The Coming Wi-Fi Radio Revolution
April 30th, 2006

Last year we speculated about the possibilities of creating audio listening devices with Wi-Fi access that can tune into a vast and global variety of free “channels” via the internet.

Six months later, we reported about hobbyists who are experimenting with building this type of technology.

Now, the LA Times reports that a company called Acoustic Energy has begun mass producing producing consumer-oriented Wi-Fi radios.

The LA Times article describes the device as a “clock radio for the internet era”. More from LA Times:

The AE Wi-Fi Internet radio is a stand-alone receiver, preprogrammed with more than 2,500 online stations. Designed to operate more like a radio than a computer, it’s made by Acoustic Energy in Britain and is scheduled to hit the U.S. marketplace in mid-May.

It won’t be alone. Roku’s long-delayed SoundBridge radio — also a stand-alone unit that can pick up Internet radio via Wi-Fi — is also scheduled to start shipping next month. It comes programmed with only about 80 stations (more can be added) and lacks the user-friendliness of the AE machine. But the sound quality is better.

Both models bring Internet radio closer to the practicality of traditional radio. They might require the presence of Wi-Fi signals and electric outlets (because neither runs on batteries), but they fit nicely onto nightstands, bookshelves and kitchen counters.

Neither is cheap. The AE has a list price of about $300. The SoundBridge is about $400.

The tech-retro appearance of the AE, with push buttons under a small info screen, looks like something out of the old sci-fi “Thunderbirds” show. I get a kick out of the look, but the simplicity of those controls is at the heart of the AE’s charm. Using an all-purpose “select” button and the tuning knob, I can easily navigate station lists organized by location and genre.

There are 710 stations to choose from in the U.S., 380 in Britain, 33 in China, 21 in Mexico, nine in India, two in Trinidad and so on. By genre, there are 109 stations classified as alternative, plus four bluegrass, 11 Bollywood, 120 classical, 102 gospel, 81 jazz, 36 hip-hop and many more.

These radios still fall short of the full potential of a Wi-Fi radio, though. The reason why is that they limit what can be accessed to a pre-defined set of “stations”. So, the “station” selection possibly squeezes out tons of music, citizen radio and journalism, and more. Anyone can make a podcast or internet-accessed audio now for very little cost. These stand alone Wi-Fi radio devices should allow us to find and listen to it all (or, at least most of it).


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