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Article: Internet Radio & Your Mac

by on October 3, 2003

Sure, you’ve got millions of MP3s in iTunes, but you’ve heard them all – 10 times each. You want to have something new to play in the background on your Mac while you work.

Although it’s there, iTunes has an internet radio tuner. Although it’s smugly sat there for most, if not all versions of iTunes, many people don’t notice it. I’ll be the first to admit that I know it’s there, but don’t think of turning to it for entertainment.

This article could be ended right there with ‘go ahead and open the iTunes Radio Tuner’, but there’s more. The stations included with iTunes are just a fraction of the amount of internet-specific and internet-simulcasting stations.

Internet-specific stations, or stations which do not broadcast over the air anywhere (usually don’t have call letters either) can be found around the internet and added to iTunes, provided they broadcast in a streaming MP3 format (same as WinAMP). These stations usually are DJ-less and play solid music, with little or no commercials.

The other group, stations which broadcast over the internet and over the air are a little bit more diverse. Some stations broadcast a straight stream of what you would hear over the air. Others remove their local commercials, replacing them with ‘FCC approved’ ones. Some play ‘elevator music’ during the commercial breaks. Many cut the national shows out, and blackout some sporting events. Few broadcast in the shoutcast/iTunes/WinAMP/streaming MP3 format. These stations, although seeming more of a pain, have many benefits.

  • The first benefit is money-backing. Since many of these stations have a larger budget than internet-only stations, there’s more money to throw around for new music, new technologies, and possibly better programming.
  • Another benefit is familiarity. If you live in a certain region, and are on vacation, or move somewhere else, you might be able to get ‘your’ station in on your computer.
  • The last benefit is clarity. Especially with stations on the AM dial, interference is a pain. If you have a broadband connection, or even are on dialup for a long period of time, your stream won’t have the annoying static.

So, what are my suggestions? First, check iTunes’s own tuner. Then, head over to Shoutcast for any internet-specific stations that strike your fancy. Finally, if you don’t mind using Windows Media Player (VideoLAN plays some WMP streams) or RealPlayer, many over the air & internet stations can be heard using these players (check the station’s web site for a listen live link.

Personally, I prefer the Shoutcast-style streams which utilize iTunes. It’s much easier to manage my stations, and I have one player for all my audio stuff. Currently, the only 2 stations I listen to are of the talk format. I have my real radio sitting near my computer, so I can ‘stream’ stations from the nearby cities if I want music. My two picks are:

  • NewsTalk 890 WLS
    Advertised as the #1 streamed station on the Internet, this Chicago AM station features a mix of local personalities (I listen to it for ABC News and Roe & Garry—that’s all), Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and ABC News. The fact that it’s streamed in Shoutcast, Windows Media, and Real formats, as well as being able to be picked up on 890AM throughout the Midwest, is a big plus.

  • WGN Radio 720
    The sister station of WGN-TV (9) and WGN Superstation on cable, as well as a competitor of WLS, I listen to this station occasionally, but not as much as I do when I’m within range to hear the Cubs games over the air (they aren’t able to broadcast the games over the internet, due to MLB.TV). They only broadcast in Real format.

Whatever method or station you choose, have fun with it, and remember that new stations are added every day.

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