Dave Richards AA7EE

September 12, 2011

Is Internet Radio “Real” Radio? (Alternate Post Title: My New “Shortwave” Radio)

Filed under: Broadcast Radio — AA7EE @ 7:38 pm
Tags: , ,

Every now and again, I post about something a little off-topic from the subject of amateur radio, though still related to the topic of radio, so please excuse me if the following is not of much interest to you.

A couple of weeks ago, acting on a tip from an old friend and colleague from my days in broadcast radio, I bought an internet radio.  Best Buy were (and at time of writing, still are) offering the Tangent Quattro Internet Radio at a clearance price of $99.99. From time to time I listen to the streams of terrestrial broadcast stations but, as weird as it sounds, listening to them on a computer just doesn’t feel like “real radio”. I’ve been wanting a stand-alone device to listen to online streams for a while now.

I’m reminded of the debate that raged among hobbyists when digital photography was still new. Some claimed that digital photography wasn’t “real” photography because the images weren’t captured on film and printed on papers with silver-based emulsions. I didn’t get that argument at all because it was the message (i.e. the image) rather than the medium that was more important to me, and digital just seemed like a much more capable medium to act as a carrier for the message. Similarly, although I do have an attachment to the medium of radio, I’ve come to realize that over 50% of my enjoyment of shortwave broadcast listening was for the actual content – and there is plenty of easily accessible content on this internet radio.

Apologies for the lack of a more set-up shot, but I didn’t want to stop listening.  The little black box on top of the radio is my flash recorder that plugs into the line out on the radio for recording programs, and unrelated (though very topical) you can see the various connectors from the CC-20 transceiver beta board poking out to the left. The telescopic whip sticking up at the back is for reception of local FM stations if you want to use the built-in FM tuner:

The sound is really good, thanks in part to the bass port on the back of the radio:

The shortwave broadcast bands have not been what they were for quite a few years now, and many international shortwave broadcasters continue to scale down and cease their operations altogether – particularly transmissions to the developed world. Unless you like listening to endless religious broadcasts, the pickings here on the West Coast are pretty slim. In sharp contrast, I have 15,349 stations immediately available on this internet radio to choose from – and that doesn’t include the fact that if a station isn’t included in the list on my receiver, I can add it as a separate stream. Oh – and it does podcasts too – I already have Soldersmoke programmed in. I remember when I was a much more active SWL being able to listen to the foreign services of many countries on the shortwave bands, but wondering what their domestic broadcasts sounded like. Now I wonder no more because not only can I listen to the foreign services of stations like Radio Tirana, Albania and Deutsche Welle, there are even more domestic broadcast stations to choose from. Even the low bit-rate streams from less developed countries give more consistent and better quality reception than the shortwave bands ever have.

Of course, all these streams are available to listen to on a computer, but the convenience of a dedicated stand-alone box to listen to them makes the process of “tuning in” a whole lot simpler.  In the morning I hit the power button and after the internet radio has logged onto my WiFi network and buffered enough audio, it automatically begins streaming from whatever station I was listening to last – just like a regular radio. Sure it takes a minute or two to fire up, but so did vacuum tube radios in the old days :-)

I’ve found stations with fabulous music from Senegal, Mali and Algeria, to name just a few. There is a News/Talk station in Jamaica that is very entertaining, as I have never heard serious social issues discussed in heavy Jamaican patois, interspersed with reggae songs and streamed with the production quality of many great reggae songs recorded in Kingston in the ’60’s. That is to say, the audio is poor quality but somehow, it adds to the aesthetic of that particular station. I own a number of good music compilation CD’s from Radio Nova in Paris, France and have finally been able to listen to the station (it’s quite good and plays an interesting musical mix).

Best of all though, I’ve been listening to a lot of BBC Radio. From the news and current affairs of BBC Radio 4, to the comedy and drama of BBC Radio 4 Extra, to the musical shows of BBC Radio 6, it’s a reassuring reminder that first-rate broadcast radio is not dead. Anyone who listens exclusively to the commercial stations on the AM and FM bands in the US could be forgiven for having given up on broadcast radio. In my humble opinion, the medium of radio is just too good to trust to commercial forces alone. When you place broadcast radio in the hands of people who just want to use it to make money, you end up with stations that broadcast to the lowest common denominator. Whether it’s talk designed to infuriate listeners and increase ratings rather than inform and educate, or music stations that play the same tired small list of songs out of fear that they might play something different and interesting that would cause listeners to tune out, the end result is mass mediocrity.

Thanks to Randy K7AGE, for letting me know that just after I bought my internet radio from Best Buy, that they lowered the price for a few days to $79.99.  I called them up and was able to have the price difference refunded to me.

Is internet radio real radio? In my opinion, the answer to that is yes.

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11 Comments »

  1. I bought an internet radio (http://www.logitech.com/en-us/speakers-audio/wireless-music-systems/devices/5847) about a year ago and am a convert. The only time I listen to over-the-air AM/FM anymore is on short trips in the car. For longer trips, I’ll listen to a CD or stream internet radio from my cell phone into the car’s stereo system. No drops in audio whatsoever on a recent 3-1/2 hour drive from Houston to San Antonio.

    Pandora is my music source of choice but with my internet radio at home, I can also select it to play the MP3’s on my computer. When Pandora plays a song I particularly like, I can bookmark it, then log onto my Pandora account on a computer and click on the bookmarked song to download it for $1. Pandora has cost me money – but only in small increments over a long period of time…

    And, as you mention, it’s fun to “tune” to a foreign country and listen to their music, news, etc. and for expats like you & my XYL who can listen to news from home with no QSB.

    Comment by John AE5X — September 12, 2011 @ 10:05 pm | Reply

    • That Logitech is a really neat looking radio John. I like the color display.

      I haven’t tried Pandora yet, and now there’s Spotify. Perhaps one day.

      Comment by AA7EE — September 12, 2011 @ 10:45 pm | Reply

  2. The digital photography isn’t real photography is a new one for me but I’m not surprised. Seems like for every progression of something, there’s someone complaining that it’s not “real” like the old version of that thing was.

    I think this is especially true for Ham Radio. Considering the number of people who have complained about Echolink, D-Star, IRLP, etc not being real radio. (I do have my own complaints about D-Star) Or that people who didn’t take the CW tests being deficient in some way.

    Just how some people are I guess.

    Comment by James Hall — September 13, 2011 @ 2:55 am | Reply

    • Agreed James. My attitude is basically “each to his own”. If what you’re doing works for you, then more power to you. When it comes to amateur radio, the medium is important to me. I operate nearly exclusively on HF and I enjoy the unpredictability of HF propagation. I’m fascinated with the medium of radio, so D-Star, IRLP etc don’t really do it for me, though I’m perfectly happy with the knowledge that lots of people are interested in those things.

      When it come to shortwave broadcast listening, I’ve realized that the content of the broadcasts is the main reason I listen, which is why the method of delivery is of secondary importance.

      Comment by AA7EE — September 13, 2011 @ 6:45 pm | Reply

  3. Great Post. Still hard to Browse, or watch TV while driving a car.

    On the shortwave topic, upon purchasing a new (HF) SDR capable receiver, I was gobsmacked at the lack of (Digital) DRM programming to North America:
    http://www.wwdxc.de/drm.htm
    EUR 49.95 for the software license, I don’t think I’ll be partaking, thank you.

    Have Fun (- It’s Radio)… 73

    Comment by Guy - W6MSU — September 13, 2011 @ 6:00 pm | Reply

  4. Dave,

    Thanks for the heads-up on this unit. I ordered one from BestBuy today.
    Looking forward to playing with it.

    Bill

    Comment by Bill N5AB — September 14, 2011 @ 1:18 am | Reply

  5. Hello Dave….I’ve done the same here. BTW/ that’s a great description of local radio.

    “When you place broadcast radio in the hands of people who just want to use it to make money, you end up with stations that broadcast to the lowest common denominator. Whether it’s talk designed to infuriate listeners and increase ratings rather than inform and educate, or music stations that play the same tired small list of songs out of fear that they might play something different and interesting that would cause listeners to tune out, the end result is mass mediocrity”.

    Drivel is the name of the game….and they actually think it’s great programming. The same person owns seven different stations in the Charleston area and none of them worth a nickle. As far as “talk radio”….I see no solution until the Fairness Doctrine is enforced.

    I’m using a C C Crane Wi FI radio now and love it.

    Comment by John N8ZYA — September 16, 2011 @ 2:17 am | Reply

  6. True, it’s not real radio. The dictionary states “The wireless transmission through space of electromagnetic waves in the approximate frequency range from 10 kilohertz to 300,000 megahertz”. But who cares? In this case, the content matters, nothing else. I have two Logitech Squeezeboz radios and one of them resides in my shack. The reliability was horrible at one point, even wrote a not-so-raving review about them on my blog, but all the bugs have been flattened now.

    About digital photography: what many users don’t realize, is that a digital camera doesn’t really exist. The sensor is just as analog as film, and resembles a matrix of tiny solar cells. “Analog camera with built-in A/D converter and image processor” would be a more accurate description. Maybe people should focus more on results instead of methods. There are limits though. When it comes to our hobby, I want to get things done with a wire that ends in the back of my garden, not with one that extends to the data center of my internet service provider.

    Hans

    Comment by Hans — October 26, 2011 @ 7:04 am | Reply

  7. I don’t like the fact that I cannot listen to MLB baseball on internet radio. This is the main thing that I listen to on the conventional Radio

    Comment by Stephen — May 23, 2012 @ 5:59 pm | Reply

  8. I have had a tangent quattro for a couple of years and the sound from it is magic ,but can someone please please tell me how to listen to bbc 6 music on it.
    stephen

    Comment by stephen — October 18, 2012 @ 8:02 pm | Reply

    • Stephen – BBC 6 is on the list of stations that you can access with the Tangent Quattro. Have you registered your radio at http://www.reciva.com? If you’ve done that, you can enter BBC 6 on the website and have it added to your preferred list of stations that you can scroll through with the tuning knob on the Tangent Quattro. I like BBC 6 so much that I have it set as one of the 6 presets.

      Comment by AA7EE — October 18, 2012 @ 8:43 pm | Reply


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