Wednesday, January 25, 2012

February LIMARC column: Some thoughts on streaming radio and EchoLink

This is an article I wrote for the Long Island Mobile Amateur Radio Club for their February newsletter (e-log).

Last month I wrote about something not directly radio-related, but of interest to a lot of our members, especially after polling people as to what version of Windows they were still using.  This month I would like to spout off a bit about something a little more radio-related.  

To start, I think to keep some of this relevant, I must mention that I started out as a

Shortwave Listener in the early seventies, and until this past year was still a radio listener and collector, but not a ham.  Computers came later for me.  The combination of the two hobbies manifested itself in the early days of streaming audio.  I can remember installing a very early version of Real Player on my 386, and listening to NPR news on my computer.  It was amazing to me that I could do that, but got old after awhile.  Obviously that part of the hobby has changed drastically now.  The Shoutcast streaming directory alone has over 49,000 streams listed.  Add to that the stations that stream through StreamTheWorld, Icecast, and many flash-based website-only streams and the choices make me dizzy.  

Streaming audio has reached the point of being a regular part of my week.  I regularly listen to Radio Paradise for music, and KCRW from California.  My little hometown station, WKNY-AM is even streaming and I can listen to the local news from home.  Many international broadcasters have gone to the Internet as well.  The sad side of that story is that many of them no longer broadcast on Shortwave.  Unfortunately this is a sign of the times.  The question I get from people though is, do I actually enjoy listening to shortwave radio on the Internet?

The answer is both yes, and no.  To explain this, lets draw an analogy.  Many people love to fish.  They enjoy the challenge of fishing, while still being able to relax.  Catching that big fish, or something you’ve never caught before can be very satisfying.  Much like shortwave or ham DX-ing.  Catching Radio Kiribati for the first time, or talking to a ham on Ascension Island is, as in fishing, a great catch!  So, for you fishermen among us, would you enjoy finding a spot on your favorite lake, where you could catch any fish, without a fight, that existed anywhere in the world, just by searching for it first on your computerized fishing pole?  Do you want to catch a Yangtze River sturgeon?  Enter it in the search box, and it’s on your line.  Would this be enjoyable to most fisherman?  The short answer is no, it wouldn’t be.  It might be interesting for a little while (as was my first foray into Internet radio mentioned above), but would get boring rather quickly.  Why then do I say I also enjoy it at times?  Because I frequently refer to myself as an information addict.  I like to know about things.  Anything that has substance can hold my interest for awhile if presented well.  There are shortwave listeners out there that don’t just chase DX and utility stations.  Some of us also like the programming.  So in the example of the perpetual fish supply, the person that would appreciate it would be an amateur or professional ichthyologist.  

I like pulling up the news from the BBC, or talk shows from Canada.  Both of these examples have almost eliminated their shortwave services.  Even Antarctica has streaming radio.  One of the best sources for online international broadcasting is WRN, at .  Also, PrimeTimeShortwave has links to most international broadcasters’ home pages at .  Some app recommendations for you mobile users are TuneIn Radio for both Android and iPhone, and OoTunes for iPhone only.  Shoutcast has an iPhone app in the app store, and on Android you would install Winamp for Android to get at the Shoutcast directory.  For CBS affiliates try on the iPhone or Android, since CBS blocks streaming on most of their stations from other apps.  There are many other streaming apps, but these for me have been the most polished.

There is a connection in all of this back to Ham Radio.  EchoLink is not without a certain amount of controversy.  I use EchoLink to get to our repeaters when I am not able to with a radio.  I’ve used it in my home which seems to sit right in a dead spot between Selden and Glen Oaks.  I’ve used it from Upstate NY, where I spend quite a bit of time too.  I think that this is an acceptable use of the technology.  It would also make a nice interface to a rig at home for when I’m running around the house or want to monitor local traffic from elsewhere.  I can see where it may be enjoyable to connect to other repeaters around the country just for curiosity, but, in my opinion, contacts of this type should never qualify in any sort of official statistics.  They should not be deserving of a QSL card either.  In this way it is just like shortwave stations that stream online.  It really takes the challenge out of the hobby.  

I’m curious enough about people that I may try connecting around to some other repeaters in the future, but as with the perpetual fishing lake, and streaming audio, just to satisfy my addiction to information gathering.  What are your thoughts on all of this?  Feel free to post in the comments on this over at my blog ( ) or email me at .  73, and happy computing!

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