A classic AM/FM radio.

Many radio design styles can be found throughout the world.

Everyone knows what the radio is.  I don’t consider myself a historian and I’m sure everyone has a rough idea about what radios are.  To this day, radios are still used for listening to things such as music, news, road closures and school cancellations.  Whenever I drive, I always turn the radio on and listen to my favorite music.

They’re incredibly cheap.  I’ve seen radios for less than $1.00 up to prices of $5,000 with high-definition speakers and many features most of us would never expect to have in a radio.  Radios come in many shapes and sizes and the stations you can listen to depends on your location in the world.  However, recent developments in technology have allowed us to listen beyond local signals.  An example of this includes the subscription-based XM Radio.

In a nutshell, we’ve all grown up with radios and it becomes second-nature to instantly pick a station seconds after turning it on.

There’s always been something in mainstream radio that bothers me that most people don’t talk about:  Commercialization.  I know it’s nothing new but when I have to listen to it everyday, I need to find some way to draw the line.  I don’t want this to turn into an epic article about taking down the industry or anything like that.  There are things I don’t like about mainstream radio and there are alternatives to it.

I hate gossip!

Don’t get me wrong.  I know everyone has done it.  One of the many things radio hosts do before playing another song on their “top 10″ list is talk about some news event, statistic or a wild discovery and ask listeners to call in and express their feelings about it.  How many times have you heard:

  • “___% of men are more likely to ______________ than women”
  • “___% of people who _____________ Facebook will _______________”
  • “Around ___% of women _____________ while only ___% of men do”
  • “____________ has been arrested for possessing ___ pounds of ____________”
  • “A study shows that adults between ages 18-24 will spend ___ hours ________________”

Most of it is negative and is mostly about some statistic.  People will call in and usually have less than a minute to say their opinion about it.  The reason why they discuss it is to get people to call and listeners to stay peeled.  People seem to pay more attention to the negative things, so it’s really a marketing thing.

I know I’m the minority when it comes to not liking radio hosts discuss these things.  I just want to listen to the next song that’s all.  I usually switch to another radio station while they are talking.  I don’t have to put up with all of this.  There are other alternatives to this and I still listen to music through these methods.

Listen to community radio

They are everywhere.  They can range from a small radio station in your own city to a university that allows students to have their own radio shows.  Many of these stations make use donations from listeners to pay the bills and maintain the station itself.  The hosts may not have a monetary gain and do it for the love and experience for the radio.  It was community radio that developed my taste for electronic music and realized that there rap artists who won’t snap their fingers, shout their own name and call out a product name.

MP3 Player + FM Transmitter

iPod connected to FM transmitter

Never leave these in your car; someone might steal it.

I remember when I had a Sony Walkman.  I used to plug it into my car radio through a cassette tape adapter. I could listen to my own selection of music without having to listen to an annoying radio station.

Some of the newer car radios even have a stereo jack or a slot made to fit an iPod or iPhone.

Even if the only MP3 player in possession is only 512 MB, think of how many songs you can fit on there.  You could fit in roughly 100 songs, if each one was around 5 MB.  There are many places to buy music online or use software to convert CD music to MP3 format.  For buying online music, iTunes is undoubtedly the most popular one.  My favorite is 7digital because their MP3s have a very high quality and are usually larger than 5 MB as a result.  In addition, I can re-download the music without having to purchase the songs again.

SHOUTcast Radio

Screenshot of a SHOUTcast mobile app

SHOUTcast can be accessed on any computer or mobile phone with internet access

Anyone who has used Winamp may be aware of SHOUTcast.  It is a free service that allows anyone to connect to an online server that streams audio to many computers as if it was a regular radio broadcast.  It was through SHOUTcast that I discover drum & bass ,chill-out and dubstep music.  There is an extremely large variety of stations to choose from.

Even some mainstream radio stations use this for people to listen to their radio station through a computer.  This can even be accessed through a browser without having to install additional software.  Just go to shoutcast.com and either choose or search for whatever you want.

There are apps available for cell phones.  However, keep in mind that this will consume internet bandwidth which in turn consumes more battery power.  It can make a great combination with some kind of stereo adapter and FM transmitter to listen to this in the car.  However, I don’t happen to have either of these so this isn’t something I use very often.

Like community radio stations, some people who set up SHOUTcast stations may ask for a donation to maintain the station and have a little bit of profit from it.

Some places I worked at, it can be very quiet.  Someone will blurt out, “Can I turn on some music?  It’s so quiet in here!”  People will generally nod “yes” and they’ll go to a mainstream radio website to listen to their streaming radio, will all of the commercials and gossiping included.  I remember one time, I asked if I could choose another station.  I went to shoutcast.com and selected a chill-out station; a relaxing down-tempo trance style of music.  One person looked at me strangely since he’s never heard that type of music before.  I asked other people what kind of music they wanted to listen to.  Suddenly we were switching between rock, dance, soul, jazz, etc.  Now we can listen to music without being told to go see some movie or to buy some product nobody needs.

Conclusion

With hardware getting cheaper and the rise of the Internet, there are many alternatives to mainstream radio.  Whenever I feel like listening to something different, I resort to shoutcast.com for my stations.  If I’m driving somewhere and I want to listen to my selection of music, I can use a MP3 player with a FM transmitter.  I know that there are some CD players that do support MP3 files as well.  I have heard of subscription-based services such as XM radio; it’s just I’ve never used these before.  There is so much out there to listen to that is outside of the mainstream and it’s definitely worth listening to.

Images used under a creative commons license
Radio photo courtesy of Roadsidepictures
iPod and FM transmitter photo courtesy of Markus Rödder
SHOUTcast screenshot courtesy of senov