For anyone with a touch of wanderlust, streaming radio is a window to the world.
When I was growing up in Texas in the nineties, I dreamt of listening to radio broadcasts from around the world. I was at the bottom of the Great Plains, surrounded by cow pastures and goat farms and barking dogs, and I often wished I were somewhere else. I imagined foreign radio to be an outlet: If I could listen to radio from another country, wouldn’t that be a little like going there?
This was in the early days of the internet. Most radio stations with a physical address didn’t stream their broadcasts live, and connections via dial-up were fraught, at best.
But streaming is ubiquitous now— and streaming radio is the escape hatch I always thought it would be.
Americans who’ve spent time abroad will know our country’s popular music is inescapable. Even when public-facing music systems aren’t playing pop, there’s still a good chance you’ll hear something from America. Once, shooting through a treeless Australian desert on a train, I heard the PA play Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama”. Walking around Lisbon in the summer of 2014, Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” was everywhere. A friend in Moscow today says he’s hearing the Puth/Gomez song “We Don’t Talk Anymore” more or less on every street corner.
For better, and sometimes for worse, American culture is still cool. So if you stream the wrong foreign radio station, you’ll only get music you’d hear stateside. But if you stream the right one, it’s like sticking your head into another world.
Living in North America? Send your ears to Vietnam.
A woman in Ho Chi Minh City is whispering incomprehensibly in mine as I type, apparently offering advice to women call-ins during breaks between slow-motion reverb tracks that sound like warbling Asiatic takes on the Twin Peaks theme. This is VOV3, 104.5 FM, Radio Vietnam. Who’s listening on the other end? Even with Instagram, Anthony Bourdain, and the social internet as a whole, I can’t imagine the lives these people lead. VOV3’s radio tower might be half a day’s trip from a blood-red sunset over a rice paddy and mud-wallowing water buffalo.
On Sicily, the stumbling block of the Italian peninsula’s boot, the city of Palermo beams some kind of post-punk spaghetti western sound with twangy guitars and a strung-out singer into the nearby hills and sea. It’s Radio Margherita, 105.7 FM. Perhaps fishermen are tuned in from the water, half-listening as they fiddle with nets and little wavelets smack under their boats.
In Colombia, a man that sounds like the vocalist of an Afro-Caribbean Red Hot Chili Peppers sings dolorously over the squeeze of an accordion and a chomping reggaeton beat. This is Tropicana, 97.5 FM (La más bacana! — “The coolest!”), from Cartagena de Indias. The cook at a beach restaurant could be listening now, over the hiss of frying fish and plantains. As the track fades, a voice like a Brazilian soccer announcer’s booms TROPI-KANNA!
Major radio stations often stream live from their own websites. The three examples here do. But some don’t; their streams may be hosted on a streaming radio site, like Listenlive.EU. Others are easy to find, but some are sketchy. Be careful, for your device’s sake.
Flights will only continue to get cheaper, and I hope you aren’t spending very much of your life wishing you were elsewhere. But if you find yourself in such a position, remember: elsewhere can always be listened to.