional terrestrial radio cannot accomplish. Over long distances, the radio waves used to transmit the audio will become weaker and more distorted as they propagate throughout the atmosphere.
Most internet radio listeners will ‘tune in’ using their computer at home or at work through a player embedded in the radio station’s website. Many PC and Mac programs, such as iTunes, VLC Media Player, and TuneIn Radio will allow users to listen to their favourite stations, without needing to access websites in their web browser. There are also a small number of dedicated internet radio devices that function and look like the traditional radio that you may have at home.
Typically, the audio is streamed in a compressed, lossy audio codec; most often in the MP3 format. In the beginning, internet radio’s audio quality was not particularly great. This was due to the slower internet speeds that were available. Thankfully, in recent years, internet speeds have greatly improved. This means that the audio quality that can be streamed has also improved.
Internet radio is different from Podcasting. The main difference is that internet radio is streamed content, and a Podcast must be downloaded. Podcasts are a big topic, so we’ll have to cover that another time. (Keep an eye on our Blog!)
Internet radio is accessible to billions of people, and the tens of thousands of stations cater to their individual music tastes wonderfully. With ever improving mobile internet coverage, you’ll be able to listen to whatever radio station you want, wherever you want.