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by David J Barker 

In one sense, the IPod and its imitators are no more than the next step along the personal music trail following on from the cassette-based Walkman and CD-playing Discman generations.  In another sense, the IPod and broadband Internet have revolutionised the way that broadcast radio is treated.  In my experience here in Australia, and I daresay the experience is the same in Europe and North America, radio had been ephemeral until a few years ago. Once broadcast, it was gone as far as the general public was concerned.  If you weren’t near a radio, or if the radio wasn’t on, you missed it. 

Now we have streamed transmissions which allow us to listen on our computer, when away from a conventional radio, and an archive of programs which provide a means of accessing broadcasts missed at the time of transmission (known as audio-on-demand). 

In this article, I wish to provide some thoughts on a few selections from the latter.  Each of the programs discussed here are musical in nature but dominated by the spoken word. 

DL – download; can be saved to your computer as an mp3 file and played at another time, or on a portable music device 
PDC – podcast; an ongoing series of programmes which can be subscribed to, and automatically downloaded
STR – streamed; can be listened to directly without saving as a file, either live or for sometime after transmission

If you would like to know a litlte more about these different forms of Internet "radio", click here.

ABC Classic FM Australia

The Morning Interview with Margaret Throsby (STR) 

Margaret Throsby is an institution in Australian television and radio, having worked for the ABC in radio and TV for 40 years.  She was the first female to read the news on Australian radio and TV (back in the late 1970s. For the last ten years, she has presented the weekday morning program on the national classical radio station, Classic FM, featuring a one-hour interview with a special guest, some musicians, most not.  They share their story and their favourite music, interviewed with perception and warmth.  Obviously there is an Australian slant, because the interviews are done in the Sydney studio. 

Only the last ten shows are available, and because of this, the musical choices remain included. By way of example, guests from the last two weeks included:
·   Richard E Grant (English actor)
·   Richard Ford (American author)
·   John Olsen (Australian artist)
·   Faith Bandler (Australian indigenous activist)
·   Ross Edwards (Australian composer) 

Keys to Music (STR) 

Graham Abbott’s explorations into music fall somewhere between the musical analysis in the BBC’s Discovering Music and the more general commentary of the late Karl Haas’s Adventures in Good Music.  Some programs (“Under The Microscope”) provide a detailed analysis of an individual work with a live orchestra and audience, most focus on a composer or topic using recorded excerpts to provide the illustration. 

Only the last four are available, including the musical excerpts.  By way of example, the most recent four (May 2007) were: 
·   On the Fringe: Schütz for Beginners
·   Preludes and Fugues: Bach and Shostakovich
·   High Fives: Music in Quintuple Metre
·   Paul Wittgenstein and Music for the Left Hand 

Discovering Music (STR) 

This started as a studio program with recorded musical excerpts from BBC orchestras (removing copyright problems) and is now a “live” program with orchestra and presenter, in front of an audience.  An expert analyses a piece of music in terms of its structure and intersperses short sections of the music to illustrate the point.  With a live orchestra on hand, there is the ability to emphasise certain parts of the music, or to change it to see why the composer did what he did.  There are more than 100 individual programs, ranging from 45 to 90 minutes.  I have a very limited musical theory background, so some of the concepts went whistling over my head, but overall, I gained a greater appreciation of the work.  I have, when possible, listened to a program before going to hear the work performed. 

ClassicFM UK
Tony Robinson’s Friendly Guide to Music (DL, PDC, STR) 

Self-described as “no tosh”, the purist might see this as “no substance” as well, but that would be missing the point.  Clearly aimed at the listener whose knowledge of the history classical music is limited, Tony Robinson’s approach is irreverent and shallow, but in the end, informative as well: I learnt a number of things about certain composers!  Covering the entire history of western music from Hildegard to Arvo Pärt, the concentration is on the composers, with a very brief outline of their background and the type of music that they wrote.  Musical analysis is essentially zero, but that too is hardly the point of the exercise.  

The online versions have no musical excerpts, which I presume have been removed for copyright reasons. There are seventeen episodes, ranging from 13-20 minutes long. 

GuestList (DL, PDC, STR) 
25 minutes of highlights from Anne-Marie Minhall’s Sunday night interview & review program covering more than just music. This is a recent addition to ClassicFM’s podcast section, and as such, it is not clear how long each program will be available.  Obviously, how much an individual program appeals depends on whether the guests interest you: the first one I listened to included Julian Lloyd Webber talking about Elgar and the crime novelist Donna Leon talking about her adopted city of Venice which suited me fine.  Again no music. 

Classical Music (STR) 

National Public Radio (NPR) is an extraordinary treasure trove of news and current affairs across the entire spectrum, serious and amusing.  Its classical music section features all relevant stories from NPR and its feed stations.  When I say all, I mean all: the most remarkable thing about NPR is that its archive of streamed audio goes back for more than a decade, though the Classical Music section itself only dates back to 2004, listing a "mere" 733 articles, ranging from brief news items lasting a few minutes to full performances.  

You can listen to the Philadelphia Orchestra under Christoph Eschenbach performing all the Beethoven symphonies, or at the other end of the spectrum, Juilliard professor Toby Appel’s hilarious and scurrilous characterisation of each of the players in an orchestra. Recent items include coverage of the 150th anniversary of the birth of Edward Elgar (with access to the great performances by du Pré and Baker among others), and technology that produces a “new recording of a performance that scientifically matches the earlier one”, with full examples (the original of Glenn Gould’s 1955 Goldberg aria, and its re-performance).

For a radio tragic such as myself, being able to access these resources whilst sitting at my desk, is a dream that five years ago would have been unimaginable.  It is the ability to listen to what I want when I want, that appeals so much.  I have a large enough CD collection to entertain myself with music for the rest of my life, but to be able to listen to people, who are interesting and knowledgeable, talk about this wonderful subject: what more could I ask! 

And if our Musicweb readership wishes to contribute some more suggestions via the Bulletin Board, I will be very grateful (especially if someone can provide me with a URL for Karl Haas on demand)! 

David J Barker

The different forms of Internet radio and how to listen to them
Firstly, I should make it clear that you do not have to own an iPod to experience Internet radio and podcasts. You can listen to it all on your computer, or take some of it with you with any mp3 player, regardless of brand.

This can be live radio available at the time of broadcast or from an archive, which may be all programs (eg BBC7) or selected ones (ABC ClassicFM Australia), and may be only available for a short time after transmission (eg 2-4 weeks ABC ClassicFM Australia) or indefinitely (eg NPR America).

Streamed audio requires software specified by the website (usually either Windows Media Player, which everyone with Windows has, or Real Player, the Basic version of which is available from the Real Audio website). This software allows you to listen to the streamed content on your computer.

It is not possible to transfer streamed audio directly to an mp3 player. If you have software and hardware which allows you to record audio that comes through your computer soundcard, then you can create mp3 files from the streamed audio and then transfer them to your player. However, there may be copyright issues in doing this, so I am not advocating it.

Some websites have converted their archived material into mp3 format (eg ClassicFM UK), which means that you can download the file (typically 0.5-1 Mb/minute) to your computer and listen to it at your leisure, using whichever media player you use (WMP, Winamp etc). You can also transfer it to your personal music player (eg iPod) and listen to it in the train, at the gym or wherever, or even burn it to a DVD and play it through your TV (most DVD players accept mp3 format).

This is the electronic equivalent of subscribing to a print magazine. Each new edition of the program is automatically downloaded to your computer as an mp3 file (or in aac format for those with a real iPod). You need podcast management software which checks the website for new programs and then downloads them.

There are numerous free podcasting programs, including Juice, iTunes, iPodderX, and RSSRadio. Some of these are for Windows only, others offer versions for Mac & Linux as well.

Once your podcast file arrives on your computer, it becomes the same as one that you have manually downloaded.


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