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No static when using Internet radio

June 15, 2009

by Mark Ollig

It is taken pretty much for granted these days.

Back in the day when we wanted to listen to radio broadcasts from say, the BBC or Europe, we would use a shortwave radio, and listen over the air.

Interestingly they called it “short wave” radio, as it is also known as “high frequency” radio. This may be because at the higher frequencies the wavelengths used are “shorter” than those which were used in the earlier days of radio.

Radio broadcasting, as we know it, began in the 1920s, and its popularity dramatically increased around 1954 when the AM-FM transistor radio began to make its appearance. Now, with a smaller transistor radio, which could easily be carried wherever we went, it became a mobile device.

Even though the transistor radio was portable, we still were at the mercy of being within range of a radio towers signal, in order to get good reception.

In the mid 1990s, we were able to receive some radio broadcasts through our computers over the Internet. This meant we were no longer limited to listening to a radio station based solely upon the distance it was away from us.

Indeed, we could listen to radio from anywhere on the surface of the planet now, as Internet radio has no geographic limitations.

Internet radio began back in November of 1994, at a radio station inside the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill using the call letters of WXYC. Located on the FM dial at 89.3 MHz, WXYC became the very first “traditional” radio station to connect its audio signal to the Internet.

They were the first traditional radio broadcast station to be heard by the general public over the Internet.

WXYC used an FM radio coupled to an arrangement over one of the first Internet servers at what was then called “Sunsite” located at the University of North Carolina. Sunsite was started 1992, which is just before World Wide Web was introduced to the public.

Sunsite is now known as “Ibiblio” and is located at http://www.ibiblio.org. The software used was called “CU-SeeMe.”

WXYC had started testing its Internet broadcasts in early August,1994.

The interface to the Internet consisted of two major components. First, server software that sampled audio at 64 kbps (8 bits for each sample, which ends up becoming an 8 kHz sampling rate). This digital audio stream was then sent out over the Internet to the user’s computer receiving it. The user’s computer needed to have “client software” installed, which then received and decoded the digital audio stream. There was no compression used for this audio stream back in 1994. Any systems which could compress the source audio were very expensive at that time. Also, computers we used back then did not really have the processing power to uncompress a live audio stream anyway.

I must should point out there was a radio station called “WREK” located in Atlanta, Georgia, which began real-time audio streaming strangely enough, on the same day WXYC did, using software their folks created called “CyberRadio1” this was WREK’s beta launch. They did not publicly advertise this broadcast until after WXYC had already been on the air – well, over the Internet “air” I suppose one could say!

John Selbie was a computer science student at Georgia Tech at the time, and he hosted a radio program called “WREKage.” It was Selbie who wrote the software.

Historically speaking, on a Friday night in October 1994, technically “WREKage” was the first show to be heard over the Internet network, but WXYC is the first to be heard by the general public and they have gotten the credit for it.

This was all very cool back in 1994.

So, in 1994 we could listen to radio broadcasts from our PCs, but it still was not as “mobile” as using a transistor radio.

Today so much has changed.

With the advent of having access to the Internet over many different wireless mediums, we have begun to see a new generation of Internet radio devices.

One new way I listen to my favorite local stations, and some world-wide radio stations, is via my “iHeartradio” application I have on my iPodtouch. When I am in a Wi-Fi area, I listen all to my favorite stations all the time.

Internet radio provides a wide spectrum of broadcast genres, particularly in music, which we can listen to without the static.

The cost of getting “on the air” can now be inexpensive for the Internet broadcaster wannabe. To get some ideas, just Google, (or BING) “Creating an Internet Radio Station.”

Many of you are familiar with SIRIUS Satellite radio. Well this is really Internet Radio.

If you want to see a SIRIUS Internet “table top” radio, check out http://www.sirius.com/grace.

When I was in grade school, I wanted to start my own radio station. Today, anyone can.

One place you can experiment with it is at “Live365” (http://www.live365.com) There are over 6,000 people who have started their own Internet radio broadcast stations.

For more information on starting your own Internet radio broadcast station, check out http://www.live365.com/broadcast/index.live.