25 Top Streaming Radio Music Stations To Expand Your Mind
The Web 2.0-savvy are telling us interactive radio is taking over. Services like Last.Fm, Mercora, Pandora and Musicovery have ballooned in popularity in the past year to an extent that traditional programmed radio is starting to feel passι, as if the pending US copyright disaster wasn't threatening enough.
11/8/07 by Scabrous Birdseed
It's a pity, because traditional streaming music radio (a technology that's been around for over a decade) is finally starting to come of age. Professional and quality amateur internet radio stations are rife, normal radio stations from nearly every country on the globe are streaming live, there are literally thousands to be found if you search long enough. The advantages from a user standpoint are clear - the music is chosen by an insightful person, with access to music you've never heard of and with a feel how to bring tracks together to fit a particular sound or mood.
This article is a celebration of the possibilities the medium has to offer. As such it's geographically and thematically broad in scope and will likely contain at least some stations you'll find unlistenable. Don't worry, there's dozens more. To minimise annoyance I've chosen only radio stations in cross-platform streaming MP3, AAC+ or Ogg formats, avoiding third-party programs like RealPlayer, flash web pages that have to stay open all the time, or worse proprietary, ad-financed toolbars or services like Live365. To listen you will need a good, format-compatible media player like WinAmp, iTunes or MPlayer.
SomaFM: Boot Liquor Website Stream (128K) alt. country
This is the one many of you will have heard of. SomaFM is the daddy of all internet radio stations lovingly crafted by dedicated, knowledgeable individuals and streamed reliably and competently. Unfortunately most of their stations tend to be a bit dull (lots of chillout and downbeat breaks) but a couple stand out for their surprising sense of fun: Illinois Street Lounge, crazy exotica from before the Beatles came around and demanded pop be "authentic", and the country channel, Boot Liquor. Compiled by Roy Batchelor, it contains some of the most filthy-minded cow-tipper americana you'll ever hear, and every bit of it is brilliant.
Rinse FM Website Stream (64K) grime, reggae and house
Ask people which city has the most interesting underground radio culture, and one of the answers will inevitably be London. London pirate radio stations, broadcasting in secret from hidden locations, have been a major driving force in creating genres ranging from drum and bass to UK garage and grime. The problem is that if you don't live within 30 miles of, say, Bromley-by-Bow, you're never going to hear them. Until now. Rinse FM is probably the most high-profile pirate (Dizzee Rascal used to DJ here), and offers a tight, professional schedule of every major pirate genre except drum and bass, but let's face it that's fairly pants these days anyway.
Hawaiian Rainbow Website Stream (32K) Hawaiian
Don't we all wish we were on a tropical island instead of at the office? This mixture of weird Hawaiian falsetto singing soft rock and sound effects of the surf gently hitting the shore under the swaying palm trees will either (a) take you there in the mind or (b) mercilessly taunt you. Depending on your mindset.
Radio Party Website Stream (96K) manele
What's the most exciting genre mixing modern urban beats and strange, sweaty local flavours? Reggaeton, surely? Or the intensely hyped Angolan kuduro? Here are a couple of other options. First out is brilliant Romanian gypsy genre manele, which is some sort of mixture of house, reggaeton, hip-hop, Indian film music, Arabic and Turkish pop and Balkan jazz, and one of the fastest developing genres ever. Catch it before it's turned into something else, on a channel that's actually wildly popular with the Romanians themselves.
Bongo Radio Website Stream (128K) Tanzanian hip-hop and pop
Tanzanian "bongo flava" hip-hop is the other brilliant one. Although I guess labelling it hip-hop is increasingly questionable the days - one track will sound like a classic hip-hop workout, while the next one will sound like traditional Swahili dance music slightly spruced up. Or like reggeaton. Or like bhangra. You might have noticed that I've got a thing for genres that haven't totally gelled yet... Africa (or rather, the expatriate African Diaspora) is clearly the breeding ground of some excellent music radio by the way, other stations to try is the french-language Afro-Station and the Ghanaian Uniq Radio which is full of marvellous hip-life goodness.
Radio R1 Live Website Stream (128K) goth and darkwave, industrial, ebm
I think goth, ebm and industrial music makes for fairly good workplace radio. It's got drive (it's not called industrial for nothing), it's generally unintelligible and often surprisingly groovy. R1 Live is German (always a good thing when it comes to these things), focussed on synthesiser-based "darkwave" sounds and very good when you're whipping yourself into an adrenalin-fueled frenzy to reach deadline. As an alternative, try Ultra Dark Radio or Digital Gunfire both of which will occasionally throw in some futurepop, a genre thats so preposterous it should have you in stitches.
Pirate Radio 100.3 FM KQLZ Los Angeles Website Stream (128K) 80s rock
It's at this point we say good bye to all the readers who associate radio listening with some sort of dignity. Or sanity. Because this station is about 80s hair metal. Which, if you were born in the seventies is awful, po-faced, underclass crap, badly overproduced, drained of anything resembling metal or rock. To me, the eighties kid, it's just catchy (and kitchy!) commercial pop of a very high calibre, and Pirate Radio (which isn't actually pirate radio) manages to pick out the gems and many overlooked, dare I say it, classics. Come on, you have to appreciate a station with the slogan "we suck less"!
GuyanaNJ Desi Radio Website Stream (96K) caribbean and indian music
You might notice we're on a schedule of continent-skipping right now. Next we're hitting the South American country of Guyana. Except it doesn't think of itself as South American at all, associating itself with (a) The Caribbean and (b) South Asia. The result is a radio station that's a delightful mix of bollywood, bhangra, reggae, soca and the genre that combines all of the above, chutney. Well scheduled and apparently popular locally, this is a great station for all your Guyanan needs. Hrm.
Pig Radio Website Stream (128K) mixed
Pig Radio is the only properly eclectic channel featured on here. It's brilliant for people who absolutely do not value any sort of consistency, being a mixture of banging, underground dance beats and, er, fairly mainstream indie pop. Still, you're constantly wondering what those crazy Italians (who else?) are going to throw up next, which is surely a good thing. Nowt wrong with the selection either, I just can't spot the supposed audience.
Thug Zone Website Stream (128K) dirty south hip hop
Here's another one you might have heard of. It's featured on the iTunes internal radio list after all. It's an unapologetic, professional, high-quality channel dedicated to one of the most dynamic genres today, southern hip-hop. With DJs from most major southern cities, it's got the local scenes completely covered and you really feel they're coming from the right place with this stuff. Houston, not New York.
GHM Radio Website Stream (56K) christian gospel house
Sometimes just the description of a site's music can teach you stuff about life. I always used to think Gospel House music was something used by my more E-headed friends to try to reach some sort of drug-fueled false epiphany. But apparently there are real Christians who are actually deeply into the stuff, and see the lyrics and feelings as meaningful in their own right, listen to the stuff actively, work out to it... which of course makes you listen to the music on this station in a completely different way. Wow.
Electro Radio Website Stream (128K) electro house
Sometimes it's great to have a station that doesn't mince about. That calls a spade a spade and does exactly what it says on the can and nothing else. Electro Radio plays electro house, using only professionally pre-mixed megamixes, no talking, no trailers, no bloody deep house, no progressive house, no pretentious crap. It may seem like a fairly straightforward approach (after all, if you want another genre why not switch channels instead?) but there are literally no other channels that do this. I know, I've searched.
ABF Clubbing Website Stream (192K) mixed club music
Okay, one last electronic dance music station. Supposedly the best clubbing city in the world right now is Paris, and this is the closest thing us mortals are going to get to actually being in a club like Le Paris Paris. All the Paris house, electro and weird-stuff greats are here, mixed up with whatever else the DJs feel is appropriate to throw in. It's got a sister channel too with last year's hot Paris genre, minimal Berlin techno, if you're into that sort of thing.
LeMixx No Website Stream (128K) electric boogie and 80s funk
Another thing the French are really, really good at is finding rare-groove gems of early 1980s post-disco boogie and funk. Honestly. I'm not sure why, but it's only the French who seem to be actively pursuing this stuff, and its influence can clearly be heard on the new club music of the previous station. Anyway, this has great material, picks it well, rarely runs duds, and it's easily one of the stations I play most often.
Update: LeMixx have added a Soulful channel as well. It's an unusually good selection of the otherwise fairly dull genre of eighties soul.
Pulsradio 8.0 Website Stream (192K) 80s hits
I have to include something vaguely hit-oriented, don't I? Or scare away all the Top40 listeners. This is an 80s pop/rock/dance hit channel, but wait! It just plays the good hits. Yes, it'll play Prince and Madonna's radical "Into The Groove", but no Eurythmics or "Come On Eileen"! Plus it will throw in the occasional italo-dance, hi-nrg or Canada disco slammer. Now if you're just interested in italo and hi-nrg, I can recommend the brilliantly dutch Radio Stad Den Haag as a tasty side-dish, complete with dead-pan comments in the world's funniest language.
PHC Radio Website Stream (128K) punk, hardcore, psychobilly
Another thing this list usually tries to avoid is too heavily programmed stations. It's so easy to switch stations that you don't have to keep silly schedules. Still I guess the Canadian punks' idea of having one programme a day works pretty well. Who doesn't want an all psychobilly Friday? I've yet to listen to it on a Saturday (I do have a life) but a Canada-only punk day does sound fairly interesting... Oh and the station in general is great and appropriately put together and clearly made by knowledgeable staff and all that decadent bourgeois crap.
FM 101 Website Stream (24K) Uzbek mainstream
Imagine a completely normal radio station. It has silly phone-in competitions. It has star personality hosts. It plays mostly local hits, but occasionally has a show dedicated to the most popular international material. Now imagine this station is located in Uzbekistan, and you have the privilege of eavesdropping on what life is like in a place you're never likely to go to in real life. That's the power of web radio. (Pity about the bitrate, Uzbek pop is actually pretty good.)
SLAY Radio Website Stream (128K) c64 remixes
Now here's another genre I completely dismissed before tuning into a web radio station. C64 remix is a genre whose basic principle is taking tunes made on the advanced-for-its-time-but-still-very-primitive SID chip from the Commodore 64 computer, then rerecording them with modern instruments, both electronic and regular. The limitations of the original sound coupled with the much richer textures of the new interpretations gives it a strange, light, dancing, slightly sad feel. Or maybe it's just me. It's unusual, anyway, and SLAY Radio is the premier forum for the stuff, with occasional live shows.
Kawaii-radio Website Stream (128K) game, anime and jpop
Japan is one of the chief purveyors of astounding musical crap in the world. The owners of this station have, heroically, waded through the scene to find the few good things that remain. And I mean the entire scene incidental music from cartoon shows, straight face acoustic pop, video game tunes, list-based jpop... It's amazing how its not all just garbage, and in fact is surprisingly fun in parts.
Swiss Groove Website Stream (128K) jazzy grooves
Swiss Groove is a great example of a mood station. It plays funk soul, house, electronica, jazz, latin and world music and supposedly includes a series of different shows, but every time I tune in it's got the same feel: its mellow, sophisticated, mid-tempo and mid-energy. Good alternative to the plethora of electronica-only stations that try for something similar, and a constantly evolving and very ambitious selection.
Cult Radio A-Go-Go Website Stream (128K) "cult", supposedly
A very strange mixture of incidental film music, unusual music perfomances ranging from chanson to punk, audio tracks from old hollywood film trailers, sound effects records and comedy albums. The owners seem to have taken anything and everything that could possibly be included in the concept of cult and run with it. Fun though generally a bit inconsistent.
Soulconnexion Website Stream (128K) rare groove soul
Now soul is a genre where picking great obscure recordings is a sport more than in any other. Soulconnexion wins by a mile out of all the internet stations it never falls into the temptation of including the merely obscure, here quality is the constant watchword. Another good alternative is Starpoint Radio which has proper, middle-aged English men talking between every track.
Radio IO Acoustic Website Stream (128K) acoustic guitar pop
Warning! This has ads. And the occasional Eric Clapton track. Still, for a totally mainstream, corporate acoustic rock radio station it's not bad at all, with good folkie and americana selections mixed with surprisingly non-grating smooth pop. It's great not to have any of the technical workouts that plague other acoustic guitar channels.
Technicolor Web of Sound Website Stream (64K) 60s pyschedelic pop
60s psychedelic pop before it went all progressive and stale is on offer here. Surprisingly, this is one fo the few stations with some sort of oldies format to focus on quality rather than mere popularity it's rare to find people making web radio out of quality obscure beat recordings or rockabilly recordings or something. Still, it's good to have TWOS for when you want to get all hippied up.
BigUpRadio Sweet Soca Website Stream (128K) soca
I can't finish this article before throwing in something from my favourite region, the Caribbean. BigUpRadio has a brilliant soca-focussed channel with the best in the West Indies sound from the Bahamas to Trinidad. It also has a good Jamaican dancehall channel. Then for Puerto Rican reggaeton go to Perreo Radio which despite being from the US is still excellent. Zouk Station covers the French-speaking islands. The Dutch-creole caribbean is covered by RadioFruz which is good but doesn't include nearly enough bubbling. And that's just scratching the surface...
There's literally a whole world of possibilities.