Internet radio offers many more radio stations than the AM/FM dial and even satellite radio. If you have a Windows PC or Macintosh with...

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Internet radio offers many more radio stations than the AM/FM dial and even satellite radio.


If you have a Windows PC or Macintosh with a sound card and playback software (most computers come with both) and Internet access, you’re good to go to thousands of Web radio stations around the world.


You won’t be alone. As of January, the Internet radio audience has grown to an estimated 35 million each month, according to a study by Arbitron/Edison Media Research.


Listening to Web radio is more enjoyable if you have a broadband connection, because most programming is streamed, which means you listen to the show as it comes across the Net to your computer.


It’s not actually downloaded, so it doesn’t take up space on your hard drive. That is, unless you want to download a particular show to listen to later, though many offer streamed programs on demand, meaning you can go to the site, pick a show that’s already been broadcast and listen to it at your leisure.


If you use a dial-up connection instead of a DSL or cable modem, listening may be a bit frustrating because the audio is more compressed (lower quality), and it may sound choppy or pause frequently (when it can’t travel fast enough to provide continuous sound).


Perhaps that’s just one more reason to upgrade to a broadband connection. In 2004, about 45 percent of U.S. households with Internet access had a broadband connection, according to Nielsen/Net Ratings. Those numbers also are steadily increasing.


On the downside, you’ll probably experience some frustration whether you have dial-up or broadband, because the media player software on your computer won’t play back all radio programs. Each player uses its own streaming format, and most broadcasts are available in only one or two formats.


To keep all options open, you would need two or three of the major players installed, which include Windows Media Player, RealPlayer, QuickTime and Musicmatch Jukebox (downloadable free versions are available).


Let’s click to a few news and music radio sites and see what’s actually available free and how good it sounds using a DSL broadband connection.


Currently, the only player installed on my Mac is QuickTime. I want to listen to news, so I go on the Net to BBC news (news.bbc.co.uk) and find it requires RealPlayer. So I try CNN radio (www.cnn.com) and discover I need RealPlayer or Windows Media Player. I get similar results at a few other radio sites.


Using a different approach, I open iTunes on my computer and click on Radio to get the directory. From there, I can go to radio Web sites of all varieties, but not many news sites. The one all-news station I find is KCRW World News, which seems (after a half hour of listening) pretty good.


As for music, there are radio shows under categories such as 50s/60s Pop, 70s/80s Pop, Alt/Modern Rock, Blues, Classical, Country Hard Rock/Metal, Jazz and more. I listen to several choices under these categories and am impressed by the sound quality and pleased I can find music I like.


I’ve been listening through good-quality external speakers connected to my computer, which I recommend if you plan to listen much; built-in computer speakers generally don’t produce particularly good sound.


Alternatively, you can listen through headphones and get excellent sound. In many cases, you can download shows and move them to an MP3 player for listening anywhere.


Turning to my PC, I open Windows Media Player and press the Radio tab to access the radio directory. News/Talk/Sports has only 11 choices, but they include BBC news, MSNBC news, and a few NPR streams from different locations. I listen for a while, and they sound smooth and clear.


There are quite a few music choices, and yet when I browse through them, I discover most are available only to Radio Plus subscribers. I’m also discovering the free stations have quite a few ads.


Given that Internet radio broadcasters have to pay royalties to play copyright music, the trade-off is that listeners either have to pay subscription fees to get more appealing choices and fewer ads, or put up with fewer choices and lots of ads.


Another option is to listen to podcasts (Getting Started, July 16), which are (or at least originated as) informal, personal broadcasts, and these evidently don’t have to pay royalties.


In sum: Internet radio provides programming with good sound quality and a wide range of content, though it may be a little harder to find free programming with few commercials.


Even if you don’t become a regular listener (who tunes in about five hours a week), you should at least try Web radio so you’ll know if you like it or not.


For further information and help finding thousands of Internet radio stations worldwide, go to www.live365.com. Other resources include: www.live-radio.net/info.shtml and www.answers.com/topic/web-radio.


Write Linda Knapp at lknapp@seattletimes.com; to read other Getting Started columns, go to: www.seattletimes.com/gettingstarted