Growing up, I listened to the radio a lot. We had this cool old tuner that, every once in a while, would pick up stations from around the country. Turns out, that’s is (was?) a hobby for lots of people, but for me it was just cool to hear slices of a random baseball game from some other part of the country.
The radio became my companion for the long, 11ish hour drives from Rutland to Blacksburg and back (Mass Pike West, 84S, 81S). This was the late 90s, so I had sometimes had a Discman that I would plug into the cassette deck to listen to CDs (if they didn’t skip too much), or would listen to mix tapes made by me or my friends. But, more often than not, I would spend minutes as I drove scanning up and down the dial for some random radio station in the area. Maybe I’d catch a good radio station and hear some song that I really liked. Today, I’d Shazam it and know exactly what it was. Back then, I’d listen longer, hoping to not lose the signal, and wait for the DJ to tell me what it was. Or worse, try to google the lyrics when I got home, and hope to stumble upon the song.
There was something incredibly interesting to me about hearing advertisements for car dealerships in Harrisburg, PA, or catching part of a church service when driving through West Virginia really early in the morning. The worst was losing a station you’d been listening to for an hour or so, after you’d gone 30 minutes catching nothing but static intermixed with the faintest signal.
Today, I still am endlessly entertained by radio (and TV) in other places. Whenever I travel for business and end up renting a car, I’ll find my way to the local rock/indie station, or maybe the local sports station. Listening to people call in and complain about whatever their local team is doing wrong. Arriving at the hotel, I’ll often throw on the TV and watch the local news. Living in Boston, I’m spoiled. I get real, HD news, and everything is, at least, remotely professional. Sometimes, in a smaller city, you get a reminder of what things were like a few years ago.
That whole story is a long preamble to what will likely be a short sell. When flipping through some RSS feeds, I came across a review of Radium. It’s a nice, small Mac app (with a companion iOS app) that makes it easy to listen to internet radio. I know there’s lots of ways to listen to the radio on the internet, but this one just clicked for me. Hit the icon, type in a genre, or more fun, a city, and find a station. When you’re listening, if a song comes on, you know what it is and can add it to a list (and then purchase it through iTunes).
In an age of podcasts, massive streaming music libraries, and satellite radio—also covered by Radium, if you’ve got a subscription—I don’t know why I want to listen to the radio. But for at least a few hours a week, I find myself clicking on a radio station (RadioBDC from Boston, KEXP from Seattle, NPR, random sports radio) and listening and feeling a bit like the old days when it was so exciting to pick up a signal from halfway across the country. Throw in the iOS app, and you can drive your car around while picking up a radio station from Texas, or listening to news talk from Maine.
As a postscript, I should mention that both the MLB and NBA apps for iOS are wonderful for the same reason. Listening to the radio broadcast of a random basketball game, while you walk home from watching the Celtics play, has been one of the pure old-timey joys of living in an always on world.
The app links in here are tagged with my iTunes affiliate link. If you buy something, I might get to buy an extra song someday.