Many of us have cut the cable and embraced television delivered via the internet. Less attention is paid to streaming radio. That’s sad, because radio over the internet can be rewarding.
As I write this I’m listening to what in my estimation is the best radio show on the best radio station in the English-speaking world, about which more in due course. My Roku setup here has three free radio applications, not counting the ones dedicated to particular stations. They are the ubiquitous I Heart Radio along with TuneIn and myTuner. At least one of them will bring you the live broadcasts from just about any radio station in the U.S. or abroad. (The applications are available for “smart” phones, too.) A great advantage to radio is that you can get its full value while you’re doing things. You do not watch the radio. In fact, the tuner apps blank your television screen while you’re listening, which saves power. Radio is fine company while you’re scrubbing the kitchen floor or trying to re-solder the USB connector on that cheaply made Garmin GPS receiver or doing the other tasks with which our days are filled. Our local radio is – let me dig deep for something not-uncharitable to say – often lacking. Online radio lets us listen to better, though distant, stations with local audio quality. I started listening online when, one morning, I wondered if there were a way to hear the station with which I grew up, KFRU in Columbia, Missouri. It was gratifying to hear that some things there haven’t changed such as the morning “Quickie Quiz” program (though the questions seem to have been dumbed-down a bit). The introduction is still a cheesy 1950s song from a jungle studio somewhere:
It’s time for Quickie Quiz, that tricky quiz.
Come on and play our game, I’ll bet you’ll be a whiz.
Prove you’re smart and wise, you gals and guys.
Come on and play our game and win yourself a prize
You know that fun and laughter are good for you,
And that’s just what we’re after, so why don’t you
Have fun on Quickie Quiz, that tricky quiz
And watch your cares and troubles roll away.
The show does not deliver what the jingle promises in the area of care and trouble relocation, but it’s nostalgically pleasing to hear it, anyway. After a few days I was reminded that I moved away from that city for a reason, and, now assured that I could always return to KFRU, I moved on. The New York Times has recently been breaking its own record for beclowning itself, but there was always something reassuring about WQXR. At the top of each hour, listeners would hear the station identification, delivered calmly by a very serious voice: “These are the radio stations of The New York Times, WQXR-FM, ninety-six point three, and WQXR-AM, fifteen-sixty, in New York.” At 9 p.m., instead of the hourly newscast was “The Front Page of Tomorrow’s New York Times,” in which a lone announcer – no panel – would synopsize the next day’s paper.
The format most of the time was classical music. The only thing I disliked about it was Nimette’s opera show which began at 2 a.m. – you’d doze off to pleasant classical music and then came an opera show, all shrieks and caterwauling, and you’d be rendered wide awake and very cranky. Via streaming I’ve learned that that’s all gone. The stations were sold in 2009 and WQXR is now a public station. It’s still classical, but the music was never its primary charm. When I want to listen to classical music now, I tune in to my old friend and erstwhile colleague Kevin Gordon, formerly of WQXR and now at WRTI in Philadelphia – because it’s available online.
I mentioned that as I write this I’m listening to what I think is the best show on the best radio station in the world. The station is VOCM and the program is the“Irish Newfoundland Show” hosted by Greg Smith. It’s on from 5:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. (our time – 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. there) on Saturdays. VOCM is in St. John’s, Newfoundland, which I’ve come to think of as resembling The Shire as Tolkien described it. It’s a place full of creative and naturally friendly people with a rich tradition and an optimistic outlook despite centuries of hardship and tragedy. The station itself has been on the air since 1936. The tremendous comedian Mark Critch grew up essentially on the grounds of VOCM – his father Mike was a reporter there. (Newfoundland, I think, produces more comedians, actors, and especially musicians per capita than anyplace else.) VOCM has a delightful morning talkshow hosted by a man named Paddy Daly, where people do what people do on radio talkshows everywhere, only this one is uniquely about Newfoundland. It was truly touching to listen to VOCM during this horrible year’s “Snowmageddon” in Newfoundland in January. (Mark Critch had a lovely take on it, too.) And VOCM does local news the way it should be done – I mean, they managed to cause a guy in the woods of Ohio to be interested when Hotel Mount Pearl kept catching on fire last December. Every local news director in the U.S. could learn from VOCM’s news. It’s as close to a perfect radio station as you’ll find. And on it, come Saturday mornings, is as close to a perfect radio show as you could ever hope to hear. The “Irish Newfoundland Show” has oodles of traditional Irish music and a lot of Newfoundland songs as well. (It is to its place as another fine show, Rusty Smith’s “D-28 + 5” on WOUB Sunday afternoons, is to our place. Rusty’s show has kept me company during a lot of wood splitting and oil changes.) The VOCM show includes listeners’ birthday greetings. And it’s there that you’ll hear extraordinary music: Great Big Sea, The Wonderful Grand Band, Shanneyganock, Harry Hibbs, the Ennis Sisters . . . every song a gem. And though the music has nothing directly to do with you, you’ll sometimes wipe away a tear anyway. You’ll want to learn how to play the bodhrán (until you realize how hard it is to play it well).
So if you haven’t tried it yet, you might give streaming radio a try. You’ll find something there to love. And you can even get WOUB on it, which is good for those of us who live where reception isn’t always the best.