July 5, 2007

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Radio by wire
Whither Internet music?
By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

On June 26, the Internet went silent.

At least, a slew of Internet radio stations turned off their streaming music for the day. They did so in protest of a recent decision by the Copyright Royalty Board that increased the fees they have to pay to record labels. The decision, handed down on March 2, goes into effect on July 15, and the silence was intended to preview what online music fans could be listening to after that day.

Particularly irking the Internet radio services was that the increase — gradually increasing from 7/100 of one cent in 2005 to 19/100 of one cent by 2010 for each song streamed to each listener — is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2006. Even if a particular service could absorb an increase, the sudden hit of paying all those back royalties could put it out of business.

That hasn’t stopped electronics makers from pumping out an ever-more diverse array of standalone Internet radio receivers.

The simplest way to get started with Internet radio is with a computer. Visit Shoutcast.com, Pandora.com or Live365.com, just to name a few of the biggest, and you can pretty easily start listening to one of thousands of stations. Unlike traditional radio, it doesn’t matter where in the world you are, as long as you have an Internet connection. Every station, therefore, has global reach.

But who wants to boot up a PC every time they want some tunes? For around $300, you can get the Acoustic Energy Wi-Fi Internet Table Radio, which the manufacturer claims needs no setup through your computer. Once it’s connected to Acoustic Energy’s servers via a wireless network, channels are listed right on the radio itself, categorized by genre, country or other parameters.

Curiously, the company advertises that it can access 99 percent of all Internet radio stations, with “over 5,000” available out of the box, “and more are added every day.” At the same time, it says that “Over 10,000 internet radio stations are currently broadcast worldwide.” Go figure.

If that many stations is a little overwhelming, a couple portable devices are more focused. The Sansa Connect, for example, is a portable music player with 4GB storage for your own library that can access the LAUNCHcast service from Yahoo! Music. It retails for about $250 and also plays videos and displays pictures.

If you have a TiVo, you can use that to access many online radio stations as well. You might already have yours hooked up to a stereo system for better sound with your movies and television, so you’re already a step ahead in terms of audio fidelity.

By the way, it’s only prudent to note that while many of these receivers do use radio waves to connect to Wi-Fi networks, the term “Internet radio” doesn’t necessarily involve radio technology at all. Plenty of listeners use cables to connect to the Internet, and the music flows just fine. There aren’t Internet radio broadcast towers with little lines coming out of them scattered across the landscape. It’s just, well, what do you listen to music on? The radio. So that’s what they call it.

To learn more about the effort to keep online music streamers in business, visit SaveNetRadio.com.


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