Matt Greller loves the Mets.
But the New Yorker is attending law school in Washington -a long
way from Shea Stadium. Or so he thought.
Last year he discovered live radio coverage of Mets baseball on
the Internet. Suddenly, Mr. Greller could edit a law-review article
and root for the home team at the same time.
"It's fantastic. It's just like you're listening to the radio,"
Internet radio is picking up speed, pulling listeners and once-
skeptical traditional radio stations along with it. Though still
coming of age, it is being compared to the arrival of FM radio in
"It's still very much maturing as a whole," but the growth
"really is tremendous," says George Bundy, chairman of BRS Media
Inc., an Internet radio-tracking and consulting firm in San
Francisco. Everything from NPR to new age, British pop to Black
Gospel is available to anyone with a sound card, speakers, and
enough patience to download the free software required to listen.
More than 3,500 national, international, and Net-only stations
exist on the Web, up from just 56 in April 1996, according to Mr.
Bundy. An additional 100 to 120 stations launch each month on
average, he says.
Traditional stations have been slow to jump into the mix, but
more are doing so as they see the Net's potential to reach a
"It has enough momentum and critical mass now that those who
don't plunge in in the next year or two will definitely be behind
the curve," says Jhan Hiber, ratings and research editor at Gavin
Magazine, a radio-industry publication.
If it catches on, Internet radio could fragment radio's
traditional audience, much the same way cable did network TV. But as
in the past, those in the industry expect the medium to adapt, and
in this case, embrace the Web."The potential synergy here is
incredible," says Mr. Hiber.
Listeners are also just beginning to understand what the Internet
While most Americans still tune in to radio the old-fashioned
way, an Arbitron/Edison Media study released in February suggests
that about 11 million people are listening weekly to Internet radio.
If that were a market, it would be the third biggest behind Los
Angeles and New York.
Those numbers could go up as devices that allow listeners to
leave their computer become available. Companies are now debuting
products ranging in price from $75 to $300 that will allow Net radio
to go where only traditional signals have gone before.
Sonicbox is introducing its tuner technology that works in
conjunction with a PC to home stereos and radios and a free-
standing unit, and Kerbango is offering a stand-alone product that
looks like a real radio and operates without a computer. In late
June, another new company, Savos, plans to beam Internet audio to
cellphones. Cars and other hand-held devices are expected to have
access eventually, too.
Listening online offers choice to consumers at a time when
consolidation of stations in the US has brought a corporate feel to
what's on the 105-year-old medium. Clearing houses on the Web -like
broadcaster.com, webradio.com, internetradiolist. com, spinner.com,
and live-radio.net -offer lists of Net stations from around the
country and the world. Listenerships can range from a few people to
as many as 205,000 -the number Virginradio.com attracts.
By downloading a RealPlayer or Windows Media Player (some
computers already come equipped), consumers can listen to radio
stations or visit sites that act more like a "jukebox," programming
selected music. Archives are also available -from NPR, for example -
allowing people to tune in whenever they like. The quality of online
audio can vary, however, depending on details like speed of
connection and a station's bandwidth.
Many Web listeners are logging on at work, a place some
traditional signals can't reach. …