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Internet Waves Alive!

By P.F. Wilson · March 9th, 2000 · Channel Surfing
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I guess the reason I never tried it before is because it seemed impractical. Listening to a radio station from somewhere else in the country sounded cool to me (no, really), but it would tie up the phone line unnecessarily.

Then I got a job that put me at a desk all day. On my desk sits a computer, an antiquated MAC with like a 7.1 OS. It's primitive, but I can use it and the phone at the same time, unlike at home. Before long I stumbled onto radio stations broadcasting over the Web. Yahoo runs broadcast.com, with a city-by-city list of stations on the Web. MIT runs a fine database of just about every station in the U.S. and most of the rest of North America. You punch in a city, and it spits back a list of stations. Broadcasters with Web pages are highlighted, and a little lightning bolt signifies you can listen over the web. One note, though. Their database is way behind, and many stations have just recently added webcasting capabilities. Most use either Windows Media Player (which crashes my computer) or Real Audio, both of which have free versions available for download.

By the way, I'm an AM radio nerd from way back. My car's stereo has six AM pre-set buttons, but twelve FM pre-sets. I need the reverse. At night AM signals travel much farther, so you can pick up stations from all over North America.

That's why WLW covers 37 states and half of Canada. (The Rocky Mountains spoil the party). Of course, KDKA in Pittsburgh, KMOX in St. Louis, WJR in Detroit, WTAM (still 3WE to me) in Cleveland and a few dozen other stations can make the same claim.

But that's only possible at night. The Internet opens it up 24 hours. And this is important because ... ? Well, I guess it's not. But everyone needs a hobby, right?

Listening to stations from across the country is quite eye-opening, particularly the talk stations. This past week on KTSA in San Antonio, I heard an impassioned debate on gun control. Sure, you can hear the same debate on a talk station here. However, I don't think it would sound nearly the same. On WSB in Atlanta, their late morning host is a fellow called Neal Boortz, a guy who makes Willie Cunningham look like Friedrich Engels.

Just the local news, weather, sports and traffic from various cities gives you an interesting glimpse into what else is going on in America today. People often say this country has become homogenized, particularly in the past 50 years. Where once you drove U.S. highways like Route 66 through places large and small, now you whiz by on an interstate that barely touches towns along the way. Individual mom-and-pop eateries have been replaced by national fast food joints clustered near exit ramps.

I think that's a bit exaggerated. If you pull off an interstate in, say, Nebraska, and see the same fast food restaurants, doesn't it still seem different? The topography of the land, little nuances like billboards for local merchants, services ... and, of course, TV stations. Those look like a lot like our anchors, and yet they aren't.

Listening to faraway stations is like taking a road trip of the mind. You can only hear so much about our stadium mess, and Ft. Washington way headaches, after all. It's kind of fun to hear other people's problems.

It will be interesting to see how long this lasts, and what effect if any it will have on over-the-air radio broadcasting. Most radio listening is still done in the car. We'll have cars for some time. So radio's primary market is secured. Are there enough nuts like me to make it worthwhile for other stations to become "bitcasters"? And should ratings be kept on people listening on computer?

Perhaps. All I know right now is that the Cleveland Indians have a Web site with webcasting, and that the Tribe plays several afternoon games this spring. Only one conflicts with a Reds game. My Spidy-sense is tingling ...

 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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