The Early Days of Internet Radio
It’s often the people on the edges of a technology who discover entirely new ways to use it. And the early days of internet radio are no exception.
Internet radio uses digital files to stream audio content in real time to computers and applications. Using data compression and other techniques, it offers superior quality with only as much bandwidth as necessary.
The Early Years
Internet radio streaming is now fully mainstream, with apps allowing listeners to access their favorite stations from anywhere in the world. But it wasn’t always this way. As the internet evolved to become more reliable, people began experimenting with it as a broadcasting medium.
The first internet radio station was launched in 1993 by computer expert Carl Malmud. His station, dubbed “Internet Talk Radio,” focused on interviews with public figures in industries like technology and science.
At the time, the internet was new and fragile, and broadcasts suffered from frequent technical problems and interruptions. Additionally, starting an internet radio station was expensive, and many early stations closed down due to lack of funding. However, this early experiment helped pave the way for internet radio’s success today. With the advent of broadband and improved audio compression formats such as MP3, radio on the internet became viable. This allowed a wide range of broadcasters to create online content and reach a global audience.
Then came Napster
From a marketing perspective, internet radio is one of the most versatile broadcast formats. It can deliver all the audio-only commercials, sponsorships and jingles that traditional radio can, but it also allows companies to make revenue from graphic advertisements and pop-up banners.
Unlike terrestrial and satellite broadcasts, which are controlled by large media conglomerates, internet radio stations are free to air on any device with a web browser. This gives internet broadcasters the opportunity to appeal to small, niche communities of listeners with specialized music tastes or interests.
This period also saw the rise of personalized internet radio through services like Pandora and Spotify. These services offer users playlists curated by their favorite artists, as well as personalized recommendations for new music that fits their listening habits. As a result, these internet radio platforms have become increasingly popular over the past 25 years. They have made it easier than ever to incorporate radio into everyday life.
Then came iTunes
Streaming internet radio packages audio content into files that can be transmitted over the internet in real-time to mobile devices and apps. These streams are accessed through Wi-Fi, cellular data plans, and Ethernet connections, expanding the accessibility of online broadcasts to all kinds of devices.
The internet opened up opportunities for small internet radio stations to develop and grow. However, the digital era also introduced new challenges, especially regarding copyright law and royalties. Many smaller web radio stations were forced to shut down because they couldn’t afford to pay the required royalty fees.
The rise of iTunes brought streaming internet radio into the mainstream. Now, anyone can create an online radio station and broadcast to the entire world with just a laptop and internet access. This allows for greater personalization and interactivity. Additionally, it allows radio to reach audiences that couldn’t otherwise be reached through traditional broadcasting. Lastly, it provides a platform for underrepresented voices to be heard on a global scale.
Then came streaming
As technology continued to evolve, the ability to stream audio on the internet became easier. As a result, online radio started to grow in popularity.
Technologist Carl Malmud founded the first internet talk radio station in 1993. His show, Internet Talk Radio, interviewed a computer expert each week.
While this was a short-lived experiment, it set the stage for future internet radio stations. This era also saw the rise of platforms that aggregated thousands of internet radio stations, making them easier for people to access.
It was also during this time that companies like RealAudio and Live365 began offering software that allowed anyone to broadcast online. This democratization of internet radio, along with advances in file formats that made streaming using less data possible, helped fuel its growth. As the decade progressed, internet radio started to become more regulated as webcasters were required to pay royalties on music played.