Unsticking radio

The very word “infrastructure” sounds big and imposing, all concrete and rebar and buttresses here and there.

Not so, says Doc Searls: it’s plastic, and especially so when it comes to radio:

[T]he infrastructure of broadcasting, at least here in the U.S. … is being gradually absorbed into the mobile data system, which is still captive to the mobile phone system, but won’t be forever. For New York’s FM stations, the old-fashioned way to get range is to put antennas in the highest possible places, and radiate signals sucking thousands of watts off the grid. The new-fashioned way is to put a stream on the Net. Right now I can’t get any of these stations in Boston on an FM radio. In fact, it’s a struggle even to get them anywhere beyond the visible horizons of the pictures I took on the Empire State Building. But they come in just fine on my phone and my computer.

You have to wonder if Ferris O’Brien is getting more listeners off TheSpyFM.com than he can possibly get off that 900-watt stick out there in Boondoxia.

To borrow the name of a band Ferris plays now and then, We Were Promised Jetpacks. That’s not happening yet, exactly, but prying terrestrial radio off actual terra firma seems to me to be a step in the right direction.



  1. scooby214 »

    18 January 2010 · 5:07 pm

    I do think Ferris gets more listeners through his stream. For me, I use the stream at home (through my Logitech Squeezebox) and to 105.3 when in the car.

    I have found that the Squeezebox has really pulled me away from terrestrial radio when at home. I can stream my favorite stations, such as KOCD, The Spy, and Radio OKC, to my Ramsey transmitter. Then I tune in radios around the house to the Ramsey transmitter and listen to my heart’s content. No more having to find that one location in the house where my best portable can get in KOCD, only to have it fade out mid afternoon.

    The only thing I haven’t experimented with yet on the Squeezebox is with Pandora. It appears that you can set up a free Pandora account through the Squeezebox. I’ve heard it is addictive, so I think I’ll let the newness of the Squeezebox wear off before trying Pandora.

  2. fillyjonk »

    18 January 2010 · 5:42 pm

    The one potential problem with radio going internet-based and such is, what do you do when the power goes out? (I know: laptop batteries. But I’ve never yet had a laptop that didn’t have a “rechargeable” battery that had decreasing ability to hold power as the thing’s life progressed).

    Really, the main time I listen to local (or what passes for local here) radio is when there’s bad weather, power outage, some major problem…and if you’re cowering in the (dry) bathtub under a mattress listening for tornado updates, you really kind of need something portable and battery powered.

    Otherwise, the only FM stations I actually listen to come through the Internet, because I apparently have non-mainstream musical tastes. I keep thinking of getting a satellite radio receiver but I keep being too cheap to do it.

  3. Doc Searls »

    18 January 2010 · 8:04 pm

    In the long run there will probably be a mix of transmission systems. I think satellite comes in here too, perhaps in an on-demand basis. The current Sirius-XM system is one that owes its continued existence to Howard Stern, who remains available no other way, including Sirius’ own iPhone app (where his channels are a glaring absence). Truth is, Howard could have his own subscription system on the Net, receivable over a 24kb stream on phones, which would work even on crappy data connections. I kinda hope that happens, so other uses can be found for the satellite capacity.

  4. CGHill »

    18 January 2010 · 8:07 pm

    There exist battery-operated Internet radios, but you still have the problem of getting the Internet to them; if my power goes down, so does my router. I suppose they can be taught to run off cell-phone networks, but I imagine this would get expensive rather quickly.

    I get most of my weather reports from the NWS, via their VHF radio service at 162.40 MHz.

  5. Dick Stanley »

    19 January 2010 · 12:37 am

    For the owner, the best part of Internet radio, besides the savings on equipment, is that no license is required–except, I suppose, for the rights to the music you play. But no expensive, time-consuming haggling with the feds. So far, anyhow. Ought to vastly increase the number of “stations,” if it hasn’t already.

  6. Old Grouch »

    19 January 2010 · 12:43 pm

    “except, I suppose, for the rights to the music you play”

    Yep. And it’s not surprising, given the low barrier to entry plus the opportunity for programming the 90% of music that’s NOT played by broadcast radio, that the music “industry” has been doing its best to kill it.

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