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The life and times of james Hart: his family, his music, life in Luton and his occasional escapes onto the internet.

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Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Internet radio and wi-fi radio directories... the pitfalls!

We've had our Goodmans CD1505Wi wi-fi radio for nearly a year now, and it's been an excellent - and very useful - addition to the kitchen.

I have been in contact with some of the folk at Penbex - the company that developed the radio (they make a series of other models, distributed across the world) - and they have been very helpful and friendly. They have an on-line directory (at station.penbex.com.tw), and have sent me some beta firmware, which offers some really useful extra functions, like allowing the radio to continue to play when returning to the station list menu - a simple, yet useful improvement.

However, with the rapid change and evolution of online radio - certainly in the UK - the directory, which allows users only to add entries for stations, rather than modify or report them as requiring deletion, quickly became out of date.

Recently, for example, BBC Radio has stopped streaming their local radio services using the (expensively licenced) RealAudio format. In fact, their preferred method of streaming is now a flash-based system, where AAC+ (one of the most efficient compression algorithms available at the moment) is securely wrapped up in a Flash stream, which isn't currently untanglable by most wi-fi radios. Hence the need for a 'backup' option, which is now Windows Media Audio. For what it's worth, the latest links to live streams are currently here:

iplayerhelp.external.bbc.co.uk/help/streaming_programmes/real_wma_streams (BBC National Radio)

iplayerhelp.external.bbc.co.uk/templates/bbciplayer/seo/answerPage...local_radio_streams (BBC Local Radio)

bit of a rant.. sorry!

Of course, the BBC sets the standard for platform agnostic radio listening - many commercial radio stations seem to view online listening (of any kind) as an afterthought. Our local Heart station (formerly Chiltern Radio) feeds its internet stream from the station output before it gets processed for FM transmission, since the compressors are at the transmitter site. What's worse is that the automatic jingle and advert players are much louder than the incoming networked audio feed so if we have the radio on quietly and a local jingle comes on, it has us jumping out of our seats...

However, to their credit, there is a perfectly usable Windows Media stream (at 32kbps, mind, which isn't brilliant quality) so at least we can listen to it. GMG's Real Radio, Rock Radio and Smooth Radio, however, have an on-site Flash player; until recently, each station had a link that should be added to an internet radio directory. However, when I opened the station on my wi-fi radio, all I could hear was a message saying "Sorry, but you appear to be listening using another method than the official Player..." - I wrote a comment to this effect, and these links have now been removed. Hopefully they'll get it sorted, otherwise there's a whole (albeit small) section of their listenership using wi-fi and internet radios that will be missing out, including the many Reciva radio owners in the UK.

Live365 typifies this inexplicable restriction with their streaming radio service. It used to be the case that any service that participated in the Live365 system would be available on internet radios - in fact, there were adjuncts to directories listing all the stations involved.

Now, however, they are web-only, unless one buys VIP membership - and I have no idea how one would add the stations to an internet radio if they were available - probably one at a time! Why, though..? Is it simply because almost all the advertising is done via the website? Probably...

end of my rant. Sorry about that

Anyway, back to the main matter at hand: radio stations change! Most of the directories out there - including Reciva and vTuner are managed partially by user submissions of stations, but mainly through the efforts of staff ensuring that streams still exist (possibly done automatically) and duplicates are eliminated.

As I mentioned earlier in this blog post (and doubtless elsewhere), the range of internet radios made by Penbex (of which my Goodmans is one) normally uses Penbex's own directory - once again, it's managed mainly through community involvement. In fact, I have exchanged emails with very helpful and co-operative members of the small Penbex team, mainly to let them know of changes the BBC has made.

Another Penbex internet radio user, and regular commenter on my blog - Voyager - has gone one stage further, and taken the GPL (Gnu Public Licenced) and freely available source code for the radio's operating system, and modified it. One of his objectives to use his own directory, which would enable those who use his firmware to submit their own 'private' lists of stations. This is an excellent idea, since it enables users quickly to listen to stations they find without having to wait for the moderation process. It also increases the number of 'favourites' beyond the twenty that are available in the radio itself.

His excellent and informative blog is here: penbex.wordpress.com, and the station directory is at penbex.mine.nu. I am honoured to have been given moderator rights, so I'm currently working through the station lists, which were imported from the Penbex directory, doing all the things that I mentioned before - removing old and duplicate station links, adding new ones and generally tidying up the UK part of the directory.

As such, internet radio still piques my interest - certainly as a subgenre of the medium I love - and I'm very much enjoying the serendipity of finding new and interesting stations to listen to (often to the annoyance of my work colleagues!) I am sure I will wax lyrical about it on many more occasions through the medium of blog entries, as well. Expect more apologies!

Postscript: I saw an interesting tweet from fellow radio and tech guru @richard_C linking to a Guardian online article about the poor state of digital radio (here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/sep/30/digital-radio-dab) - ironically it's Guardian Media Group's own stations that are the ones that I can't actually get on my wi-fi radio... says it all, really!

Posted by james at October 7, 2009 12:05 AM

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