Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Internet Radios

I guess I'm too much of an old timer to get into this current Internet "radio" thing. Too many years spent toying with tuned circuits and antennas, too many years a radio DXer, radio listener, even a radio "Ham" - some 47 years - though I really haven't done the Ham thing for some time. WE7W lives on though, and I still keep my license current.

For better or for worse, sometimes words or things in life "evolve" over time to mean different things. I'm thinking radio is becoming one of them. Radio at one time meant "wireless" transmission of electromagnetic waves through the air, from starting point to finishing point. It was picked up magically with a wire or a coiled loop, fed to a tuned circuit which selected one signal out of many, detected and converted to audio which was then amplified so you could hear it. Internet "radio" is no such thing. No aerial, no tuned circuits, no detection. A friend of mine says real radio has to pass through your body (meaning: the waves) - that's the definition of real radio. I say that too, plus a tuned circuit must surely be involved, and almost certainly a detector. Internet "radio" has none of the above. What would Marconi think?

Internet radio probably is radio only in the sense that for a small segment of its "transmission" to you, millions of digital bits are perhaps beamed up to a satellite and back down. Maybe. The rest of its journey, both before and after, it is transmitted through wire or fiber optic cable, passed from one computer device to another to another, arriving in numerical perfection just as it was sent, down to the last, solitary, Boolean bit.

Merriam-Webster says about the noun RADIO:
a: the wireless transmission and reception of electric impulses or signals by means of electromagnetic wave.

b: the use of these waves for the wireless transmission of electric impulses into which sound is converted.
As I was saying: "waves", like the kind that pass through your body.

There was even a time when I used to subscribe to various radio magazines, until the articles became more computer articles than radio articles, each filled mostly with links to web sites. Recent shortwave magazine articles I've seen basically contain narrative on how to navigate a radio station's web site to get its streamed Internet content. Radio magazines have evolved to something different than they once were, too.

I just don't get it. There is no magic for me in Internet radio. See accompanying photo of toaster, er, I mean Internet radio. How about you?

Maybe it's the semantics of the whole thing that bothers me more than anything else. The new "radio" is not the old radio, and never will be. It is something wholly different.

Okay, a reality check. Yes, I do listen to a podcast now and then (now there's a new word unleashed on modern society for you: podcast), or streamed audio via my desktop or laptop. I've even been known to listen to a streamed radio station on occasion (try streamed KTNN-660 sometime, The Navajo Nation, 50KW out of Window Rock, AZ for an interesting experience). But the listening is done for "content", without the accompanied magic of original radio. There is no "feel" to it. I attempted to capture this feel in another post in this blog. I was talking about mediumwave towers:

...."A tower is a thing of beauty to the radio aficionado....Ah, the mediumwave broadcast tower! Think of it! Stately, striped sentinels with strobe lights flashing, they number thousands and thousands across the country, each emitting invisible waves of electrons through the late night air, spanning that mysterious thing called "the ether" to deliver communication to unknown distant masses. It conjures up thoughts of far-away points on the landscape, souls crouched in cramped corners with headsets fixed in the dark of night, straining to make sense of distant babble through static crashes and heterodynes. That would be me. The whistle of a far off freight train gives the same feeling of wonder."

Internet radio does not. Do you like your toast light or dark?


gkinsman said...

Hi Bill,

I enjoy listening to my Logitech Squeezebox Boom. It has great sound for its size.

What I don't do with it is "bandscanning," which is something for which its interface is not well suited. I just set up favorites in the browser-based interface, and then tune to one of these using the supplied remote. I mostly listen to a station called Radio Crazy Jazz, which is located in Switzerland.

I find listening to low-bitrate (e.g., 32 kbps) MW talk radio very irritating, with too much digititis. I'd rather listen to talk radio on a real radio. Listening to music at 128 kbps or higher is fine.



Hi Gary,

Looks kind of interesting. And it even looks like a radio! Am checking some of the reviews out.

Yep, am a fan of AM talk here too, no matter what it is. I like to get all the angles. Not much of a music listener. Used to listen to quite a lot of world music, but have gotten out of the habit.

Looking for a new radio to buy but don't see anything out there that strikes me right now.

All the best,


Greg said...

The word "radio" is undergoing the same evolution as happened to "television" years ago. Its meaning is shifting from the delivery mechanism (wireless RF) to the format (one-way broadcasting of programming). Just as "television" now can refer to cable TV or even streaming video on the Internet, "radio" is coming to refer to any form of broadcasting of audio, regardless of the transmission mechanism.

Greg said...

The radio hobby has always included two groups of people: content listeners and DXers - people who listen for programming and people who are interested in exploring the RF spectrum to discover what they can find there. Internet radio is starting to cause these groups to separate, because it is great for the content listeners but of no interest at all to DXers. I think we'll see a big change in the radio hobby as a result, with it becoming more strongly focused on the DX side of things, because of the migration of content listeners to Internet radio.


Hi Greg,

Interesting analysis, and I believe right on. Thanks for commenting.

The times, they are a changin' for sure.