Radio Ga-Ga: How to Listen to Internet Radio

You will discover a few hundred radio stations from across the planet covering a number of different categories to choose from – rap, rock, ambient, electronica and reggae, to name but a few. These are called ‘streams’, as they are digital transmissions dispatched to your machine using the internet.

iTunes radio is easy

1. To take a look at what’s available you simply need to click on the Radio button in the iTunes Source menu bar on the left of the iTunes interface. This takes you to a list of categories, each with a right-pointing arrow on the left-hand side of the category description. To explore a category you simply need to click on the arrow beside its description.

Each available radio station offers its name, a brief description of the kind of music the show plays and information about the bit-rate of the transmission. Higher bit rates mean a channel is broadcast over the internet at better quality than lower bit-rate streams.

They also require more bandwidth, so if you’re using a dial-up modem to connect to the internet, you’ll get a better experience by choosing low bit-rate streams. If you’re accessing the channels using broadband, you needn’t worry.

2. Apple updates the radio channels it makes available through iTunes from time to time. If you want to ensure that your channel list is up to date, you just need to refresh the list. To do this, select ‘Radio’ in the menu, and then click on the ‘Refresh’ button situated in the upper-right corner of iTunes. The software will show you a brief message, while it interrogates Apple’s servers in the large window at the top of the browser, which shows a black apple logo. After this process is complete, your list will be current.

3. Navigating the hundreds of channels Apple offers can become a chore, but just like any other content held in iTunes, you can create playlists containing your favourite shows. All you need to do is create and name a new playlist, and drag and drop your hand-picked collection of radio channels to the playlist you have created. All radio channels are identified by radio icons that sit at the left-hand side of their names. It’s a series of four curved lines that decrease to a point, and looks to some imaginations a little like a tree.

Adding compatible channels

1. First of all you need the URL for the radio stream. This isn’t always the same URL of the channel’s website, but it will usually be included within the link to the broadcast. As these sometimes direct radio listeners to a third-party ISP that handles the radio streaming, the easiest way to identify the URL is iTunes itself.

2. If you’ve managed to find the correct URL for the stream, you just need to navigate to the ‘Advanced’ drop-down menu. Select it and choose ‘Open Stream’ in the menu that appears. After few moments, the radio show should start in iTunes and will be visible in your library listing. If you like what you’re hearing you just need to drag and drop the stream description from your library into your own personal radio playlist as you can’t add it to the iTunes radio directory. Helpfully, iTunes automatically adds the radio station to your library, so you can listen to it in the future but it’s even better if you add it to your personal radio playlist as it will be easier to find there.

3. If you can’t find, or aren’t certain of, the streams’ URL, just launch the channel you have found so it begins playing in iTunes. Now navigate to your library listing, look for the radio icon, and check it matches your new channel’s name. if it does, all you need now to do is drag and drop it into your personal playlist, so you can access it at leisure in future from within iTunes.

iTunes and the radio star

To expand the available list of radio shows, you need to enable iTunes to play internet radio shows you find using your browser. To do this you need to launch iTunes, and navigate to ‘Preferences’ in the drop-down iTunes menu. A screen will appear which shows a series of tabbed options, select ‘Advanced’.

The menu is divided into three zones. The setting you need to apply is about half-way down. It’s called ‘Use iTunes for internet music playback’ and you’ll see a ‘Set’ button to the right of its name. Click on this, and iTunes will be set to play internet music streams by default.

In future, when you click on a link to an online radio channel your browser will automatically launch iTunes to play the show. This also means that when you come across a channel that iTunes supports you’ll know about it.

Easy but incomplete

What about radio stations that aren’t included within the iTunes list?

Apple’s media player can handle any QuickTime-supported format, but the fact is that so many online radio channels choose the incompatible Windows Media Player, or Real Player formats.

It’s incredibly frustrating that these broadcasters don’t choose to implement true cross-platform broadcasting support. The BBC last year said that demand for adding such support wasn’t sufficient to justify the investment. If you’re an iPod-toting iTunes warrior, you should write to broadcasters and demand parity. Or get a DAB radio.

It’s also disappointing because the sad truth is that you cannot easily access these channels through iTunes. It is, of course, possible to record them using software that can convert the shows to an iPod-happy format, but it may not seem worth the effort.

Thousands of Channels

If you want to access more channels than iTunes will support, Griffin Technology’s radio ‘Shark’ is the perfect partner. The device is compatible with Macs and PCs and can record any AM or FM radio broadcast in real time. It’s programmable, and lets you pause a show and return to it at a later time (time-shifting), and transfer any recorded broadcast to iTunes and an iPod.

The company will soon ship its TuneCenter iPod dock. This remote controlled dock connects to a TV or stereo system, shows what you’re playing on television, and has built-in WiFi connectivity. That last feature means the dock will happily access thousands of pre-programmed channels of internet radio over your wireless connection, all of which you can navigate through on the TV screen using the remote control.