radioI object to the price-gouging of the Big 5 record oligopoly (Warner, EMI, BMG, Universal & Sony) that controls 85% of the CDs sold worldwide. On top of that, my eclectic tastes mean that for me a trip to the local CD store — even the megastores — is usually as pointless and frustrating as a trip to the big box bookstores. So lately I’ve started multi-tasking — listening to online music while I blog.

Online ‘radio’ has changed a lot in the past year. Some of the most notable trends:

  • The number of ‘bitcasters’ — stations that broadcast live over the Internet — has increased dramatically.
  • The sound quality has similarly improved (and although I now have high-speed Internet access, those I know who are still on 56k dial-up also report great improvement).
  • The proliferation of different ‘players’ needed to listen seems to have ended. As long as you have the latest version of Windows Media Player and Real Player (both free downloads) you can listen to almost everything.
  • Content aggregators like Microsoft, Netscape, and Yahoo now offer a customizable spectrum of proprietary themed radio stations, showing you details of what’s playing, and what’s up next, on each of your chosen themes, and (of course) allowing one-click purchase of CDs and/or 99-cent single track purchases.
  • Some interesting specialty sites have sprung up for aficionados of certain types of music. Some of these let you create your own playlist, while others display the details of the predetermined playlist they ‘bitcast’.
  • Listening to high-quality audio is (still and forever) free. If you feel noble and find a CD with more than one or two good cuts on it, it’s not hard to comparison shop before you buy or even pick up a used copy cheap online. If not, you can opt to pay 99 cents per cut, or use one of those (legal in Canada) peer-to-peer free download services.

I’m quite impressed with the newest version of Netscape Radio, which you can upgrade quickly and easily (free) to Netscape Radio plus. It offers 175 themed stations with 40 customizable ‘presets’, advance notice of what’s coming next on your top 10 presets, and a toolbar that fits neatly out of the way while you blog. You can also get one-click info on artists and their discographies when you hear something you want to know more about.

The most comprehensive list of bitcasters I’ve found is Radio-Locator, which lets you browse thousands of stations by city (North America), country, or programming format. Clicking on the lightning bolt then immediately opens the player and plays the station (rather than opening the station’s website).

As a classical music fan, I like Classical Music Archives. You can create your own playlist from the site’s excellent selection, and most selections are available for free listening (limit 5 selections/day). With membership ($25/year) — which I haven’t yet tried — you can also download MP3s of most selections, and get unlimited listening at either WMA or MP3 bps quality.

If you’re looking for iTunes (now available for Windows, too) the site is here. Excellent selection of MP3s for download at 99 cents each. I haven’t used it, and the site says you need an ‘iTunes compatible CD-burner’ to copy the MP3s to your MP3 player or jukebox, but users I know swear by it.

And if you’re looking for something completely different, check out Hober Music — a station that plays ‘unvarnished music’, great for thinking and relaxing.

No listening capability, but if you’re looking to buy hard-to-find music, check out GEMM the electronic online CD ‘flea-market’, and CDBaby, a independent label CD vendor.

What do you listen to online?

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  1. Brent Ashley says:

    One of the best online Jazz stations is – and it’s right here in Toronto. I remember when I went to Ryerson back around 1980 CJRT was on Victoria at Gould. Only 10 years ago I had trouble getting reception in Brampton – not a problem any more but now it doesn’t matter!

  2. Evan says:

    As long as you have the latest version of Windows Media Player and Real Player (both free downloads) you can listen to almost everything.Free as in beer, not free as in speech.Those are both proprietary, there is no guarantee they’ll stay free, they don’t work on non-mainstream operating systems such as Linux or BSD, they both come with restrictive licensing agreements and DRM software, and they cost money for broadcasters, which further undermines the end-to-end nature of the net and encourages us to be passive receivers rather than full participants in online broadcasting.By contrast: Many internet radio stations are available by streaming MP3, including my beloved Radio Paradise, which means there is no platform in existence that can’t play their music and many genuinely free tools they can use for broadcasting it. (Streaming Ogg Vorbis would be preferable, since MP3 is encumbered by patents, but MP3 is a close second choice; at least it’s an open standard.)

  3. hans says:

    The iRate project ( ) has exposed me to all kinds of new music.

  4. Evan says:

    Er, I should have said that WMP doesn’t work on Linux or BSD. I believe Real does. But if Microsoft ever buys them, game over.

  5. Dave Pollard says:

    Wow, guys — great additions, thanks. Radio Paradise plays some great stuff — just looked at their playlist for the last 6 hours.iRate looks perfect for those with the technical know-how to use it — I’ve bookmarked it but I’m not sure I understand the instructions. I’ll have a go when I get some time, since I really like the concept of contributing to the playlist and getting hints on what else you might like. Brent, we must be nearly neighbours (we lived in Brampton for 13 years on Nantucket until we moved to Caledon in ’94). I confess I’m not a great jazz fan though I have CJAZ on my car radio presets, since they sometimes play other genres as well. Highly recommended for jazz fans around the world. And also like that their home page links to Environmental Defence Canada, a great site.

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