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What is Internet Radio?

written by: Profacgillies•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 10/29/2009

The radio medium has been given a whole new lease of life by the introduction of radio stations broadcasting over the Internet. These Internet broadcasts have allowed new stations to broadcast, and existing stations to offer new facilities. This article provides an introduction to internet radio.

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    What is Internet Radio?

    Until recently, radio could be considered a rather old-fashioned medium. However the introduction of radio stations broadcasting over the Internet has provided a new opportunity for radio broadcasters to reach a global audience for very low set up cost. This has led to an explosion of new radio stations and new ways to access existing radio stations with new facilities.

    Technically, Internet Radio is an audio broadcasting service that is transmitted via through the Internet as a continuous stream audio broadcast, leading to a listening experience similar to traditional radio broadcasting. The audio stream broadcast by Internet radio stations usually use modern audio codecs (coding/decoding algorithms), such as MP3, WMA and AAC/AAC+, similar to those used by iTunes. Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) aka Digital Radio uses the older MP2 audio codec and, because of this, Internet radio stations have the potential to offer higher audio quality than is provided on DAB. However, although many Internet radio stations use a bit rate of 128 kbps or higher, those using 64kbps may not sound so good if replayed through high quality equipment. Whilst there are over 4,000 stations using bit rates of 128kbps or higher, up to 75% of stations use the lower bit rates.

    In some cases, you can listen to programmes for a period, usually a week afterwards, which is a great facility of you want to catch a specific programme which is broadcast at an inconvenient time.

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    The Music Available

    There are at least 20,000 radio stations broadcasting over the Internet. The ease of setup means that there are stations for almost every genre of music. You can, for example, choose from 61 stations playing classic rock music identified by one portal site alone.

    Developments in digital audio have blurred the line between listening to music chosen by somebody else, as in the traditional radio station, and listening to music of your own choice. On the one hand, shuffle modes available in music players such as iTunes or Songbird have enabled users to create a listening experience much more like a traditional radio station. The ability to shuffle play music selected from a specific genre or artist is another option.

    The huge number of radio stations means that you can select a station that plays almost exactly the music that you want. Even the choice available to North American FM radio listeners, which has long been the envy of European listeners, cannot compare with the choice and specificity available from Internet radio. So by choosing a station that plays only the music you want to listen to, you can achieve a listening experience very similar to a shuffle play of your own music collection.

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    The Final Piece In The Jigsaw

    The final piece in the jigsaw is the growth in ways in which these radio stations can be accessed. Internet Radio is available in a wide variety of ways and no longer requires a computer at all. In a following article, I shall consider the variety of ways in which these Internet radio stations can be accessed.