You’ve got iTunes? Then you’ve got radio, bigtime!

21 Jun

This is what you see when you click the “Radio” icon in iTunes. Each folder contains dozens of radio stations.

June 21, 2010

By Geoff Meeker

This week, I was into a discussion on Facebook about the Logitech Boombox, which uses wifi Internet to bring in thousands of radio channels from around the world, when one of my Facebook friends piped in, pointing out that you can do the same thing with iTunes, the music download and library application that supports the ubiquitous iPod.

I poked around a couple of years ago in the Radio section of iTunes, but didn’t mine very deep. I considered it something similar to the FM radio channels that come with your cable package – nice to have, but seldom used.

Honestly, it’s easy to not even notice those five little letters, spelling ‘radio’, in the iTunes menu.

Well, wrap your head around this. Every genre of music you like – and a whole bunch you’ve never even considered – is available in iTunes. And it’s free.

The iTunes program is everywhere – anyone who owns an iPod has it – but I suspect that precious few are aware of the radio function. Let’s change that, right now.

Click ‘Radio’, under the Library heading, in the upper left corner of your iTunes window. It will open a directory of 25 folders – each representing a musical genre, and containing hundreds of live streaming radio stations. Click on the little triangle beside each folder to reveal the channels inside.

Here’s a sampling of the genres available, with the number of radio stations in brackets: Alt Rock (204), Blues (22), Classic Rock (165), Classical (88), Country (125), Electronica (492), Hard Rock & Metal (116), Hip Hop & Rap (144), Jazz (144), Reggae (41), Religious (183), Top 40 (267), plus Seventies (42), Eighties (101) and Nineties (40) music. In all, there are about 4,000 streaming channels available.

Each folder contains a variety of sub-genres, with enough musical diversity to keep you entertained for weeks on end. For example, the Classic Rock folder includes the usual dinosaur rock, but plenty of offbeat stuff too, such as channels dedicated exclusively to Aussie rock, progressive rock, the British invasion, southern rock, and acts like The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, Mike Oldfield and Grateful Dead.

All the categories are like that; the genres keep breaking down and sub-dividing, becoming more intriguing and obscure with every click.

The advantage here is the element of surprise; what I call the ‘radio factor.’ New material is more interesting when heard on radio, and favourite songs are twice as appealing because of their novelty.  Hearing a great old track becomes a ‘moment’, rather than just another tune from the CD collection.

Other, even more interesting folders contain channels you would never pick up, even with a shortwave radio.

The Ambient folder contains 96 channels, ranging from uplifting, spiritual and relaxing to “dark music for tortured souls.” I enjoyed the Birdsong channel, a soothing tonic on a cold, rainy day.

There are folders for Comedy (16), Sports (32) and News & Talk Radio (209). If you like to hear divergent opinion, you’ll be mesmerized by some of the bizarre and outrageous views expressed on Talk Radio, from the U.S. and around the world. You can also pick up broadcasts from CBC Radio in 30 cities and regions, including St. John’s and Labrador.

If you are intrigued by other cultures, and what people are saying – and listening to – in other countries, you will flip over the International folder, which contains 677 stations. This is true ‘world’ music, direct from myriad, far-flung sources.

But my favourite folder is the eclectic one – 225 channels with nothing in common, except being weird, eccentric and offbeat. Here you will find streams devoted to all-blind musicians, campfire music, toddler music, movie soundtracks, old-time radio drama, the music Elvis grew up with, even wacky Christmas songs. And that’s just for starters.

What did I say? No matter what the occasion, or company you keep, iTunes Radio has a soundtrack that’s got you covered. It has the potential to be a major time-waster. You may never buy a song on iTunes again.

And I haven’t even mentioned podcasts yet…

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at


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