iTunes radio and you

Today’s “and you” entry looks at iTunes’ ability to stream radio broadcasts across the Internet to your Mac or Windows PC.

Getting Started

Before you can attempt to do such a thing, you need to see the Radio entry in iTunes’ Source list. If such an entry doesn’t exist, open iTunes’ Preferences, click the General tab, enable the Radio option, and click OK to dismiss the Preference window. Select the Radio entry in the Source list and watch as the iTunes window is populated with a list of categories including such entries as 50s/60s Pop, Ambient, Electronica, Talk/Spoken Word, and Urban.

Click the triangle next to an entry and stations will appear (some may appear immediately and some may appear in a few seconds after iTunes has refreshed the list of stations). You can refresh the list of stations by clicking the Refresh button in the upper right corner of the iTunes window.

Tip: When you click the Refresh button with all the triangles closed (pointing to the right), those categories that haven’t been previously opened don’t refresh. To make sure that all these categories are populated with stations, hold down the Command key (Mac) or Control key (Windows) and click the triangle next to the top entry (50s/60s Pop). This causes all the categories to open and be refreshed.

Once a category is open, you can learn important information about what each contains. As should be obvious, the Comment section provides more specifics about the programming and the Status column tells you if the station is online (or, at least, accessible from your computer). A far more important column is Bit Rate. This tells you the resolution (quality) of the stream and hints at how broad a broadband connection you require to listen to it. The higher the bit rate, the more data is streamed to your computer.

If you have a slow Internet connection—a dial-up connection, for example—choosing streams over 56kbps is going to result in audio that takes a long time to commence and one that routinely stutters and pauses. For this reason you should choose low bit rates if you have a slow Internet connection. You can help prevent some of this stuttering and pausing by opening iTunes’ preferences, clicking the Advanced tab, and choosing Large from the Streaming Buffer Size pop-up menu. This causes iTunes to download more of the stream and cache it before playing it back (with the result that it will take longer for iTunes to begin playing the stream).

Adding Stations

From all appearances, stations can be added to iTunes’ Radio list only by Apple. You can, however, add other stations to the iTunes Library and playlists of your own.

To do so, find a station you want streamed to your computer (the free Shoutcast provides a load of links to streaming stations). Click the link to the station and download the resulting .pls (playlist) file to your computer. If the playlist isn’t automatically opened in iTunes, drag the file into iTunes’ main window. It will be appear in the iTunes Library as an MPEG audio stream. You can now create a new playlist and drag your stations into it, thus giving you access to all your custom stations from one location.

Other Concerns

If stations don’t appear when you attempt to refresh the list or they won’t play, it’s possible that the stream is being blocked by a firewall—one on your computer or one imposed by your workplace. Regrettably, these streams come in on a few different ports so opening one port won’t do the trick. Stations you add via something like Shoutcast will reveal their port in the station’s Get Info window (the port number appears at the end of the URL). Stations included with iTunes don’t always offer this information—Apple tells us that some streams use ports in the 8000 range, while others use ports in 42000 range.

Note that these streams are intended to be listened to “live”—iTunes doesn’t provide a way to archive their recordings. It can be done, however. Our article, Radio Daze, tells you how.

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