Friday, July 21, 2017

Internet Radio Station M3U Playlist (2017)


When it comes to radio, my story isn't unique. My degree of fanaticism about pop music might be -- which is why I'm using this post to tell a long radio-oriented story and share an M3U playlist of online stations. But my actual story isn't so special.

From a really young age I was obsessed with the radio, like I'll bet a lot of you were. I'd stay up past my bedtime and scroll up and down the dial of the Sony "pocket transistor" my aunt gave me for a Christmas gift, looking for something. But since I was really young I wasn't quite what it was I was looking for. Around the time I was in fourth grade, I'd found it. I hit upon a Long Island AM oldies station that was playing a 4 Seasons song I'd never heard before, "Ronnie." After that, they played a Kinks song that was a new one on me, "A Well Respected Man." I was intrigued.

I'd always loved the music from my childhood, but it dawned on me then that there was a world of old music beyond the Supremes/Beatles/Monkees I remembered. So I continued exploring. The FM "album rock" stations that kids in school were starting to tune into didn't thrill me so much. I remember getting an earful of a Hot Tuna song and thinking it was the dumbest thing I'd ever heard. But getting to hear tunes from decades earlier was exciting for some reason. Still is.

By high school, I was living in the Washington D.C. area and found I could pick up a Virginia station that went by the name "Extra 104" and played only songs from the '50s and '60s. No one back then understood why I listened to this stuff. While both girlfriends and close friends had indulged my interest in the local alternative rock station (WHFS, which I wrote about elsewhere on this blog), they drew the line when it came to songs like the Shirelles' "Foolish Little Girl" or the Fleetwoods' "Mr. Blue."

But that didn't dissuade me from listening on my own, of course. And by the time I was an adult, I'd taken it a giant step further.

In 1992 I discovered a fantastic overnight radio oldies show that broadcast out of Louisville, Kentucky. It could be picked up across most of the U.S. since it was aired on a high-powered AM radio station, WHAS-AM 740. The program was "The Joe Donovan Show" and it further sparked my interest in obscure oldies, since Donovan played any and all records that made the Top 100 from the 1950s to the 1980s.

That might seem ho-hum in the age of YouTube, when almost any obscure oldie can be summoned by the click of a mouse. But in the early 1990s, "The Joe Donovan Show" was pretty much the only source for this kind of music and it felt like a window into a lost world. I'd tape the show each night and listen obsessively to them the next day. This went on for years. Donovan, who was beloved by music fanatics far and wide, died in early 2014, but his spirit lives on in the old tapes of his show that I saved. I may post them here in the future.

But that's not my point today. I'm getting to that. Soon, I promise.

When Joe Donovan went off the air twenty years ago in the summer of 1997, oldies radio seemed to die along with his program. I'm fuzzy on the details, but some anti-monopoly laws that related to media companies were removed from the books. This apparently allowed mega companies like Clear Channel to step in and syndicate their shows in multiple markets across the radio dial. Out went the countless small AM oldies stations I could still pick up in places like Ohio and in came endless airings of talk shows like "The Art Bell Show." (Granted, music was dying on AM anyway, but this was the final blow.)

Still, I was addicted to unexpectedly hearing mysterious-sounding minor hits like "Morning Glory Days" by the Pleasure Fair. What to do?

It took a few years, but eventually online radio started to come into its own. A lot of independent Internet stations had been started by music fanatics who were like me -- only more ambitious. When people started to get rid of their 56K modems and upgrade to DSL and cable, these stations became easier to listen to because the problems with buffering became a thing of the past (remember all that?). I bookmarked a bunch of favorites in my browser and started listening to them all time.

Soon I got the idea to put these stations together in an M3U playlist that I could play in the MP3 player Winamp.  As time went by, I'd add new stations to the playlist and/or refine it. At some point, while "flipping through the stations," it occurred to me that I'd inadvertently created the dream AM radio dial I'd always wanted when I was young. I began sharing M3Us playlists with people I knew, most of whom seemed appreciative but bewildered.

And that's what I'm sharing with you all today.

This particular M3U playlist contains around 75 stations. Most are independently-run and they play music you'd never get on terrestrial stations. I know what you all are thinking, so let me head you off at the pass and say that I'm well aware of Sirius-XM but avoid it. My dislike of corporate media keeps me away. Plus, the BMW-driving, McMansion-living contingent of my extended family swears by it and where they zig, I zag. As for listening in the car, I use that time to play the vinyl rips I post here.

This M3U playlist was arranged to suit my own tastes, not to provide any sort of "well-balanced" musical experience. The stations at the top of the list mostly air music from the '60s. But judging from the massive amount of hits I get on my blog whenever I post '60s music, this set up should work for most of you as well. Further down, there are a lot of other stations loosely grouped together by genre (jazz, folk, old-time music, etc.). I included nothing from genres in which I have no interest, like contemporary country. This is the way I like it. If you have better ideas that suit your own listening habits, feel free to do some rearranging.

Since a lot of these stations are run by music fans, not big companies, they sometimes switch the URLs of their streams without notice or simply go dark unexpectedly. Some only broadcast at specific hours and some turn off and then go back on willy-nilly. That's life. The scope of music they provide more than makes up for any shortcomings. But because of all that, these playlists need to be updated regularly or they become obsolete.

I could explain why I picked the particular stations I did, but that would ruin the elements of surprise and discovery. And that's what made radio really great in the old days -- knowing you could stumble onto the unexpected. That's the fun of it. Wonder what Rewound Radio or the Seven Inch Soul station are playing now? Tune in and find out.

(Update: I took the advice of reader The In Crowd (see below) and revised this list since I've written this post, adding more stations. I may continue to do this in future as the mood strikes. Consider this an ongoing project.)

8 comments:

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  2. Okay, this is wonderful. Thanks much for sharing!
    - - and thanks for doing all the work, delivering something very close to the radio experience I've been yearning for. I love the variety of your selections (even if there's a couple I can do without). It's a relief to know these stations are out there. Having this parked in my iTunes will be a huge boon, and might even (finally) spur me to further investigation on my own. I'm hoping that you'll share list updates at some point, too. Cheers to you !

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    1. Thanks. I took your suggestion and just did an update.

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  3. I'm looking forward to checking this out. From time to time I do the same thing, all the way down to posting the results. The links and M#U file here are /way/ out of date, but some 'stations' are still alive... http://pilobilus.net/music_streams.html

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    1. Thanks for this. I do have some of links, but some are new ones on me -- like that '80s music site. Funny enough, I was good friends in college with someone who later performed with the Pilobolus Dance Company. I agree they're among the most creative in the world having seen them perform several times in the '90s.

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