How broadband broadened my listening horizons
Recently I had the pleasure of running into Gene Deitch, an 80-something American animator who has been living in Prague for over four decades now. The conversation turned to a documentary film we'd both seen about an obsessive collector of 1920s and 30s jazz and blues 78 records and Mr Deitch said, that's my kind of music, that's what I listen to all day long - on the web. That got us both rhapsodising about the multifarious joys of internet radio, though I am not sure if radio is the right word any more.
The day I arrived in Prague to live in September 1993 I was as happy as a clam called Larry to find the BBC World Service on FM - clear as a bell, informative and, above all, in English. For many, many years I listened to it literally every day. I swear at one point I could have had a fair crack at telling you their whole schedule; at the very least I knew exactly when their science or culture or whatever slot was every day. (It was also on the BBC FM frequency that I first heard Radio Prague, which I then imagined was somehow part of the Beeb. But that's another story).
Today, though, I pretty much only listen to the World Service when I'm in bed - either Newshour at night when I'm preparing to turn out the lights, or pretty much whatever is on when I have insomnia. Otherwise most of my "radio" listening these days is on the computer, relayed through my stereo system, and little of what I listen to is in any sense live. I do listen to BBC programmes, but they are usually either podcasts of documentaries that automatically appear in my iTunes programme, or shows that I enjoy through the Beeb's brilliant Listen Again facility. And many of my favourites, such as the arts show Front Row, are from the excellent Radio 4, not the World Service.
Having spent less than two weeks of my life in the United States, I was almost completely ignorant of American radio before I got broadband. Now, I have become an admirer of NPR, especially the programmes This American Life and On the Media. On a good day, the former features the best story-telling radio you will ever hear. On the Media, meanwhile, provides insights into how media works and often has a different angle on the big stories of the day.
By the way, given that we only really broadcast outside the Czech Republic, the only way I can actually listen to our own Radio Prague programmes at home is on the web, and most evenings I will listen to at least part of that day's show when I get in. And, you may be interested to know, that process will get even simpler next year, when the Radio Prague website is substantially revamped; instead of Real Player popping up there will be a player built into the page itself.