The Rise and Rise of Internet Radio. The rush to the World Wide Web by traditional radio broadcasters and ease of access to all newcomers, has heralded a new era in radio broadcasting
Television, it was once claimed it would signal the death of the movie industry. In 2011 big screen movies were seen by audiences as a complimentary medium to their own in-home entertainment systems. Going out to watch a movie, it would appear is a different pastime to staying in, regardless of the size of the home movie system’s giant screen.
Similarly, personal stereos and MP3 players many observers predicted, and some in the industry worried, would also signal widespread departure from radio, and from traditional radio listening habits. Whilst this is true in the way people consume audio, the radio industry worldwide and as a medium has largely benefited and not suffered in any way from radio on the Internet.
The History of Internet Radio Broadcasting
It’s hard to believe that within little over 100 years, there have been such wide ranging developments in audio mass communication. Radio as an invention was very quickly, from as early as the 1920s, picked up in all parts of the globe as the medium of choice for entertainment and news. Many in those days predicated the end of the recorded music industry, as the public could hear their favourites without having to buy records. Interesting how nearly 100 years later the same fate is being predicated? The same invention – radio, is still the basic building block for Internet radio. Some relevant dates are important in the development of radio on the Internet:
- 1989 – 90 The World Wide Web is invented by Tim Berners Lee
- 1992 The Motion Picture Experts Group (MPEG) agreed standard MPEG -1 and MPEG – 2 formats which became MP3 and a common format for storing audio in a compressed state suitable for Internet use.
- 1994 WXYC (from the University of North Carolina) is generally acknowledged as the first radio station to be broadcast live over the Internet.
- 1994 The New York Times reports The Rolling Stones as the first ‘major’ rock band to broadcast a concert live on the Internet. 20 minutes of live audio and video from a concert at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas
In the last 15 or so years, the number of audio services, live streaming radio and other audio downloads, available on the web has simply exploded.
The Development of Internet Radio
Throughout the 1990s, the sound quality of much of the Internet’s audio broadcasts was far from perfect, it was accessible. Thousands of radio stations and music providers jumped at the chance of reaching a new audience or any audience at all. The medium developed a litany of names:
- Web Radio
- Internet Radio
- Continuous Radio Streaming
- Streaming Radio
- Live Radio on the Net
It’s important at this stage to draw the difference between streaming and podcasting. Podcasting is a way of transferring stored audio from one source to another via the Internet. It can then be paused and rewound by the listener. Streaming, on the other hand, is live broadcasting, similar to any radio broadcast on AM, FM or digital networks.
MP3 as a standardized audio transfer system was commonplace. With the expansion of the broadband network, replacing the dial up systems (DSL) of the early Internet days, audio quality and accessibility for live broadcasts vastly improved. A number of significant developments were important in the field especially in the replay of digital audio:
- The Real Network launched their “Real Audio Player.”
- Microsoft followed with their “Windows Media Player,” WMA
- Apple’s audio player version is of course iTunes.
Each of the big players in the field promote, change, upgrade and continually develop their offerings and while each may not be entirely that different, although I’m sure each would argue they are, every PC and Mac user has access to free audio software capable of accessing Internet radio from a huge number of sources.
Future of Internet Radio
Considering Apple didn’t launch their audio player until 2001, and their iTunes store until a few years later, the launch and development of internet radio has been swift and dramatic. It could be said we’re only yet in its early stages. The future has to consider:
- Most terrestrial broadcasters now also broadcast on the internet
- The choice to the listener is now worldwide, and not just restricted to their AM/FM locale
- Personal radio, by the likes of Pandora Last FM, play only the listener’s chosen genres, (and holds much more information on personal listening besides)
- Sites like live365.com, ad liveradio.net and mikes radio world.com give access to hundreds of genres of music, and thousands of broadcasters from all over the world.
Now that Internet technology, be it fixed, wireless or through mobile phones is increasingly easier to access, radio through the Internet is just a click away. More and more listeners, figures would suggest are taking up the habit, and these are early days.