I don’t listen to the radio much anymore. I used to listen all the time, to music and talk radio alike; All Things Considered, Talk of the Nation, Fresh Air, Morning Zoo, and a bunch of other shows were in my regular rotation. I still listen to all of those shows, and more, but I don’t use the radio dials to do it.
There’s an advantage to radio, particularly in its serendipity and continuity. One of the New York City radio stations (I can’t remember which, but I want to say 1010 WINS) has a great tagline: “Give us 22 minutes, we’ll give you the world.” There’s something to be said for that, for the variety and lean-back experience of radio. But the new technology that’s made me stop using the radio dial – podcasts, mostly, plus a couple of great websites and apps – has its own merit, too.
The advantages of the Internet’s style of listening are twofold, I think: Personalization and On Demand. I can listen to exactly what I want (or at least a much more personally-tuned selection), when I want. I don’t have to wait for Fresh Air to come on anymore, because I just download the podcast. I actually don’t know when it’s on, but I listen to every single episode through its iTunes podcast. There’s no flipping through stations anymore, either – everything I want to listen to is right there waiting for me, whenever I want to listen to it.
The ideal, really, is to find the best of both worlds, or cobble it together from a number of different places. And, actually, I think it’s possible. There are a bunch of apps out there that make it easy to get exactly the content you want, or to find an endless stream of it. Some are just a better way of managing regular radio stations, others are a re-thinking of what a radio station would be. In all, they make for a personalized, lean-wherever experience for listening.
What You Want, When You Want It
In pursuit of finding exactly what you want to listen to, when you want to listen to it, there are a few really good radio options. Slacker is my personal favorite: It lets you listen to stations based on a single song or artist (a la Pandora), but also lets you play single songs or albums, as well as listen to stations curated by genre, or hand-selected by cool bands and DJs. To get all that, though, is $9.99/month. Pandora’s also a great option: Pick a song or artist, and get an endless stream of songs. Rdio is a giant music library, and you can play songs and albums as well.
A new app that has tons of promise in this world is mSpot, which mixes your personal music collection (music you presumably like) with the best of online radio. It matches your music collection with Internet radio stations, helping you find more music like your collection – and it does it automatically, just based on what you upload and listen to.
All the apps above are good for music, but what about Car Talk and Glenn Beck fans? For those people, podcasts are really the best imaginable bet. Most radio shows are available as podcasts on iTunes (here’s 15 great podcasts to get you started), and they’re almost always free. Even if you hate iTunes, it’s both the best app with the most complete library of podcasts. You can manage them in DoubleTwist, a great app especially if you have an Android phone. Instacast is a good app for iPhones that lets you automatically download, and Google Listen is a similar one for Android. Generally, though, iTunes is the way to go.
You can search, sort, slice and dice those listings any way you want: by genre, by radio station, by search phrase. It’s all here: NPR, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck. Music shows. Talk shows. Religion, sports, technology. Politics by the pound.
You don’t know or care when your show will actually be aired, or on what station. You only know that you’ve requested it. Shortly thereafter, an e-mail message lets you know that your freshly baked show is ready for listening.
The Radio, Only Better
Sometimes, you actually want to listen to the radio. Whether there’s a game on I want to hear, or something big is happening, or I’m just bored and want to zone out for a few hours listening to music, radio is a great medium. But it’s a pain to navigate, not every station is available everywhere, and who the heck knows where ESPN is anyway?
Go Go Gadget Internet! Nearly every radio station out there broadcasts their live feed over the Internet, available for listening by anyone with an Internet connection. TuneIn, for instance, lets you listen to over 50,000 different radio stations, from all over the world, on your computer or mobile device (it supports everything from PC and Mac to Roku and bada). You can even record shows, and then listen to them later in the app. Spark Radio does much the same thing, letting you find the Yankee game even when you’re nowhere near New York.
In the car, at work, or waking up, I love listening to the radio. I just hate the “radio” part of the equation. With the right apps (and an Internet-capable mobile device, without which I’m useless to you right now), you can have any kind of radio-style listening experience you want, as tailored and personalized as possible or just a long listen to the smooth jazz station from your hometown.
How do you listen to music, talk shows, and radio, especially on the go?