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Big-T & the Bada-Bings


Tune Into The Net
By Elva Ramirez

This edition of Cyber*Kool originally was featured in the Winter 2000 issue of ATOMIC Magazine.

One of the most convenient quirks of the Internet is the appearance of online radio channels. They allow you to choose exactly the kind of music you want to hear and tune in anywhere in the world, so you can listen to something other and a clacking keyboard while seated at your desktop. Unfortunately, since Net radio technology is still young, even the most sophisticated sites are fraught with static, unreliable connections and mediocre sound. But what is out there is promising, if you're willing to overlook some breaks in you music now and then. So next time you're whiling away the night flirting in some chat room, try a few of these swingin' sites on for size.

Imagine Radio
Recently purchased by MTV, Imagine Radio has revamped its image. There are now two ways to listen to music: through the site's preset stations or through a "personal station" designed by you—sort of. Federal law prohibits Internet sites from allowing listeners to pick their choice of individual songs and albums; so while the first version of Imagine Radio allowed you yo be your own DJ and play only the artists you wanted to hear, that is no longer possible. Now, your personal station allows you to "weigh" how often a particular genre (a group of artists chosen by the station) is played. It's not very personal if you have to put up with a whole slew f whiny American artists (rockabilly is filed in with folk/blues) just to hear one cut from Big Sandy. Still, at least one can narrow it down.

To hear anything, you have to download the Imagine Radio player, which offers some neat options and a pleasing design. But even if you have a Real Player G2 and windows 98, Imagine Radio will still make you download the windows player for the highest-quality sound. The site is still quite nice, but not as great as it was the first time around, which often happens when large corporations take over. One can only hope Imagine Radio will work out its kinks.

Boasting more than 120 music channels and more than 250,000 songs, Spinner is the most high-profile Net broadcaster, giving music lovers by far the most choices on the Web. Using the site requires most choices on the Web. Using the site requires downloading the Spinner Player (which has an obnoxious way of automatically loading every time you start your computer, even after you've apparently deleted all its programs). The Spinner Player has too many nifty options to name here, but let's just say its creators have thought of nearly everything you didn't know you needed. They also clearly appreciate the nuances of listening to different genres of music, such as trance versus techno, or swing versus big band. For example, the Swing Dance channel features an upbeat song selection that is great for Lindy Hopping, and a good radio of new to old artists, including a few pleasant surprises from some relative unknowns. The Swing channel, on the other hand, features lots of swinging jazz from the '30s to the '50s, not necessarily all danceable. SinatraStyle is, as one would expect, a tribute to Frank and his legacy of fellow crooners. The selection tends to be on the softer side, but you'll occasionally hear some swingin' stuff, like Frank's Capitol years recordings. Softer still is Lounge, inspired by the quirkiness of Ultra Lounge compilations, and a great place to catch Dean Martin. Big Band covers only the masters; no neo-swing orchestras here. Other channels worth checking include Rockabilly, Ellingtonia, and Crooners. (A word of warning: The latter two can cause drowsiness at work.)

Online Music
An international network of mostly live radio sites broadcasting on the Web, as opposed to those that are strictly Internet-based, Online Music offers a vast selection of streaming music clips. The site required Real Player G2, and selections can be loaded either by individual song or the entire radio show, depending on the station. Given its format, Online Music is subject to Internet congestion. There is lots of of buffering and static, and the server connection is unreliable—a song might shift between mono and stereo sound while playing as the connection clears up, making for a disruptive listening experience. There is also no artist, album or song identification; thus one is left in the dark while listening. Still, the site offers several channels worth clicking on. For example, Rock-it Radio (under "Oldies" in the station directory) is delivered in live audio format and hosted by DJ Bennie Dingo out of Ventura, California. Dingo knows his stuff and plays a top-notch selection of '50s and '60s rockabilly, rock-and-roll and doo-wop, highlighting small hits and lost gems not otherwise found in common compilations or on greatest hits stations. The drawback is the sometimes poor sound quality, which leaves Dingo's words lost at low volumes.

Rockabilly Radio
A service of the aforementioned Online Music site, bills itself as "The World's Only 24-Hour Rockabilly Network," but the site's wasted potential is heartbreaking. Only 16 sound clips load, at least four of which are commercials, and the song lineup has apparently not changed for several months. All the songs played are stellar choices, although the artist and track names are not provided. Overall, visiting this site is more like listening to a good CD than an online radio network.
On this weekly, hour-long radio show out of Minneapolis, DJ Gregg Wolfe posts his playlists and streaming audio online. (There is no conversation, only music.) As with most other Net stations, you need Real Player G2 to listen in, and the sound quality wavers at times. On the plus side, you can hear the entire program from the four most recent shows and see playlists dating back to the beginning of the year. Wolfe also has a good ear for highlighting songs and artists not usually heard or known. Since the show is only an hour, some jumps in song styles can be less than subtle, but there's a new lineup each week, making this a site to check frequently.


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