A Web Radio Boom Box?
Tuning into Web radio stations used to take a PC and a lot of surfing. Now, an Internet start-up is taking Net radio back to the future--to the golden age of clock radios and stereo receivers.
Kerbango is developing an Internet radio appliance that connects you to thousands of Internet stations without even booting up your PC. The radio is roughly the same size as a conventional boom box and as uncomplicated, say Kerbango representatives. It will come with an old-fashioned cord, connecting not to an electrical outlet but to a high-speed or dial-up Net connection. The yet-to-be-named radio device is scheduled to ship next year; a wireless version may follow.
On Wednesday, Kerbango relaunched its Web site, an Internet audio directory for use with the radio. Now, you can sift its directory of thousands of Web radio stations through keyword searches, or by format or location. Unique to Kerbango's index is the signal strength rating, giving a hint of the station's reception, says Jim Gable, president of the year-old firm.
The site and eventually the radios will monitor signal quality and reliability of Internet broadcasts to avoid Internet buffers that have a nasty habit of fizzing out radio streams, Kerbango representatives say.
Kerbango supports both Real Audio and Windows Media streaming technologies. The company teamed with RealNetworks to offer the RealSystem G2 streaming media technology on Web radio devices.
Streaming quality has improved significantly in a short time, says Jonathan Fitch, Kerbango chief executive officer. "With the Real Player G2 or the new Windows Media Player, plus on a wide Internet connection, you can get better-than-FM broadcast quality," he says.
Unlike FM radio, which is limited by frequency range, Internet radio draws a global audience at a low cost. You can just as easily listen to a Seattle grunge station as the all-Beethoven all-the-time station in Santiago, Chile, Fitch notes. Kerbango promises to constantly update its database so you'll always find a current list.
As with your car radio, Kerbango's Internet audio directory allows for five preset stations, which you can put on your desktop. Still, finding a good Web radio station is not as simple as scanning for FM frequencies. Kerbango's directory describes each station so you can get a sense of its playlist before taking the time to connect.
"Many directory sites are aligned to a particular format, technology, or corporation," Fitch says. Kerbango's directory is a general resource.
Although now focused on its Web services, Kerbango's mission is its dedicated device for Internet radio. Another company, Sonicbox, recently announced its PC add-on tuner that routes Web radio to your stereo for under $50.
Kerbango representatives contend that non-PC devices are the future of Internet radio.
"Radio listening is a different experience than TV viewing or Web surfing," Fitch says. Computing technology should be embedded in devices that do one thing--streaming audio--well, he says.
Kerbango's site will deliver a range of Internet radio services to device owners, such as offering a button that lets you buy music, learn about an artist, or connect with advertisers, Gable says.
"First there was AM, then FM, and now IM. Internet mode, that is," Gable adds.