Global Grooves - online of course

It's Friday evening and the weekend starts with the Pete Tong Show on the BBC's Radio 1. Nothing like his eclectic deep funk selection with an Essential Tune thrown in for a taste of forthcoming dance floor action. Three hours of great vibes and you are certainly up for the weekend. Perhaps you are taking it easy tonight, so two hours of Danny Rampling's Love Groove Dance party featuring deep and delicious house never fails to raise spirits even further. You are up for a laugh, so it's over to Kiss 100 for the Boy George show. Rare does one find a DJ with a such a good (albeit camp) sense of humour. You on a roll, so John Digweed's two-hour show that follows and which often features guest mixes from the likes of Deep Dish and Parks & Wilson keeps you company for late night domestic activities of your choice. Or perhaps you're knackered, so it's recorded for a bright and early Saturday morning lift-me-up-higher in time for facing the hordes at the shopping mall. Saturday evening comes before you know it, and it's Judge Jules warm up show. You send a shout to all your mates because you can, and along with Beth and Judy off to a large one at God's Kitchen, Jules give you his nocturnal blessing. Perhaps the cheez is getting a bit, well cheesy, so how about Roger Sanchez on Kiss? Then it's two hours of house master and Cream resident Seb Fontaine back on One. You won't be left short on good tunes with Tall Paul since it's all happening on his Cool Cuts chart and guest mixes. You're having such a good time at home now it's Georgie and the Sharp Boys that second thoughts of that party have you vacillating wether to finish dressing and hit the road. But the lure of the dance floor is too strong - so you setup to record the Radio One Essential Mix - tonight it's Paul Oakenfold live from the Gatecrasher party at Birmingham. Failing a must-listen Essential Mix lineup (or Pete Tong yet again), there is always Mr C's Future Music show on Kiss in the wee hours of Sunday am - his shiny tech house never fails to please, not too mention his ‘loads of exclusives'. Nothing like getting home after a night out and grooving to cutting edge sounds over breakfast. Sundays evenings are normally a drag, so why not tune into Norman Jays Giant 45 show on the BBC's London service for three hours of soulful house bliss - this man must have the most positive attitude in the business. Later there is Ross Allen's show - expect guests like the Stanton Warriors and other tasty treats. The weekend is over, but Friday is not too far away, and besides all your recordings will keep you grooving over those dull week day moments. Besides, there is a smattering of good shows during the week - Paul Van Dyk on Wednesday nights on Radio Fritz followed by Giles Peterson's great jazz-infested World Wide show on BBC R1, Pete Wardman on Thursdays nights Kiss, ... the list goes on.

For any one who's lived in the UK for a while, this might sound all very familiar. But back home, we're hardly spoiled for groovable radio choices now are we. What to do... Emigrate? There is an easier way - avoid that drab weather and jack into the Internet of course. Audio Streaming technology has now reached a mature stage, with most of the major radio stations offering medium to excellent streaming services. It works by the broadcaster running software on their servers that takes an analog audio input and turning it into numbers representing the signal. These bytes are pumped down the Internet at a sufficient rate to your PC which runs a ‘Client' Player program which changes the numbers back into an audio signal which at worst case you can listen to on your crappy PC speakers. But a more decent sound experience can be had by making a connection to a your HiFi- now you will get to feel the bass when Oakie drops it hard.

There are three main types of audio streams, all do the same thing really. RealAudio was the first big one, and loads of net broadcasters standardised on it because it's been around for so long and it works well. Then along came Microsoft whom you know is quite greedy: they don't like to share, so they did their own thing and hence we have Windows Media Player. Apple had to have their slice of the streaming pie so they made Quicktime. All these formats are incompatible with each other, so for true listening pleasure, one has to download and install all of the above - a minor inconvenience.

Unfortunately getting it all to work is not as easy as flipping the switch on your radio and twiddling a knob to lock on. However, as any computer veteran will agree, perseverance pays off, and besides the occasional but inevitable Windows application crash, it works more often than not. But that's not to say you can't have a bad bandwidth day - sometimes the net slows down to a crawl as we all know. Fortunately, this streaming technology can cater for slow downs, and after a slight hick up on sensing a clogged connection it downscales the bandwidth connection. Even 11Kbps is quite OK, sounding like an AM radio station. A 32Kbps path provides decent stereo tunage, much like FM radio quality. Many stations have higher bandwidth options, but forget about that with all the hops and bottlenecks data has to go through to get here. Most modems support a 56Kbps ISP connection so all this is quite feasible without having to fret over ISDN links etc.

You might think of a second phone line to your place to alleviate domestic tensions - and although ISDN offers such a feature, it seems Telkom just aren't jacked up enough to service it properly - any mention of ISDN is sure to get you put on hold for someone else for a few hours. However, all is not lost with Telkom, they have their uses like their R7 call feature. For an extra R40 or so per month, you only get charged R7 for keeping the line open from 19h00 to 07h00 weekdays and 19h00 Fridays to 07h00 Monday morning. That means a cap on your phone bills and the ability to stay on-line the whole weekend for a mere R7 - that being the average going rate for that early morning Schnapps shooter!

Your PC will obviously need a sound card and speakers - but that's almost bog standard on all domestic PC's now. For a link to your HiFi, the sound card has a Line Out or even a Speaker out you need to plug into. You will need a mini-jack to RCA cord, plus extensions to make up the distance. The RCA plugs into the back of the HiFi either on Tuner or MD or whatever extra input you might have (not the Phone input though). Any consumer electronics shop can help you out with these goodies, or for the more adventurous head to Dions or Game for better prices. To record the shows, you will need sound editing/ recording software. There is loads of this on the net, but my sound card came with SoundForge, which works great for me since after cutting out all the idle chatter and ads, I can save directly to mp3 format. This gives a file size of only 32 MB for a two hour show. Many people remain mystified as to how internal recording works - it's really simple. On the Sound Mixer / Volume Control app, you simply select the wave input and the sound output from the player will be piped into the recording application.

Now you don' t have to remained crooned over your keyboard to enjoy such global online pleasures. You can hit the road in a number of ways with your hours of mp3's. There are those solid state mp3 players which I can't really recommend due to limited capacity and fidget factor however the Rio Volt Portable mp3 player (reviewed elsewhere) is great, and it also plays standard CD's. There seems to be a few other brand names portable CD players coming onto the market now that support the mp3 format, which is great because you can get up to 20 hours of top quality DJ sets burned onto a CD. I have also seen car CD players that now support mp3. And you can get home component CD/DVD/mp3 players now which means less hassle hooking up to your PC.

Of course, on-line radio doesn't always go smoothly - the player's connection to the server can time out due to poor bandwidth, the modem can drop the line, you forget to pay your phone bill, your Windows PC can (and will) crash, not too mention it's that time of the year for the goddesses: bolts of high voltage fury unleashed that end up in all your digital delights going up in smoke (mental note: get lightning protector installed). But most of the time streaming live radio shows from the worlds greatest DJ's live to your corner of cyberspace will be time well spent. It works, and works well (enough).

7th November 2001



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