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It may seem strange to think that there are people still alive today who were born before the introduction of what we call “radio”.
If you asked the average person what “radio” means to them, they might tell you about their plastic kitchen radio they leave on in the background while making breakfast, the built-in car radio they listen to while driving to work, or even the portable, mp3-player-like device they can listen to with headphones on public transport (although this is more of an early-2000’s device, and is now considered fairly obsolete).
“Kitchen radios” and car radios have already been around for a long time, but as we move further into the 21st Century, the concepts of radio and radio stations continue to develop with advances in technology.

Since the beginning of this century, we’ve had the ability to call up any song we can think of and listen to it directly over the internet, or store thousands of them on our computers, and since the introduction of smartphones, we’ve had almost constant easy access to music when we’re on the go.
So, why not offer the same easy access to radio stations? Whether you’re listening with your phone, your computer, or in your car, imagine being able to tune in to any radio station you can think of, from any style or genre, from every corner of the world.

This is what is all about.

What is radio?

So, although you might think of a radio as being an electronic gadget, the word has many meanings and definitions. For example, the verb (“to radio someone”) means to send energy with waves from one place to another without the need for wires, whether it’s from one room to the next or country to country. A piece of equipment called a “transmitter” sends out the radio signals, which are picked up by a “receiver”. This is why the 1930’s and 40’s term “wireless” was used for household radios, as the concept was relatively new.

Radio still has a lot of uses, despite the mid-2000’s rise of mp3 players and iPods, and more recently that of YouTube, and streaming services like Spotify. In fact, many people simply didn’t want to deal with new technology and stuck to their old ways, particularly older generations. Some people also preferred the radio because it constantly introduced them to new songs and artists that they wouldn’t necessarily hear with mp3 players.

Radio is still important in both more-developed and less-developed countries. In many developing countries such as Thailand and Nicaragua, it’s used as an educational tool for teaching topics such as nutrition and health education. In South Africa, there are more than 150 independent radio stations, whereas 30 years ago there were only 10 on the entire continent of Africa.

The History of radio

Throughout history, it has been debated over who was the true father of radio, but despite Nikola Tesla’s demonstration of a wireless radio in 1893 in St. Louis, it was Guglielmo Marconi who won the race by transmitting the first radio signals across the Atlantic Ocean in 1901. In the following years leading up to the First World War, radio was primarily used to send messages to and from ships via Morse code, but was not used commercially. During WW1, it was used almost exclusively by the military, although the technology at that time was not advanced enough to replace the use of carrier pigeons.
In the early 1920’s, radio began to rise in popularity amongst civilians. In the USA, the Pittsburgh radio station KDKA became the first to be officially licensed by the government, and its parent company Westinghouse began selling wireless radios to the public. In the UK, the Post Office received almost 100 requests for licences from would-be broadcasters, and so decided to set up the BBC.

By the beginning of the Second World War, it had become a common family past time to sit around a wireless radio listening to programmes and news broadcasts. During WW2, the radio was vital in relaying news of the war to families all over the UK, and was an effective tool for boosting public morale.
With the arrival of television in the 1950’s, radio programming schedules began to shift from serial shows to the playing of popular music. FM stations overtook AM stations, and the concept of the Top 40 was introduced, later becoming a key factor in the evolution of rock and roll.

Financing of radio stations

There are two main categories that radio stations fall into when it comes to financing, which are public broadcasting and commercial broadcasting.

Public broadcasting

Public broadcasting is when a radio or TV station draws its funding from either the public, the government, or both, with the objective of public service rather than financial gain. To make it easier to explain, let’s use the BBC as an example. Listening to a BBC radio station doesn’t require any form of payment, however if you watch live BBC TV, you have to pay a license fee every year. This money is like a tax that the British government uses to help fund the entire BBC, and so when you watch or listen to their stations, you won’t see or hear any advertisements.

Commercial broadcasting

Commercial broadcasting is when a radio or TV station is owned by a company or corporation, with the goal of financial gain, and exists without government funding. Instead, they rely on the common practice of advertising the products of other companies, which these companies pay the stations to do.

In America, commercial broadcasting has been the norm since the beginning of radio, whereas Europe began mostly with public broadcasting, and has since moved further towards commercial.

What is webradio?

Web radio, or more commonly referred to as internet radio, is a technology that continuously transmits audio over the internet to your computer. It’s a technique of broadcasting audio using data transmission that is very similar to terrestrial radio, and it’s used by 57 million people every week.

Internet radio broadcasters use “streaming” to transmit their stations over the internet to their users. Listening to audio streams means that you don’t have to download every song and store it on your computer. Instead, your computer downloads small portions of data (usually in the MP3 or AAC formats) in a continuous stream, usually a little faster than you listen to it, and discards the portions once you’ve gone past these parts of the stream. This means that you never have a fully-downloaded file on your computer. Any radio shows that you do have to download are known as podcasts.

The most obvious benefit of using internet radio is access to thousands of radio stations that you wouldn’t normally be able to listen to due to your location. Another advantage is having an almost unlimited supply of music and live shows that you can listen to in real time.

Radio Facts & Figures

  • Radio is the leading media platform with the most reach. 93% of us listen to radio over FM/AM frequency airwaves, or via the internet, as opposed to 85% TV viewership, and 50% PC users.
  • 295 Million American people over 6 years old listen to the radio each week, and over 65 Million people of the Millennial generation.
  • The existence of radio waves and the feasibility of radio transmission was predicted by James Clark Maxwell in the 1860s.
  • News/Talk/Information radio stations are some of the most popular stations, with an 11% share of total radio listeners.
  • The word ‘broadcasting’, referring to radio transmissions, was originally an agricultural term for the wide scattering of seeds.

Source: 2016 Nielsen Audio Today; Pew State of the News Media 2015

How can I run an internet radio station?

Here’s a brief explanation of how your station’s audio stream gets from you to your audience:

  1. Source (You): Your computer produces audio, which can be live voice or music, then it converts it into a stream of data packets that are constantly sent to a server.
  2. Server (Provider): When your stream arrives at the server, it’s cleaned up and dispensed to the appropriate channels.
  3. Listener (Everyone): Wherever and whenever your broadcast is online, if there’s a direct streaming link to the server or via a player, anyone can connect to it and hear your output.

Running an internet radio station is not necessarily difficult, and nothing should stand in your way, but it does require a certain amount of dedication. All you really need to start is a computer with the right software, but there are certain things such as a dedicated studio space and some good equipment (e.g. a decent microphone), that will be beneficial to have.
Once you have your hardware, you need to download software that allows you to host your station and keep it online. Icecast is a good example of a user-friendly server project that streams in MP3 format. You’ll then need to download WINAMP, plus the software that actually delivers the stream to your audience. One of the most common programs for this is SHOUTcast.
For a full guide on how to set up an internet station, check out this link:

One more important thing to think about is gaining the rights to play other bands and artists’ music on your station. Different countries have different laws when it comes to music rights, but in North America it is possible to purchase licenses for around $500 per year which gives you the rights to play music that isn’t your own without having to pay the artists individually.

What is podcasting?

A podcast is a digital media file (usually audio but can also be video) that is part of a series of programmes that can be subscribed to by anyone who wants to listen. Programs or apps called “podcatchers” can be used to subscribe to and automatically download each podcast in a series when it becomes available, and are designed to be used with smartphones so listeners can use them on the go.

Some people see podcasting as an alternative to commercial radio and TV, because it allows them the ability to choose their own content and select the programmes they want to listen to, similar to recent technologies like Netflix or Amazon Prime. Many people like the convenience of having new material pre-loaded onto their iPods or phones, and will listen to their podcasts on the way to work or while making dinner. Listening to your favourite show can make your 45 minute commute much more bearable!

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