Cyber vs. Sirius, by Michelle A. Rivera

When it comes down to which is better, internet radio vs. terrestrial radio vs. satellite radio, it all depends on whom you ask! We’ve all got our favorites, and I know I was pretty happy when I learned that All Things Considered and Car Talk (both on National Public Radio) were available somewhere other than my car radio and whenever I wanted to hear them. That’s something you can’t get from regular or even satellite radio.

It turns out there are really quite a few other benefits to internet radio. For example, it can be heard and followed all over the world, and with great “reception.” No worries about scratchy sounds or dead air. If you are in Germany and you want to hear an internet radio program in China, or Tennessee, or around the corner, you simply type in the URL and you’re connected. You can communicate with the host in real time, sending e-mails, photos, videos and entire files. This is a great thing for Americans living outside the country because they are expatriates or are serving in the military or for those who cannot find exactly what they want in terms of specialized music, talk or comedy on a regular radio show. If you want to share your favorite W4CY radio show with your friends in California or Australia, you simply give them the URL and they’re there! How cool is that?

You can also “pause” a radio show when you need to. If you usually listen to Pet Talk Café on W4CY on Monday nights and you missed it you can always go back and listen to it whenever you need to. And, you can pause the show to go take a phone call or bake some brownies or whatever. You can’t do that with radio unless you invest in some ancillary Tivo-like equipment which isn’t, presently, available. Getting programs this way is a sort of on-demand service without the premium prices. If you’re a fan of “Mondays with M & M Chick Chatter”, you can always listen to it the next morning if Monday’s at 10:00 PM is not the best time for you. Fair warning though, a martini will enhance your Chick Chatter experience greatly but we don’t recommend them for breakfast.  You become an archive subscriber in order to hear your favorite shows over and over again.

Because terrestrial radio depends on sponsors, it is only effective within certain markets. In other words, if the sponsor is, say, a local law firm in Knoxville, Tennessee, they would have no reason to pay for advertising during a radio program that broadcasts outside the area where they are practicing and seeking clients. But with internet radio, the sponsors can be local or long-distance. You can learn about non-profit childrens’ groups in Bangkok or Yorkie Poo rescue shelters in Buffalo. You get to learn about the locals where the internet radio is being broadcast from, but you can also hear of global goods and services as well.

Terrestrial radio also is subject to all kinds of licensing restrictions which usually confines the broadcaster to a specific state or region. Internet radio has no such restrictions. There are no FCC regulations either, so radio hosts can say or do pretty much anything they like, as long as it’s not illegal for other reasons, like maybe, I don’t know, webcasting a “sporting event’ from a ranch in Nevada.

Internet radio is interactive in a way that other radio broadcasting can never be. Sure, you can call a radio show and be on the air, but can you send pictures or video or emails to not just the host but whomever else is listening and participating at the time? That is a big advantage when showing off your latest hunk boyfriend during Chick Chatter or sharing your new puppy, Mr. Fluffernutter with the world during Pet Health Café.

As with everything else, the future of internet radio vs. AM/FM or even satellite radio comes down to economics. It costs much less to stream over the internet than it does for regular radio. No need for those huge antennas, no transmitters, no specially-equipped studios, no NASA spaceships needed. It’s pretty simple, really.

And maybe you can’t carry your laptop with you on your morning run, but you can always download your favorite program to your iPod or MP3 player for later on down the road. And yes, I’m pretty sure that there’s an app for that.

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