What is Internet Radio

Posted By BrokenClaw on October 6, 2007

Internet radio, also called web radio or net radio, is a service which allows you to listen to a radio station on your computer over the Internet. It is popular in office buildings, where each individual can tune in to their own preference of music or talk radio. The technology involved is called streaming. The audio is fed continuously, like a stream, over the Internet. To receive and play Internet radio you need to have the appropriate player software used by the provider, either Microsoft Media Player or Silverlight, Realplayer, or the website’s own player. When you tune in on your computer, you hear whatever is being broadcast at that precise time. Internet radio differs from podcasts in that regard. There are three distinct types of Internet radio.

Simulcast Internet Radio

The first type is simply a simultaneous broadcast of an established over-the-air (sometimes called terrestrial) radio station. On it you can hear essentially the same thing as if you were tuning in on your regular car or home radio. However, since you connect via the Internet, you can listen to remote stations from anywhere on an Internet computer. When the technology was first developed in the 1990s, many radio stations jumped on the bandwagon and began streaming their entire broadcasts on their website. However, that practice was soon curtailed for several reasons.

  • Local advertisers objected to paying for global advertisements.
  • Music copyright holders demanded additional fees for Internet play.
  • Syndicated broadcasts wanted to control their own advertising revenue.

For example, a clothing store in Atlanta, Georgia, wouldn’t want to pay for an ad on the station’s streaming audio, which would be heard in, for example, Duluth, Minnesota, where the listener had no access to the clothing store in Atlanta. With regard to sports broadcasts, in the early days of Internet radio, fans could search a team’s broadcast network until they found one that was streaming their audio. It didn’t matter where you were, you could always tune in, on the Internet, to your favorite team’s broadcast for free.

Eventually, the major sports leagues forced all broadcasts off of local stations’ websites, and now require you to subscribe to the service on their own website: MLB.com, NFL.com, and NBA.com. College sports soon followed with subscription services. On radio stations which carry the broadcasts over-the-air, you will generally get a “blackout” message on the website during the copyrighted broadcast.

This same issue was at the center of another legal battle between Major League Baseball (MLB) and Sling Media. The Slingbox is a device whereby users can watch programs from their television at home, over the Internet, on a remote computer. For example, a fan from Philadelphia could have his Slingbox at home receiving the local broadcast of the Philadelphia Phillies, and then he could watch it on his laptop at the hotel in Oklahoma City. Since the traveler can watch his home town team from anywhere online, it undermines the video subscription service of MLB.com.

Satellite radio services like Sirius and XM also offer some level of free Internet streaming of their own radio broadcasts.

Independent Internet Radio

The second type of Internet radio is a website which is independent of any over-the-air radio station. The entire business is based on streaming audio over the Internet. Most of these types of Internet radio broadcasts are targeted at niche audiences who seek very specific types of music, such as soft jazz, hard rock, easy listening, and other alternative styles. These stations also provide an outlet for new bands to get their music out to the public without the high costs of promotion. Often the different stations are lumped together on a single website to allow the user to find them easily, and to allow the stations to share costs and resources.

In early 2007, the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB), an arm of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) issued a revised music royalty fee schedule that Internet radio providers are required to pay to SoundExchange. Many people in the industry predicted that the dramatically increased fees would drive most operations in the US out of business. As of this post, the issue has not been resolved satisfactorily.

Hybrid Internet Radio

The third type of Internet radio is a hybrid of the first two. It consists of syndicated broadcasts which are carried on local over-the-air radio stations, over which the copyright owner wants to maintain full control. This type of Internet radio is typically produced by national news and sports companies.

For example, the national sports leagues mentioned above allow you to listen to their live streaming audio, but only if you pay for a subscription on their website. Another example is the sports talk shows, such as ESPN Radio or Fox Sports. Both of these broadcasters allow you to listen live, without cost, on their websites. Try it.

Some places to find Internet radio:

Websites which carry the first and third types of Internet radio generally have audio clips of previous shows available to users. Since you can download the archives and listen to them later, by definition they would be considered podcasts.


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