It has been six months since my last Recommended Stations article, so we are long overdue for one of Tech Rap’s most popular semi-regular features. With almost 58,000 radio stations in our data base as of this writing, there is certainly no lack of source material to choose from. Rather than play Internet radio whack-a-mole to find stations, Tech Rap’s Recommended Stations steers you toward standout stations you might not otherwise have discovered on your own. Occasionally I receive an email from a customer inviting me to consider a particular station they really enjoy, and I have included a couple of those suggestions herein. Even if the music from a station on this list does not suit you, I think you will find the background and interviews very interesting.
What exactly does “recommended station” mean?
Allow me a moment to review the criterion for an Internet station to earn the coveted “Tech Rap Recommended” badge. I do not just cruise down the Internet radio station aisle randomly tossing stations into my shopping cart.
First and foremost, the station must sound good. Most Internet stations do, but some sound better than others. Sound quality is subjective, but in the case of Internet stations, the sound quality of any given station is only as good as its source material and the station’s streaming bit rate and audio codec (I identify each recommended station’s bit rate and codec in bold along with its location). I explore this subject in more detail toward the end of this article, so please be sure to read all the way through to the end.
Second, there must be something special, unique, or unusual about the station that makes it especially appealing. In almost every case this comes down to the station’s format.
The third point is reliability. The main reason I do not post Recommended Station articles more often is they are very time consuming. I listen to each recommended station for hours during different times of the day over the course of several weeks, not just because I enjoy the stations, but to personally verify their streams are reliable. The last thing I want to do is recommend a station that streams intermittently or stops streaming altogether. This very thing happened to me for this article. I had composed a lengthy, glowing review about a standout country music station in the UK, only to find it unavailable one day when I tried to tune it. It turns out the station did not have the required license to stream in the USA. So much for that. Although not a prerequisite, I give extra credit if the station is commercial-free, includes song/artists meta data, and responds to my questions.
So, without further delay, let us get into it. Here are nine Tech Rap Recommended Internet radio stations that will transport you back to the 1940s, rock your world in a vintage way, recline your mind, coddle you with classical, introduce you to a completely contrived genre, ease you into some jazzy jams, export your ears to a happy island, and expose you to much musical diversity. Enjoy them wherever you listen to your Como Audio music system.
- WLVN Radio (128 kbps MP3, Montana)
I was checking out a great retro female vocal group called the Blush Fox Trio (think modern day Andrew Sisters) and discovered they host their own radio show on Internet station WLVN. This led me to investigate the station. I donned my G-Man fedora and began pounding the pavement (more accurately, pounding the web) to get the skinny on this station.
Originating from Montana, WLVN is relatively new, celebrating its one-year anniversary next month. The station’s format is music from the 1940s as well as old time radio programs popular during that decade. It is an atomic blast from the past and is the vision of Anthony Liotta, a US Navy and National Guard veteran who is has been employed as a Locomotive Engineer for the last 14 years. I suppose you could call it his own little Montana Project. He bought a 1935 GE tombstone radio and was bitten. Today he has over 20,000 music and radio show files from the 40s. His love for that decade goes well beyond music. He enjoys listening to his station on his period radios and even dresses in period clothing! For Liotta, the 1940s is not just a decade for great music and radio dramas, it is a way of life.
The 1940s are often associated with big bands, but vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Perry Como, Billy Holiday, the Mills Brothers, the Andrew Sisters, Frank Sinatra, and Rosemary Clooney became household names. Country music also became popular with the Grand Ole Opry being one of the most listened to music programs of the time. Rock n’ roll would dominate in the following decade, but until then, big band, jazz, country, and crooners held the nation’s ears captive.
In addition to the aforementioned artists, WLVN also plays Glenn Miller, Stan Kenton, Bing Crosby, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Ethel Merman, Tex Ritter, Benny Berigan, and Spike Jones and His City Slickers. We do not often place our customers on hold, but if we had music on hold, without a doubt, this is the station I would pipe in.
Besides music from the 40’s, WLVN broadcasts OTR (Old Time Radio) shows on the same the day they originally aired back in the 1940s. The station is currently in the year 1941, and this past January it broadcast President Franklin Roosevelt’s inauguration speech. Some of the classic radio shows the station plays include Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, The Shadow, Dick Tracy, The Lone Ranger, Red Skelton, and Superman. WLVN even broadcast’s a troupe from St. Louis that performs new radio theater programs and recreates old ones. Owing to the pandemic, this group of “theater enthusiasts” as they call themselves, cannot perform together live as was the case originally with these kinds of shows. They record their parts separately, add in sound effects, and then merge all the elements to form a complete, expertly crafted program. They fittingly call themselves Quarantine Radio Theater. Catch them the first Tuesday of each month at 8p MST on WLVN.
As I mentioned at the start of this segment, I recently became acquainted with the Blush Fox Trio and purchased their new single That Boy on Amazon. The Blush Fox Trio host a podcast broadcast on WLVN on the first Tuesday of the month at 3pm MST. Quinn Vaira, Savannah Lynn, and Carly Marie discuss swing-era music and treat their listeners to their silky, sultry vocals. I never knew swing could be so sexy.
One new program just added within the last few weeks is Victory Kitchen. Author and historian Sarah Creviston Lee highlights foods, rationing, war-time recipes, and other fascinating food-related tidbits of World War II along with a dash of history. Learn how to make dishes like sausage and vegetable loaf, graham cracker cake, and homemade cherryade. The 1940s never tasted so good. Victory Kitchen airs the first and third Thursday of every month at 5pm MST on WLVN.
By the way, if you miss any of these radio shows you can access them on WLVN’s website, which was co-built by Liotta’s bride, Jenny. The two were married last September after giving birth to WLVN six months prior.
Certainly, there are other Internet radio stations that play music from the 1940s, but with its mix of music, old time radio shows, and relevant podcasts, WLVN truly captures the zeitgeist of the 1940s. The only missing element to add to the authenticity is a smattering of period radio spots and government public service announcements (the Civil Defense, etc.) slipped in between song sets.
Listening to WLVN Radio on my Musica made me recall a great Twilight Zone episode called “Static” in which the main character, Ed Lindsay, is able to tune live broadcasts from the 1940’s on his old upright AM radio console even though the year is 1961. Whenever Lindsay tries to play the old radio programs for his friends, they only hear static, so they dismiss him as crazy. They even go so far as to sell his old radio to a local antique dealer, but Lindsay buys it back. You will not have that problem with WLVN, and no one will think you are crazy (at least not for listening to WLVN).
“We do not often place our customers on hold, but if we had music on hold, without a doubt, this is the station I would pipe in.”
I reached out to Liotta by email (a telegram would have been more appropriate) for more information about his station:
PS: How did WLVN come about?
AL: “WLVN Radio started when a friend of mine said he wished there was a 1940s radio station that played not only music but also weekly scheduled radio shows like back in the 40s. You didn’t just click a screen to hear the next episode of your favorite show back then, you had to wait until the following week. That put a bug in my head to come up with an idea to try and make OTR listening as realistic to the 40s as possible. Originally, I created the station for personal use for my friend and I, who also lives the 1940s lifestyle. We wanted to turn our/my radios on and hear random music and scheduled shows like you would with any radio station. There are other great 1940s radio stations out there but they didn’t have scheduled radio shows that lined up with when the shows aired in the 1940s, such as Jack Benny every Sunday, Burns and Allen on Mondays, Fred Allen on Wednesdays. So, it was kind of a hit and miss when a favorite radio show would play. So, I decided to create WLVN Radio, where there is a weekly schedule and you are able to see what show is airing and on what day and time, just like the old Radio Mirror Magazine. I realized there are more people out there that want to live their lives as realistically as possible to the 1940s as I do and hopefully WLVN Radio adds a little part of realism to their lifestyle.”
PS: Why the double-down on the 1940’s?
AL: “I am a fan of all things 1940s and a big World War 2 history buff….and have been from a very early age. I can remember all my friends listening to the newest music that came out while I was listening to Glenn Miller, The Andrews Sister, etc. It has always been a time period I admired. Both my grandfathers served in World War 2, one was US Army in Europe and my other Grandfather was a civil servant working on Navy planes at NAS Alameda. I guess that is where I got my military blood from. After 9/11, as many men did on 7 December 1941, I enlisted in the US Navy. I served 5 years on an aircraft carrier as an Aviation Ordnance Technician and then went into the Army National Guard as an MP and Weapons Instructor for 6 years. Today, I live my lifestyle as closely as I can to the 1940s, including wearing period clothing at work. I am a Locomotive Engineer for a railroad here in Montana.”
PS: Do you have a favorite song/artist and OTR show from that decade?
AL: “Glenn Miller is definitely my favorite artist- his music just makes you want to jump up and start dancing wherever you are. My favorite radio show hands-down is Jack Benny.”
PS: What’s the dope on the Blush Fox Trio?
AL: “I contacted the Blush Fox Trio because they loved the Andrews Sisters and I saw they were new to the music industry. They have an amazing sound between the three of them and I told them to use my station to promote their group as well. I was looking to fill a few empty air time spots, so I reached out to them and they jumped at the opportunity. I also have another segment on WLVN Radio by a group of theater actors who, during the lock down, wanted to keep performing for their fans. So, they created Quarantine Radio Theater. When I have modern day contributors to the station, I ask only two thing[s]. Whatever content they air, it has to be 1940s-related and suitable for children’s ears as well.”
PS: Anything else to add?
AL: “It’s definitely is a labor of love, especially taking a couple hours out of the day to sit and update everything weekly. But I have received so many messages from people who say their parents lived during that time and they love the station and how it brings them back, helps with depression and PTSD from the war. I received a letter from a woman living in the UK. Her twin 6- year-old boys have ADHD and they love listening to the Lone Ranger and other shows on a daily basis. She told me that listening to my station has helped them immensely with their ADHD. My most cherished comment came from a family [whose] father was in World War 2 and is suffering [from] Alzheimer’s. They shared that whenever they play my station for him, it helps bring him back and he can’t wait for the radio shows to play.
“As time went on, I collected over 15,000 files of music and radio shows from 1940-1945. The radio station specifically tailors to the war years here in the US. I have radio shows for adults and children alike, such as news, comedy, suspense, drama, and soap operas for the adults and super hero shows for the kids. I do have BBC news as well, when I can find the files. Like I said above, I have organized the shows to play the same day they played in the 1940s, [as if] we are currently in the year 1941.”
If all of your presets have other stations assigned to them and you have not yet setup My Favorites, you should do so for this station alone. If you want to be transported back about 80 years, or if you are a ducky shincracker, tune your Como Audio music system to killer-diller WLVN. Now you’re cooking with gas.
Trivia: According to Wikipedia, SPAM was introduced by Hormel in 1937, but its popularity exploded during World War II. In addition to feeding the troops, its grease was used in guns and its cans were used for scrap metal. At one point, Uncle Sam was nicknamed “Uncle SPAM”. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher later called SPAM “a wartime delicacy”. In 1940, SPAM became the sponsor of the George Burns & Gracie Allen radio show.
- Radio Nostalgia (128 kbps MP3, the Netherlands)
This station in the Netherlands is a perfect choice to follow WLVN on my list of Recommended Stations. If you appreciate old 78 RPM records, this station will scratch your musical itch, even in those hard-to- reach places. Unlike WLVN, there are no radio dramas or podcasts, just all 78s, all the time.
78 RPM records first started appearing as far back as the late 1800s. The 78 RPM speed was not arrived at arbitrarily, but was determined by the speed that motors could average at the time. In the beginning, recordings were made one by one, directly to disc, with a very large horn serving as a microphone. The vocalist sang directly into the horn while louder instruments, like trumpets and drums, were positioned farthest away. As a result of these live recordings, the same song with the same band could sound different on each record. Eventually, microphones and tube amplifiers replaced horns. Although the recording and playback technology changed over time, the 78’s themselves were consistently made from a combination of shellac and abrasive filler along with cotton fibers for strength.
It is ironic Radio Nostalgia’s founder, Jan Hovers, was born in 1958 when 78’s were being phased out. Hovers has been collecting the thick black platters since he was fifteen years old. He inherited his father’s record collection and built on it to the point where it now numbers in the thousands. He still owns his parent’s original record player which they bought at considerable expense when he was just a child.
If you were allowed to run barefoot through Hovers’ record “warehouse” as he refers to it on his website, you would find records by Bix Beiderbecke, Duke Ellington, Elvis Presley, Cab Calloway, Nat King Cole, Django Reinhardt, Frank Sinatra, and Ray Anthony, among many others. His favorite artists include Jo Stafford, Rosemary Clooney, Dinah Shore, and Deanna Durbin. The music you will hear on Radio Nostalgia covers Jazz, American and Dutch hits, French chansons, German schlagers, & British dance bands. Consider until the vinyl long play (LP) record took hold, there was almost 60 years of 78 RPM titles.
Every song played on Radio Nostalgia comes from Hovers’ personal collection, not from CDs. What you hear comes direct from the original, authentic source. As Hovers explains on his website: “Deep black, fragile, shiny, labels like paintings, spinning 78 rounds per minute. Music captured one on one. It couldn’t be fairer. Pieces of time held on delicate shellac…The copies that come my way are therefore surrounded with care and lead a loving life on Radio Nostalgia!” Each record is played on Hovers’ Lenco L75 turntable fitted with a Japanese Nagaoka JT-511 cartridge. The turntable is connected to his stereo receiver, which in turn is connected to his computer where he runs Adobe Audition (which he calls a “magic tool”) to clean up and record the music for broadcast. Intrusive pops, clicks, and prominent surface noise are stripped away to reveal the pure music, like carefully removing layers of dirt and grime from a beautiful, vintage painting, without altering the original image. That said, I would not be opposed to hearing a little more snap, crackle, and pop since those artifacts have become an indelible part of that music over the decades.
“…this station will scratch your musical itch, even in those hard-to- reach places.”
Radio Nostalgia has been streaming for more than a decade and has acquired listeners from all over the world. Most listener hail from Europe and the USA, but Russian and South American listeners are not far behind. There is even a small coffee shop in Argentina that plays Hovers’ station for its patrons.
I contacted Hovers, who lives near Amsterdam, to get more information about Radio Nostalgia:
PS: Is your collection really stored in a “warehouse”? Approximately how many records do you own?
JJ: “No, the ‘warehouse’ was an idea I had when the internet just started in the nineties and I built my first family website. The children received a virtual restaurant, art studio and horse-riding school. I placed myself ‘tucked away’ in a dark warehouse, like a real nerd between all my nerdy things and records. The family website disappeared when my kids grew up, the warehouse stayed. Nowadays there is even a Pakhuis (warehouse) Nostalgia – a series of podcasts full of 78 rpm records (pakhuisnostalgia.nl). Unfortunately for you it is in Dutch.”
I have never counted my records but it must be several thousand.”
PS: Which decades does your collection span (i.e. 1925-1945)?
JJ: “The period in which the 78rpm records were produced on fragile shellac runs roughly from 1900 to 1958. Obviously, there were endless ‘million sellers’ from the 1950s, when everyone had money and access to records. The often most musically interesting years are of course before the Second World War. The records are a bit scarcer, the recordings are even purer and the music more innovative. Until the end of the 1920s, recording was still done acoustically, that is to say that the artists played [into] a big horn [which] wrote the sound vibrations directly into the lacquer. Then the recording was done electrically and they could also sing more softly thanks to the microphone, the so-called crooning. Each period has its charm and has its own chapters in music history.”
PS: Are most of the songs in mono?
JJ: “All music in the 78rpm era is in mono. There were some experiments, but stereo only made its appearance for consumers in the vinyl age.”
PS: Do you own a Victrola?
JJ: “I do have an antique wooden table gramophone with a crank. It belonged to my grandfather. It is an annual ritual to play some Christmas carols that were recorded a hundred years ago. For the rest I enjoy my contemporary turntable (with special 78 rpm needle and cartridge).”
PS: Do you ever listen to non-78 RPM records/artists? If so, what other artists do you listen to? I understand you are a big Beatles fan like me.
JJ: “I’m an omnivore when it comes to music taste. Of course, I like all the genres on 78 rpm that you can hear on my radio stream. But I am a kid of my time, grew up with The Beatles (am a huge fan), love a lot of contemporary artists and believe that good music is not specific to time. As Duke Ellington said: ‘There are simply two kinds of music, good music and the other kind.’ I also make music with a lot of passion, both in my band Three Guys named Joe and with my own songs in my own home studio.
We are fortunate Hovers invested the time to share his vast record collection with us through his Internet station. Although our Como Audio Bluetooth Turntable is capable of playing 78 RPM records with the correct optional stylus, thanks to the Internet, you can enjoy listening to 78’s on Radio Nostalgia from your Como Audio music system any time you are “in the mood”. No warehouse necessary.
Trivia: According to factmag.com, the most expensive 78 RPM record ever sold was Tommy Johnson’s 1930 Alcohol and Jake Blues on Paramount Records which sold for $37,100 on eBay. It is believed to be one of only two copies in existence. It was purchased in 2013 by John Tefteller who has been collecting records for more than forty years and owns over 75,000 78 RPM records.
- Kaleidophonics Radio (192 kbps MP3, CA)
This station with a strange name was recommended to me by one of our customers in New York. I dedicated a lot of time listening to it and I love how Kaleidophonics Radio ties certain genres of music to certain day parts…light classical and new age in the morning, instrumentals and “heartfelt” songs during the main part of the day, classic and smooth jazz at night, and meditative and ambient electronic music during the overnight hours. This is what is called, using radio industry vernacular, block programming. Rather than broadcast the same genre 24/7 like most stations do, block programming splits the day parts into different formats. It is a tricky model because the station runs the risk of losing listeners to another station when the day part switches over to music the listener may not particularly care for. But in the case of Kaleidophonics Radio, the programming shifts are not particularly dramatic. I liken it to going from wearing slippers in the morning, to sneakers during the day, and then back to slippers again at night. It is something you quickly become comfortable with and even look forward to.
You might have heard the joke- What do you get when you play new age music backwards? Answer: New age music. New age has gotten a bad rap since day one, but I find it is a gentle way to wake up, to fall asleep, or to wind down to. Kaleidophonics makes good use of this genre along with others for a complimentary music mix that puts your mind at ease. Here are just some of the artists you will find in Kaleidophonics’ music tool box: Sarah McLachlan, Ray Lynch, Tim Buckley, Grateful Dead, Modern Mandolin Quartet, David Friesen, Yo Yo Ma, Cheryl Gunn, William Ackerman, George Winston, and The Rowan Brothers.
One little caveat directly associated with this kind of music format I wish to point out…unless you are near-field listening, you might need to adjust the volume control on your Como Audio music system depending on the day part you are listening to. For example, the soft classical pieces and new age featured during morning drive required a higher volume level on my Musica than the folk and soft rock block highlighted during the mid-day slot. My Musica is about seven feet away from my desk at work. Your results may vary. It is worth noting, unlike many other Internet music stations, Olmstead runs all of Kaleidophonics nearly 20,000 music files through iVolume which adjusts each track to a consistent level.
“…I love how Kaleidophonics Radio ties certain genres of music to certain day parts…”
Before starting Kaleidophonics Radio, station founder Alan Olmstead had been a record store manager, a partner in a consumer electronics store, and an owner of an audio/video production studio. He has been syndicating various music programs for over forty-five years. And he is an avid record collector, starting from age twelve. He still hosts his own live specialty program, Kaleidophonics Jazz, every Sunday from 9a-12p PST. Olmstead knows his jazz, and this, combined with his pleasant speaking voice and on-air personality, perfectly compliment the music he plays on Kaliedophonics Jazz. His show had been nationally syndicated for thirty years until station consolidation made it too difficult. Consolidation allowed an entity to buy a half dozen or so radio stations in one market, which usually meant they would fire most of the staff and spread around the few people left to operate all of the stations. I consider consolidation a four-letter word and it was one of the reasons why I exited the radio business almost twenty-five years ago.
I reached out to Olmstead by email to get the inside scoop on his station:
PS: When did you first start streaming “Kaleidophonics Radio”?
AO: “I started the station in the spring of 2015. I had been doing specialty syndication of music-oriented shows for 30+ years as a sort of sideline to running an ad agency, and had always wanted to be a program director and create a unique full-time format, but also knew that the odds of getting someone that owned a commercial station to try something overly new was unlikely. Never mind having to deal with the organizational issues of air staff and convincing salespeople to pitch a new spectrum of boutique advertisers that shun mainstream radio formats but would be attracted to a more intelligent music mix and the audience it would attract. I found doing a small streaming station was feasible and the automation software relatively inexpensive compared to when it first came out (and put a whole lot of dedicated DJ’s and program directors that knew music out of work, and ushered in even more cookie cutter, lowest common denominator formats fed by satellites and run out of a closet).”
PS: What gave you the idea to do this type of relaxing format?
AO: “It’s basically what appeals to my sensibilities…I like something intelligent playing in the background but with enough quality that it can catch my attention on occasion and enjoy it. I’ve been involved in radio since doing college radio in the early 70’s where there was freedom to do virtually anything.
“I thought I’d coined the word “Kaleidophonics” as I’ve always loved all forms of music and I’d progress through many styles on my 4-hour shift from rock, folk, blues, jazz, and even classical. I thought, well a kaleidoscope is a device that delivers a variety of images to the eye, so a “kaleidophone” would be the equivalent for the ear. I discovered years later a sculptor in the 50’s that made sonic art pieces also had also come up with the term.
“Basically, I’m just sharing my 60+ years of collecting music with whomever would like to tune in…it’s what I’d be listening to at home anyway. I’d been a “bin diver” at used record stores early on and eventually managed a record store before starting my ad agency. Like my syndicated shows, I’m primarily wanting to discover and help to promote obscure, amazing and often overlooked artists that the mainstream formats routinely miss entirely. I’m not running ads or pitching member support; I’m not trying to make any income… only share the wealth of what is in [many] ways America’s only unique form of art… it’s music.
“The format varies by the time of day…at least for those listening in my west coast time zone; I know it gets a bit out of phase for those further away. Mornings are more- light classical into new age and Celtic, then acoustic guitar and other string instruments, mandolin jazz-grass, etc. late mornings. Afternoons are heartfelt singer-songwriters and folk, both classic 60’s through modern indie and alternative artists. Late afternoons are more Rock n’ Roll, nothing too heavy, but I enjoy digging out some obscure favorites from the sixties as well as trying to keep up with the new kids (my daughters help me with that!). Then it’s jazz all evening…more modern and contemporary early evening, including international (Afro & Eurobeat, Brazilian etc.), newer lounge and break beat and fusion styles, with mostly mellow classic jazz 8p to midnight, from the 20’s through modern, but especially the 50 & 60’s cool period. Midnight to early morning is ambient, electronic and meditative… even a bit of environmental soundscapes.”
PS: Any other information you care to share?
AO: I do have a Friday “Happy Hour” from 3-5pm PST that kicks the jams a bit more with Motown, Reggae, 60’s rock chestnuts, Zydeco and Chicago Blues…to name a few. Sunday mornings and again in the evening I run episodes of the hosted 3 hour “Kaleidophonic Jazz” show I syndicated nationally for nearly 30 years starting in 1979. Another thing I love about music, good music that is… it’s timeless. No matter how old or how many times I’ve heard it, I never get tired of revisiting it.”
Given the serious stressors caused by the pandemic, not to mention life in general, music to relax by has taken on greater importance to help maintain our mental health. The problem with some of these relaxation stations is they are the equivalent of music morphine. I want to relax not be euthanized. Kaleidophonics Radio provides just the right time-released compounded musical medication. Listen responsibly and take as needed. Common side effects include a general feeling of contentment. Do not listen if you are pregnant. Okay, ignore that last one.
Trivia (from Wikipedia): “The kaleidophone is a ‘philosophical toy’ that produces moving optical figures. There are several different versions of the kaleidophone, but in all cases at least one slender rod is fixed at one end and has a shiny bead fixed to the other end of the rod. As the rod vibrates the spot is seen to describe Lissajous curves in the air, like a spark whirled about in the darkness. The kaleidophone was invented by Charles Wheatstone, who published an account of the device in 1827. The name “kaleidophone” was derived from the kaleidoscope, an optical toy invented in 1817 by David Brewster.”
- YourClassical – Radio (128 kbps MP3, Minnesota)
Since I am inexperienced when it comes to the classical genre I tend to rely on recommendations from our customers. This station (actually, a collection of stations) was recommended to me by one of our customers in Brookline, MA, which is about 14 miles north of our office. YourClassical operates a family of ten all-classical music stations that have been streaming for six years as of this month. The variants include Chamber, Choral, Kids, Favorites, Holiday, Hygge, Lullabies, Peaceful Piano, Radio, and Relaxation. The streams are courtesy of American Public Media (APM), the same organization that brings you the popular financial program Marketplace on your favorite NPR radio station. According to Wikipedia, “American Public Media is the second largest producer and distributor of public radio programs in the United States after NPR.”
YourClassical says the purpose of their streams are “to promote calm and focus”. To quote further from their website: “Whether you’re relaxing after work, lulling your baby to sleep, or even powering through a tough workout, we’re here for you, with classical music for all of life’s moments. Tap into our collection of expertly selected pieces and listen to the world’s most enduring music.”
Given that I am on shaky ground when it comes to classical music, I turned to the expert, Randy Salas, American Public Media’s Senior Digital Producer for Classical Music, to help me unpack all of these stations:
PS: What sets APM’s streams apart from other classical Internet radio stations?
RS: “The major thing is that no matter which stream you’re listening to, the music has been curated and programmed in the order you’re hearing it by a classical music expert on our staff, a real person, not some shuffle-play algorithm like the big streaming services. As a public media company, we have a mission of programming for listeners, not for profit. That also means that highly specific streams like Concert Band feature hand-selected tracks from recordings that have been vetted by our experts, not just placed using a keyword search.”
PS: What exactly is American Public Media’s role in relation to these ten stations?
RS: “APM is the national service of American Public Media Group, whose programming includes Marketplace, The Splendid Table and the award-winning In The Dark podcast, plus Southern California Public Radio. APMG’s regional service is Minnesota Public Radio, which operates 46 stations divided among news, AAA rock and classical. Our classical department is the only part of the APMG portfolio that runs nationally and regionally. We are the nation’s largest classical radio service. That’s where YourClassical comes in. It’s the online presence of our national classical programming. (MPR is the foundation of this huge presence and has been around for more than 53 years.)
“The YourClassical Radio stream is the online iteration of Classical 24, the B2B name for our 24/7 hosted classical radio service that’s picked up by almost 250 public-radio stations nationwide. If you[‘re] listening to classical music on the radio anywhere in the country, the chances are fairly high that its coming from our studios in downtown St. Paul, Minn.”
PS: Approximately how many combined listeners are there? Are the majority in the USA?
RS: “There are many ways to answer this, and it changes depending on the time of year. But our regional and national classical radio services, including our dedicated streams, reach more than 1 million listeners online each month. They’re also available on Alexa, TuneIn, IHeartRadio and other digital platforms. Most listeners are in the United States, but we reach people around the world, based on feedback we get. As a public media company, our content is completely free and is not geo-blocked for people outside the U.S.”
“…the music has been curated and programmed in the order you’re hearing it by a classical music expert on our staff, a real person, not some shuffle-play algorithm like the big streaming services.”
During my time listening I gravitated between YourClassical Peaceful Piano and YourClassical Relaxation. Both stations lived up to their names and are suitable for self-reflection, meditation, or a respite from every day stress. Savor each YourClassical stream on your Como Audio music system and decide on the one(s) for you.
Trivia: According to CMUSE.org, out of all the classical composers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed the most symphonies (41). All told, Mozart has six hundred compositions to his name. Rock me Amadeus.
- Exotica – laut.fm (128 kbps MP3, Germany)
Lately I have been happily overdosing on exotica along with other mid-century cocktail bachelor party music. The term “exotica” was coined by the co-founder of Liberty Records, Simon Waronker, and the genre itself was totally made up. Les Baxter’s ground breaking Ritual of the Savage LP from 1952 kicked off the exotica genre, but Martin Denny’s 1957 album Exotica really launched it into orbit. The Polynesian-tinged music is instantly recognizable by its use of vibraphones, bongos, congas, bamboo sticks, and in some cases, jungle sounds such as birds, monkeys, and lions, and the occasional “native” shrieks. If this sounds kitschy, it is, which also means it is great fun. If the genre strikes you as superficial, please withhold your judgement until you have an objective listen for yourself.
Although tiki-type restaurants started popping up in the 1930s, US troops returning home from the South Pacific after World War II, combined with the excitement of Hawaii becoming the 50th state in 1959, lead up to the whole exotica craze of the 50s. Around the same time came a tiki culture explosion…Hawaiian shirts, tiki bars (Tiki Gardens, the Shipwreck Bar), colorful tiki cocktails (Mai Tai, Scorpion, Zombie, Singapore Sling) served in big ceramic tiki mugs and garnished with little parasols and fresh fruit, and more Polynesian-themed restaurants (Kahiki Supper Club, Don the Beachcomber, Trader Vic’s). Even network television and Hollywood got in on the act with TV shows like Hawaiian Eye, Hawaii Five-O, and Gilligan’s Island, and films such as South Pacific, Blue Hawaii, Pagan Love Song, Birds of Paradise, and even The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Believe it or not, there was an exotica music revival in the 1990s and early 2000s that spawned new artists who paid homage to the genre. There is an annual convention that celebrates all things tiki called TikiCon. The revival also witnessed a bumper crop of reissued exotica-related records that had been out of print since forever. There has even been a resurgence of vintage tiki cocktails, with recipe books and websites dedicated to recreating these sweet retro libations. It is good to know that as you listen to exotica on Exotica – laut.fm you can simultaneously savor a period adult beverage.
“If this sounds kitschy, it is, which also means it is great fun.“
Exotica is precisely the type of station Internet radio was made for. There might be specialty shows on FM radio that play this music for a few hours on a weekend, but you would be hard pressed to find an FM station playing this music 24/7. Exotica is provided through laut.fm, a German station aggregator that has been around since 2016 and acts as a conduit for the average German music lover to start his or her own Internet radio stream for free. They call themselves “User-generated radio”. Judging from the thousands of laut.fm stations in our data base, about a gazillion Germans have taken advantage of laut.fm’s free service. Every few days our Internet station aggregator does a what I call a “laut.fm dump”, off-loading tens of new laut.fm stations into the station data base. According to laut.fm Supervisory Board Member Rainer Henze, they will be expanding their free service to other European countries later this year. Too bad there is not a company like laut.fm in the US so station founders here would not have to constantly beg for money to keep their streams alive.
To keep the service free to their German Internet radio station founders, laut.fm stations air commercials. The good news is, at least on their Exotica station, the commercials are sparse, like about four an hour, plus one commercial to start off whenever you access the station. Commercial-free would have earned the station a higher position on this recommended list, but it is an acceptable trade off if it means the station would not exist otherwise.
As you might surmise, Exotica – laut.fm plays plenty of music by the masters of exotica…Les Baxter, Mystic Moods Orchestra, Bing Crosby, Arthur Lyman, Henry Mancini, 101 Strings, Cal Tjader, Dick Hyman, Nelson Riddle, Ted Heath, and Martin Denny, but also contemporary groups such as Don Tiki and Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica. More cool sounds from unexpected artists like Billy Preston, Stan Getz, Ahmad Jamal, and Chubby Checker are slipped in the playlist to keep things as fresh and colorful as a Hawaiian hibiscus. Exotica is a first-class, one-way ticket to an imaginary paradise. Allow me a moment to enjoy that thought.
If Internet radio had been around during the 1950s you can be certain Exotica – laut.fm would have been playing on every swinging bachelor’s hi-fi console. Today, a Como Audio music system will do just fine, and you do not need to be a swinging bachelor, but it wouldn’t hurt.
Trivia: Martin Denny’s Exotica album was released in mono in 1957 and reached #1 on the music charts. Denny brought his orchestra back into the studio the following year, sans Arthur Lyman, to re-record the entire album in two channel stereo. However, Denny and most music critics felt the sound quality and performances on the original mono mix was superior.
- Radio Preston Air (192 kbps MP3, Germany)
As I mentioned in the WLVN segment, the 1950s ushered in rock ‘n’ roll. So, it is fitting another station on the recommended list is Radio Preston Air. As founder Stefan “Preston” Klöbzig told me in an email, “One Monday morning in November 2020 a flash of inspiration met courage and determination and Radio Preston Air was born.” Its website boasts the station will “knock the sugar out of your coffee” with its rockabilly, psychobilly, old school country, rhythm & blues, doo wop, soundtracks, and surf playlist. It is interesting that such a solidly American format streams out of Germany.
What is rockabilly? I am glad you asked. Remember that hit song by Donnie and Marie Osmond, A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Rock n’ Roll? Rockabilly is like that, with some folk, gospel, and rhythm and blues tossed in to make it extra tasty. The rockabilly name is a fusion of the word’s “rock” and “hillbilly”. The artist responsible for popularizing this genre is somewhat in dispute. Some argue it was Carl Perkins and his Blue Suede Shoes hit from 1956 that firmly established rockabilly. Others staunchly maintain it was Elvis Presley who first brought attention to the genre two years earlier with That’s Alright Mama.
One point not in dispute is how fun Radio Preston Air is to listen to. Klöbzig, a pipe-smoking singer, guitarist, and professional DJ, says RPA is a “musical link, inspiration, entertainment and enjoyment for reveling hearts and curious ears at the same time”. Klöbzig is so into rockabilly he plays in a popular rock trio called Tom Twist. One of their songs was even featured in a German TV commercial.
“Remember that hit song by Donnie and Marie Osmond, A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Rock n’ Roll? Rockabilly is like that…”
To its credit, Radio Preston Air actually has five real DJ’s hosting their own shows, but unless you understand German, you are best to focus your attention on the music. In addition to DJ Preston there is DJ Crazy Sascha, DJ Jane Babsi, DJ Rebelyell, and DJ Mrs. Rat ’n’ Jive Jane. Hey, great music deserves great DJ names. The drawback is, whenever a DJ is on, the station’s meta data usually shows the DJ’s name instead of the music being played. When I used to work in radio, we would receive CDs from the record companies that had stickers on them that read “Say it when you play it!”, meaning, be sure to announce the song when you play it. In the case of Radio Preston Air, since the chatter is in German, I cannot decipher any of the songs they announce, which makes the meta data all that more important.
Some of the artists I was able to see from the meta data I had heard for the first time, though I am hardly a rockabilly expert…Mello Rose, Wild Rooster, The Baboons, The Del Jays, and The Hillbilly Moon Explosion. This unfamiliar company co-mingled intimately with more familiar friends like Elvis, Johnny Cash, Del Shannon, Conway Twitty, and Jerry Lee Lewis. This mix of new and old insures you will not quickly become burned out on the classic rockabilly songs and helps keep things interesting.
Radio Preston Air is not your father’s oldies station. It gets in your face with the early days of rock n’ roll and makes you forget about all the negative energy swirling around us today, just like good music should. Now put that in your pipe and smoke it.
Trivia: According to kidzsearch.com, “Rockabilly was very popular amongst teenagers. Many parents of teenagers did not like rockabilly music, because rockabilly music had lyrics which talked about rebelling against rules, sex and drinking alcohol. Rockabilly musicians often wear slicked-back hair, jeans, and leather jackets.”
- Doctor Pundit Slow Jams (320 kbps MP3, Minnesota)
Valentine’s Day has come and gone, mercifully, for those of us involuntarily living a singular life. Things have become so bad I nicknamed my house “the monastery”. Perhaps that explains why I am starting to resemble Friar Tuck. Be that as it may, Doctor Pundit Slow Jams would have been a good station to play on your Como Audio music system on Valentine’s Day as you and your masked significant other spent a romantic evening together in lock-down. The station’s suggestive slogan is “80s and 90s R&B booty call”. Maybe that is the message behind the station’s curious logo. In any event, this station is not just for lovers in love.
I actually came very close to recommending one of Doctor Pundit’s other stations, MOR (Middle Of the Road), but opted instead for Slow Jams, as some of the MOR selections did not agree with me. Described on the website as “…1980s and 1990s R&B adult contemporary hits, deep tracks, and smooth jazz”, Slow Jams puts out just the right kind of vibe, and streaming at 320 kbps, the sound quality is excellent. Slow Jams might be somewhat of an oxymoron, but this musical emulsion blends dope songs by Whitney Houston, Prince, Terence Trent D’Arby, Tina Turner, Hall and Oats, Luther Vandross, George Benson, Sade, Kool and the Gang, Herb Alpert, Najee, and Anita Baker, to name a few. You will hear some familiar hit songs, but also deep cuts (something a doctor should know about) that prove equally satisfying. My only criticism is that I see no reason why the Slow Jams’ playlist has to abruptly stop at the year 2000. What have you done for me lately, Slow Jams? There are plenty of fine songs over the next 20, 15, or even 10 years that could be drawn from to further enhance the music “booty call”.
Dr. Michael Douglas, aka Doctor Pundit, is a real-life Family Physician and Geriatrician in St. Paul who describes himself as “someone who curates online radio stations and loves listening to all types of music in all types of situations. Yes, it’s music that matters to me, but, hey, you could enjoy it, as well.” He writes a blog, records podcasts on all manner of topics, and programs a group of twenty different Internet stations specializing in 80s hits, hair bands, soundtracks, party music, and a lot more. I am amazed Dr. Douglas has any time or energy leftover to be a doctor. Perhaps he derives his stamina from Slow Jams.
“Doctor Pundit Slow Jams would have been a good station to play on your Como Audio music system on Valentine’s Day as you and your masked significant other spent a romantic evening together in lock-down.”
There is not much more I can say about Slow Jams other than I have the station on speed dial (i.e. a preset) that I use every day at work and also have it stored under My Favorites so I can easily access it from my Musica and Amico at home. Take it from the doctor…Slow Jams is a shot in the arm, like a certain vaccine. Listen twice a day with a glass of water. This is probably the only thing you will ever get from a doctor that will not cost you. Now, about that logo…
Trivia: According to dummies.com, jams are sessions “for players to interact with other players and make music in a freewheeling environment, without having to be concerned about pleasing an audience. Some jams are impromptu, one-time occurrences, while others are weekly events that may happen in a private setting or in a public venue. Jams may focus on a particular style of music or even a particular instrument, and every jam has its own culture and etiquette.”
- Radio Aruba 91.5FM (128 kbps MP3, Aruba)
Though it was more than twelve years ago, I remember the ten days in February I spent on vacation in Aruba to escape the cold of New England. This diminutive southern Caribbean island of 70 square miles is characterized by its beautiful, white sand beaches, turquoise water, and strong breezes that help keep the temperature comfortable year-round. It is those very breezes that cause the trees on Aruba to grow at unusual angles instead of straight up…an unusual sight for a MA tourist. And with a direct flying time of under five hours from Boston, the temptation remains strong, pandemic or not. Aruba also struck me as the perfect place for a wedding ceremony (not that wedding bells were ever in my future). Whenever winter rolls around here in MA, I invariably think back to the transient time I spent on the happy island and wonder if I will ever, to quote The Beatles, get back to where I once belonged.
Aruba’s first inhabitants date back to 2500 BC. The island was discovered by the Spanish in 1499 and remained under Spanish rule for 137 years. In 1636 the Dutch occupied Aruba, only to lose it to the British in the early 1800s. But the Dutch reclaimed it 1816 and Aruba became a formal part of the Netherlands in 1845. Aruba seceded from the Kingdom in 1986, but dropped its plan for full independence a few years later. The island’s defense and foreign affairs are still under the control of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, but it is otherwise self-governed. Today, over 110,000 people from 90 different nationalities call Aruba home.
Broadcasting from Aruba (where else?), Radio Aruba helps my mind get back. I am not positive, but I think Radio Aruba was the station I cranked in my rented topless Geo Tracker as I navigated around the beautiful island. That was back in the days when I had enough hair for the wind to blow through. If I tried that again today the wind would blow off what little I have left. Aruba tourism refers to the country as “one happy island”. So, it follows that Radio Aruba is what happiness sounds like. Come on in, the water’s fine.
“When winter rolls around here in MA, I invariably think back to the transient time I spent on the happy island…”
Ordinarily, I would provide a list of the artists I heard during my time listening, but Radio Aruba does not show artist/song meta data. As a habitual Internet radio listener, a lack of meta data is a major pet peeve with me. There is no excuse for a station to not include it in their stream. I assume Radio Aruba’s DJs announce what songs they play, but they only speak Spanish. I took two years of Spanish in high school, the latter of which was in an honor’s program, so I am embarrassed to admit I had no clue what the disc jockeys were saying. Be that as it may, the music is what matters, and this music will raise the ambient temperature 50 degrees. I could also swear I could feel a strong Aruban breeze coming through the speaker grilles of my Como Audio Amico.
COVID-19 and the tan-demic might be preventing us from jetting away to warm, sunny locales, but thankfully, Internet radio does not transmit viruses and PPE is not required to listen. If you have never been to Aruba, get an authentic feel for it with Radio Aruba. If you were fortunate enough to have visited, take a return trip in your mind with Radio Aruba whenever you need sunshine on your shoulders and warm sand beneath your feet. And if you should feel a strong Aruban breeze coming from the speaker grilles as you listen on your own Como Audio music system, just remember to hold on to your hair.
Trivia (from Wikipedia): “Music is very closely connected to the Aruban culture, and plays a major role in holidays, carnivals and informal celebrations. Carnival music originated in Trinidad in the late 18th century, and combines romantic themes, calypso-inspired tunes, and drums from tumba.”
- Radio Unique FM (256 kbps AAC, Seychelles)
Last on my list, but definitely not least, I am excited to recommend this station to Tech Rap readers. This is one station that definitely lives up to its name. So much so, I am at a loss for words to describe it other than to say the format is as unique as the station’s location (Seychelles). You will hear older and newer artists from all over the globe, artists you never heard of, artists you know very well, older and newer songs, pop, dance, folk, and a lot more, all alongside each other. This might strike you as musically chaotic, but somehow, Radio Unique FM pulls it off. If variety is the spice if life then Radio Unique is a spicy meatball. The station’s meta data describes its genre as R&B/News and its jingles proclaim it as being an oldies station. Confused? So was I, but stay with me.
Before you dismiss my unbridled enthusiasm for Radio Unique FM as irrational exuberance, check out this incredibly diverse playlist I heard during my frequent listening sessions: Sandy Shaw, Kenny Rogers, Loose Ends, Sam Sparro, Don McLean, Honeycombs, Curtis Mayfield, Real Thing, Art Garfunkel, Nikki Ocean, Kenny Chesney, Janis Ian, Peggy Lee, Brian Adams, and Black Eyed Peas. Whew! My ears are still spinning. Radio Unique FM is analogous to a music slot machine…each time you pull the handle you have no idea what song will come up, but I am here to tell you, you will get three cherries in a row almost every time.
“This might strike you as musically chaotic, but somehow, Radio Unique FM pulls it off.”
One other unique thing about Radio Unique is the sound quality. Streaming at 256 kbps in the superior AAC audio codec, it sounds very good on my Como Audio Musica. I usually keep the volume level at around 5-6 in my office, but this station sounds equally good at higher volume levels, so occasionally I indulge and inch the volume up a bit (please do not tell the boss).
If you want to get away from the usual radio fare and hear something unique and on the upbeat side, tune in Radio Unique FM. Listen during your unique work out at home, add a unique, positive beat to your dreary work day, or turn it on for a unique instant pick me up any time of the day. By the way, did I mention it was unique?
Trivia: You know core genres like jazz, country, rock, etc., but did you know there were many unique, obscure music genres? Nintendocore aggregates video game music with heavy metal, hardcore punk, and chiptunes. Lowercase takes minimalist music to the extreme, featuring carburetors, crumpled up paper, and broken light bulbs. I think I will pass on those.
As Forrest Gump once famously said, “life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Internet radio is the same way, though I prefer to liken it to picking up hitchhikers on the highway. Whether you see it as selecting from an assorted box of chocolates or picking up hitchhikers, besides being a repository for stations from all around the world of varying formats, Internet radio is also a platform for the strange and unexplained, just like hitchhikers. Such is the perverted genius of Internet radio. I call these odd streams “Hitchhiker Stations”, and one perfect example is Lime Kiln hydrophone.
Lime Kiln Hydrophone (32 kbps MP3, WA)
This station out of Washington state broadcasts a 24/7 live stream of an underwater microphone! Submerged in twenty-three feet of water southwest of the Lime Kiln Lighthouse, the hydrophone was installed in March of 2016 and is maintained by The Whale Museum and SMRU (Sea Mammal Research Unit). If you tune in you will hear what sounds like either water running in a bathtub or a bunch of white noise (it’s very low streaming bit rate does not help). However, the sub-aquatic stereo microphone has, on rare occasions, picked up whale calls and the sounds of Orcas crunching fish bones. If you want to be one with nature, or you would like to be under the sea in an octopus’s garden in the shade, tune Lime Kiln Hydrophone (and have a thirsty towel at the ready).
Internet Station Sound Quality
At the start of this article, I pointed out that sound quality was one requirement for an Internet station to be considered for recommended status. As I mentioned, sound quality is subjective, but one data-driven determinant is a station’s bit rate and the type of audio codec it streams in. You will find this information as you repeatedly press your remote’s “i” key when tuned to an Internet station. Typical Internet radio codecs include MP3, AAC, and WMA. MP3 is by far the most used codec by stations and also tends to be lower quality. If a station is streaming in MP3, ideally you want to see its bit rate as high as possible, at least 128 kbps. AAC and WMA are higher-quality audio codecs, so theoretically, they could stream at lower bit rates yet sound just as good or better than MP3 at high bit rates. Follow me? An Internet station streaming in AAC or WMA at a very high bit rate should sound superior. My Recommended Station Radio Unique-FM, as an example, is one such high quality station, streaming at 256 kbps in the AAC codec. Talk, news, and old-time radio stations (and underwater microphones!) tend to stream at lower bit rates because the spoken voice (usually in mono) does not benefit from high bit rates and better-quality audio codecs as much as high fidelity music does.
According to our station aggregator, as of May of this year, almost 70% of Internet radio stations in the 58,000 station data base stream in MP3 with AAC coming in a distant second place:
69.5 % MP3
28.4 % AAC
2.5 % HLS
0.3 % OGG
0.2 % WMA
0.1 % DASH
You should know that higher bit rates and better audio codecs come at a cost. Such streams, be they from Internet radio stations, Spotify Connect, Amazon Music, etc., tax your WiFi network. Multiple Como Audio models grouped and streaming in high quality pose an extra strain. If you experience frequent “Buffering” or “Loading”, this is usually a sign your WiFi network’s bandwidth is being pushed to its limit.
You may have heard of the Bruce Springsteen song 57 Channels (And Nothin’ On): “Man came by to hook up my cable TV / We settled in for the night my baby and me / We switched ’round and ’round ’til half-past down / There was fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on”. That is not the case with the 58,000 stations in our Internet radio data base. Your Como Audio model is the epicenter of music, news, talk, religious, OTR (Old Time Radio), and sports programming from around the world, not to mention podcasts, all right at your fingertips. And although it is all free, remember that many of these stations are commercial-free and are dependent on listener donations to stay on the air. So, why not put your money where your mask is and consider helping out your favorite station(s)?
Audition these Recommended Stations, explore more on your own, and keep sending me your own personal station recommendations. Do not bogart your favorite stations! Share your finds with your fellow Como Audio music lovers. Who knows- maybe you will see your favorite station called out in a future Tech Rap. And speaking of sharing, please let your friends know about Tech Rap, even if they are not Como Audio customers (yet). Our common bond is enjoying the music.
April’s Tech Rap: Easter Eggs
General Manger Peter Skiera lives in southern MA, worked in radio broadcasting throughout New England, and also worked for Cambridge SoundWorks, B&W Loudspeakers, and Tivoli Audio for 15 years before joining Como Audio in 2016 as Vice President of Product Development. If you have a comment or would like to suggest a station or a topic for a future Tech Rap, Peter can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org