The big news last week was the NASA's Rover, Perseverance, landing on the surface of Mars.
But to hear media critic and tech savant, David Pogue, tell it, the excitement was all here on earth. He discovered a unique service available to all that allow you to listen to radio from virtually anywhere on earth from the comfort and convenience of your mobile phone or laptop. How's that for technology?
Last week, the erudite Pogue fired off this giddy tweet, extolling the virtues of radio here in the U.S. and around the globe:
This is the COOLEST. A Google Earth-type representation of the planet. Every green dot is a radio station. Click any dot to listen in. It’s like cultural teleportation. You could spend hours with this thing… https://t.co/rdEHUUfgvk pic.twitter.com/VJgyzVClJD
— David Pogue (@Pogue) February 14, 2021
The story about an Netherlands-based organization in Amstserdam called Radio Garden was originally reported in Bored Panda by young writer Violeta Pročkytė, who obviously couldn't get enough joy out of this technology that mashes up broadcast and internet radio.
Here's the mission of Radio Garden:
By bringing distant voices close, radio connects people and places. From its very beginning, radio signals have crossed borders. Radio makers and listeners have imagined both connecting with distant cultures, as well as re-connecting with people from ‘home’ from thousands of miles away.
It's fascinating. The app/website opens with a very Google Earth-like animation that spins the globe until it lands on your location. And from there, you can see the list of available stations from the regions or city that you land on.
As you move across the Planet Earth, discovering radio, you begin to have that odd sensation many of us radio lovers of a certain age remember from our youths. Lying in bed, spinning the AM radio deal carefully up and down. Thanks to the properties of amplitude modulation, the weather and other atmospherics, you might be in Detroit tuning in stations from New York City, Louisville, Chicago, or in your own town. Many of us first learned about many of these faraway places by listening to their local radio.
I zoomed into Detroit, of course, to see what was available in my hometown – and what was missing. But despite living here, I bumped into Radio Explosiva at 1480 on the AM dial – not a station I would normally scan in my car. I will not be a P1 anytime soon, but I most certainly discovered it was there for Detroit's Mexican community.
Radio Garden is a souped up version, allowing users to literally “visit” thousands of dots all over earth, stopping in long enough to check out its local radio offerings.
And it's fascinating to hear Pročkytė (pictured right) wax poetic about the virtues of radio in a digital world. Here's how she's explains radio's advantages over playlist services:
“When it comes to music, it’s likely you have favorite tools and programs. Maybe you prefer Spotify, or perhaps iTunes or even YouTube is more to your liking. The thing with those platforms, however, is that they present carefully curated lists that you yourself select. You know exactly what will play and that’s great, if it’s what you want! You can simply queue up your favorite songs and enjoy.
“But if you want something more surprising, radio might be a better pick. Of course, you will have to listen to commercials and other breaks, but if you want a totally surprising playlist that will give you variety of genres, that’s the way to go.”
But it turns out, this “digital garden” isn't the only platform devoted to radio from around the world. As I was researching and exploring Radio Garden, I started getting that deja vu feeling I'd been here before.
And it turns out, I wrote a blog post about this amazing service back in 2016, “It's A Small Radio World After All.” But a lot has changed about the service and the technology. Now there are apps for iOS and Android, a helpful search feature, and the entire look and feel of Radio Garden and the website have been upgraded and reimagined.
As you troll around the globe, anywhere you see a green dot – and there are thousands of them – there's radio for you to stream and sample.
As you “teleport” from Cairo to Cleveland to Cancun, you'll note the list of offered stations in each market is spotty, and even random. I noticed Cumulus stations are usually represented here in the States, but other companies are scarce or M.I.A.
There's a page on the site that allows you to submit a station, and the main requirement appears to be that you stream full-time. You can access the form here.
At a time when many American stations have put up barriers to prevent people outside your coverage are to access your stream – “geo-fencing” – sites like Radio Garden are taking an open, accessible approach to the medium.
Instead of being limited by the boundaries of AM and FM frequencies or even the laborious act of typing and texting in stations to “umbrella radio apps” like TuneIn, iHeartRadio, and Radio.com, Radio Garden is about discovery.
And while learning about musical culture and local affairs are accessible via a host of stations and services on Radio Garden, it's the serendipitous act of spinning the virtual globe, stopping wherever, and bumping into a radio station that provides surprises and the unexpected.
It is new technology that harkens back to the “old school” joy of tuning in faraway stations with an AM or ham radio – or a crystal set. And in scanning through replies and retweets to Pogue's tweet, radio discovery can still be fun:
No matter how you say it, whether it's French, Russian, Hebrew, Spanish or just plain radio-ese, we all speak a common language when it comes to the radio:
“Play the hits.”