Realtime Revolution

Realtime Revolution
All has not been well on the radio dial for what seems like a lifetime. Save for a few gems on CBC or campus radio, most people are entirely bored by the threadbare nature of the musical selection. Net radio has been the true alternative for at least two years. But is net radio a revolution in the making, or merely mimicry of campus broadcasting?

Selection online is a universe beyond anything on the airwaves. And while there are carbon copies of stations that already exist on traditional airwaves, speciality programming is beyond compare. Presently there are thousands of stations that focus on pretty much everything imaginable, from All-India Internet Radio, Czech news and music from RadioPrague.com to Audio-Reader.com, excellent free radio for the blind and print-handicapped.

Rob Bolton, Director of Music Content at Virtue Broadcasting (virtuecast.com) agrees. "It is just more interesting. You can't get certain styles of music on regular radio, and everyone is getting pickier and pickier. Whereas certain lines blur in the music industry proper, it is getting more and more difficult to get what you want. It is available online, I don't care what your focus is; if you're into spaced-out-psychedelic folk rock, I'm sure there is a channel or a little web station that streams what you like."

One of the benefits that comes with the progress of technology is that it has greatly facilitated access and convenience. Kerbango.com out of California is a wicked place to start. Set up as a tuning service, Kerbango gives the listener the links and information to over 5000 stations world-wide, whether it's 24 hour techno from RadioValve.com or show tunes, revivals and musicals (not to mention an endless source of samples) at Broadway.com.

Archiving gives net radio a leg up as well. Bolton agrees, availability on demand is key. "The fact that you don't have to listen to it live is a plus. Even if the show is live, it is usually archived. Anytime you want you can click on it and listen to a show over and over if you like, or if you missed something, it just doesn't matter. It puts the power back into the music fan's hands."

But with all the choice, there is one glaring problem that has yet to be reconciled: sound. Proper stereo equipment is far superior to the speakers and amplifiers used with computers. David Marsden, founder of Toronto's CFNY in Toronto and head of Iceberg Media (broadcasters of several online channels, including 2kool4radio.com, home of the daily "Exclaim! Variety Hour") feels that with respect to technology, the servers and channels are waiting for the critical mass of change to occur, until the bugs are worked out. "We are slightly ahead of the technical curve until it does catch up. I do think that within two years, you'll be able to listen to internet broadcasting in your car and definitely in your home without a PC."

Bolton concurs, and feels there's a sort of technological bottleneck at this juncture. "It's literally waiting, and many companies are poised. Every company has the ability to put out streams at the proper bandwidth, it's just that the public can't handle it. Once people are off dial-ups and start getting higher speed connections, net radio can start getting into streams that can give proper stereo sound."

The glitches will be taken care of with the inexorable advance of technology, but as a medium, net radio gives the music lover more choice and can enjoy an ethos that hasn't been heard on the airwaves for years. As Marsden explains, "With regard to the spirit and the love for the music, and the care we take with our audience, it is similar to a period of some other time frame."