Maybe you’ve seen or heard someone suggest to listen to the radio online or on the web? But what does that mean? How does web radio really work?

Internet radio stations or “webcasting” is available to anyone with an internet connection. The stations offer a variety of music, talk shows or news. Thousands of channels stream pre-recorded music files or present live broadcasts.

Looking at the number of possibilities and various options, you will definitely find your favorite stations using dedicated apps or your browser. But let’s look further into web radio and discover the best way to access your favorite news, music and talk shows. Here are some of the things we’ll discuss.

– Internet vs DAB
– Does Internet radio use a lot of data?
– How does internet radio work?
– How many Internet radio stations are there?
– Do you have to pay royalties for internet radio?
– Interactive possibilities, creative solutions in broadcasting

Internet Radio vs. DAB vs. FM

You may wonder why a new way of radio is even necessary when we have already had FM radio since the 1920s and the newer Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) since the end of the 1990s. Let’s look at how internet radio better serves our needs.

Traditional FM radio and DAB have limited bandwidth which means limited channels in your area. DAB offers more channels than FM, eliminates the ‘sizzling’ problem, and generally broadcasts higher quality audio than FM.

However, these services are still limited in all aspects, compared to what internet radio provides. With its limitless bandwidth, thousands of stations are available in all genres, all around the world. They are not limited to the most popular songs, pop, jazz and classical, but they also serve micro-communities within the alternative underground music scene. While we can also still find internet stations serving the same content structure that we know so well from the traditional radio.

While FM and DAB are only available in limited areas, the internet does not have such boundaries. The geographical flexibility was one of the most important triggers at the beginning of the internet radio. It was well suited to and popular among ex-pats.

One of the first examples of this was the automated rebroadcast of the Irish radio news in 1994. Irish ex-pats could listen to the news anywhere around the world. During the same year, an iconic webcast of a Rolling Stones concert is also considered a historical moment in internet radio.

Does Internet Radio use a lot of Data?

After beating traditional radio in quantity, internet radio wins in quality as well. While DAB stations broadcast at 128 kbps, online radios broadcast with better sound quality at around 320 kbps.

Depending on the radio stream, flawless high-quality recordings are available via webcasting, because of the high-speed power of the internet. But better sound quality also comes with more data. To enjoy these services, we have to either sacrifice a significant part of our mobile data or use a strong Wi-Fi connection.

How does it work?

There are two ways of delivering audio via the internet. They are streaming and downloading. Downloading means sending stored files (like MP3) from one computer to another. As in the case of podcasts or via email to friends. While broadcasting falls into the category of streaming, it means continuous playing.

Streaming has 4 main steps:

  1. The audio enters the encoding computer through a microphone and sound card
  2. The encoding computer converts the audio content into a streaming format
  3. Then sends this compressed audio to a server, which makes the audio available on the internet
  4. And a player software or plugin retrieves the content into a sound to be heard by the audience.

Streamed media typically can not be paused or replayed. In strict terms, webcasting is not on-demand and neither are podcasts as these two are not streamed but downloaded.

In order to listen to online radio stations, you can use your web browser, or media players, such as Windows Media Player or VLC. If you prefer using your smartphone, you can find stations that best suit your personality. Many are free apps letting you browse through several categories of radio stations.

How many Internet Radio Stations are Out There?

There are literally thousands of radio stations that you can find with radio apps or in your browser via dedicated websites. You can start your discovery with the most popular platforms being TuneIn, Sirius XM, Audacy, Pandora.

You can sort by location, language, topic, trending news, sport, type of music, and so on. It is also possible to listen to pre-recorded programs and podcasts, even though these latter two do not fall in the strict category of webcasting.

Royalty Questions in the World of Internet Radio

Theoretically, webcasting is available all around the world since it is streamed via the internet. The one thing that limits the availability to specific locations is music licensing and advertisements.

The legal side of entertainment and the agreements about the ads restrict broadcasting, especially in the case of the more popular stations.

There is a history of organizations that have tried to protect internet radios from paying double or triple the royalty fees compared to traditional stations. One memorable example is Save Net Radio, which started out as a coalition of listeners, artists, labels, and anyone who was opposed to additional royalty fees for webcasters. They proposed the Day of Silence on June 26th, 2007.

Another significant organization within this topic is Sound Exchange, which provides royalty solutions for sound recordings and publishing.

This is a controversial topic, but we can also see why governments put these provisions in place. We see this in the other fees that traditional FM and DAB radio broadcasts have to pay for using their specific bandwidth. The fact that the internet has unlimited bandwidth lowers the start-up and ongoing costs, which are the main reasons why they spread widely and why we can choose from so many different options.

Interactive Communication with Internet Radio

Internet radio has many benefits as it is much more than just audio. Chat rooms, message boards, links, photos, and graphics can all take radio a step further than its more traditional formats. These additional communication options expand the use of radio to a whole new level.

This interactive relationship can also be more effective when advertising, studying, or listening to a documentary or lecture since the intimacy of it might appeal to a broader range of people, and the message is clearer and contains richer data.

Web Radio is More than Mind Candy

With all of these options, you can see why getting yourself a top-rated internet radio player makes so much sense. You can dial in your preferred music genre, get localized news, or find a talk show on just about any topic of interest to you.

With all the other benefits of web radio, you might even find some new friends, broaden your music horizions, find new topics of interest and continue to be well informed as well.