What Is Internet Radio?

Radio is one of the oldest forms of mass media in the world. Around in one form or another since the early 1900s, radio has been a part of everything from simple two-way communication, to news and emergency information, to entertainment, advertising, music, even cultural revolution. Through it all, radio has persisted and evolved like no other form of media before it, or in the years since it’s proliferation.

With radio's age and history, you'd be excused for thinking that the time of radio has come and gone, the downward side of its bell curve reached, and that the era of radio's relevance is coming to close.

But you’d be wrong.

Perhaps predictions of radio’s demise would have been more likely to come about if not for advances in technology in recent years. The internet and smartphones have breathed new life into radio, and even expanded what we consider radio to be.

Broadcast & Satellite

When the term “internet radio” first entered the lexicon, it was most an alternative to terrestrial, or broadcast, radio. Now, the two are virtually indistinguishable. Almost all broadcast radio is also available as internet radio, and some of what is produced as internet radio ends up being aired on broadcast radio.

In addition to the traditional AM and FM radio bands, there is also satellite radio (SiriusXM in the US), which provides hundreds of stations on as many themes, genres, and topics. Like many AM and FM stations, satellite radio providers also put their content online (for a fee), and frequently make that content available on-demand.

Streaming & On-Demand

The internet is not only a re-broadcaster (or streamer to be more technical) of traditional radio content, but there are also live-streaming internet-only radio stations available through services like iHeartRadio, or Apple Music’s Beats 1, to name a few. These function the same way as traditional broadcast radio stations in every way but one – the actual broadcasting.

Pandora and Slacker also fall under the description of internet radio, though they take a much different approach. Not strictly live or on-demand, Pandora and others of its like use an advanced algorithm and user feedback to playback music which is tailored to an individual’s tastes.

But maybe the most popular usage of internet radio comes in the form of completely on-demand content through companies like Spotify, Tidal, and Apple Music. These services give users access to massive libraries of on-demand music and spoken audio.

Podcasting

One of the most innovative and inventive spaces in internet radio right now is in podcasting. Podcasts (like broadcast, but for an iPod) are original, spoken audio content available for streaming or download on-demand, through apps like Stitcher and the Podcasts app for iPhone. Podcasts can be about any topic and take almost any form you can imagine. Some are scripted, some are interview based, some are highly edited and have high production values. The closest broadcast radio comparison probably comes in the form of public radio or talk radio, but podcasts are much more expansive and diverse in their types content, formatting and lengths.

One of the best parts of podcasting is that almost anyone can make a podcast and submit it for inclusion in the major distribution channels. Another great thing about podcasts is that they are exploding in popularity, with some generating ad audience numbers (and therefore advertising dollars) on par with popular TV shows.

Many companies have also started to produce their own podcasts as a form of content marketing. These provide a great way to reach an audience on a more intimate and personal level, communicating a company’s message more effectively, and increasing brand loyalty.

User Generated Content

Lastly, perhaps one of the most interesting and creative areas of internet radio is also one of the hardest to pin down. User Generated Content (UGC), which anybody can upload, has become incredibly popular on the internet, especially through SoundCloud and YouTube (even without any video). Just like with video content, users are creating their own music and spoken audio content through these platforms – and finding a significant audience. New artists have been discovered after posting music on SoundCloud, and people have even been able to create their own channels where audiences gather to hear the latest, blurring the lines between hobby, career and “side hustle.”

While radio has been around for over 100 years, internet radio is very much still in its youth. The prospects of internet radio are trending up more and more every year, with audiences growing rapidly, companies seeing new opportunities to get their message out, directly to a listener’s ears.