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.