Every month I hand-select 1-2 Internet stations (aka my “Recommended Station”) and a Hitchhiker Station for my Patreon benefactors. To come up with these stations I don’t just toss a dart at a list of Internet stations and call it a day. For this month’s blog posting I thought I would provide some insight into the secret ingredients to a Recommended and Hitchhiker Station.
The Sample Rate
The process starts by sampling between 10-15 Internet radio stations practically every day. With tens of thousands of free stations, there’s a lot to choose from. Sometimes I’ll pick stations from a specific genre, other times from a specific region, or some other category. In rare cases, one of my Patreon supporters alerts me to a station they think I might find of interest. Internet stations are welcome to contact me directly and make their case for consideration, but that’s all they can do. A station cannot pay a fee to become Recommended nor can they advertise on my website. I also don’t require Recommended Stations to become a Patreon supporter as a pre-qualification, though some voluntarily become supporters after the fact. All of this significantly reduces my funding resources but allows me to keep my voice independent.
I listen to each station very briefly, only 10 seconds or so, to get a quick first impression. If I like what I hear, I save the station to “My Favorites”, a category in my Internet radio that allows almost unlimited storage of Internet stations. Then it’s on to the next step.
Pass or Fail
As time allows, I select one of these stations I’ve stored and start auditioning it for a longer period to see if it might be Recommended Station-worthy. I look for stations that have interesting back stories and that offer unique programming. The station might be of the same genre as many others, but they have a different mix or do something else different to make their station stand out (in a good way). Tease: This month’s Recommended Station on Patreon plays mostly instruments from the 1960’s to the present and slips in fun vintage commercials, TV soundbites, and soundtracks. So far, I’ve yet to encounter another station like it.
If something disagrees with me, the station gets dropped from consideration. Perhaps the music is not what I expected from my initial listen. Maybe the station has sound quality issues like distortion or the level between songs fluctuates too much. Other likely deal breakers include announcers who like to hear themselves talk, too many commercials or too many requests for listener donations, gaps between songs so big you could drive a tractor trailer truck through them, or the station’s stream is unreliable.
Now You Hear It, Now You Don’t
On the issue of unreliability, I recall really liking one particular station out of the UK. It was a great country music station, which I found interesting since it was based in the UK. I had been listening for quite some time and was really enjoying it. The station’s name escapes me since this was at least a year ago. I drafted a lengthy, extensive article, going into my usual detail. I emailed the station with a list of questions to get “the story behind the station” as I call it. I never received a response from them. Literally a day or two later, the station went off the air, replaced with a recorded message on my Internet radio advising me the station was not available in my country. It turns out this UK-based station did not have the required license to stream in the USA so it abruptly pulled its own plug. It seemed more than a coincidence that the station stopped streaming in the US almost immediately after receiving my email. Perhaps they thought I was a streaming license authority masquerading as an Internet radio blogger. I could still tune the station from certain Internet radio apps, but if there was no way to tune it on or add it to any Internet radio in the USA then I was not too keen on recommending it. All that time and effort for nothing, but at least I didn’t recommend it and then have it disappear immediately after.
If the station passes all the tests (which many don’t), then it’s on to the next level…much more extensive listening over the course of several weeks or sometimes months. This is required because the issues I mentioned don’t always reveal themselves immediately. This explains why I’m unable to recommend more than 1 or 2 stations a month because I must invest so much time vetting stations. Of course, a station could stop streaming at any time for any reason, but at least I make the effort to try to verify a stream is stable over an extended period. It also typically takes a while for a station to respond to my list of questions, preventing me from completing my write up until I receive their answers.
I’ve Been Drafted
Ordinarily, I will go through many, many drafts of my Recommended Station article before I post the final version on Patreon. I’m a perfectionist and I’m rather obsessive over my work, so I tend to review my article several times day. Even just before I post an article I’m making tweaks. I spend a great deal of time constructing my articles, which is yet another reason why I cannot take on more than 1 or 2 stations per month. As you know, many blog articles are quick reads…3 or 4 minutes. I don’t view my articles as the written equivalent of fast food. I do a lot of research, interviews, and picture gathering. I want to be certain my Patreon supporters get their money’s worth. Considering Patreon support starts at just $1, I think my supporters get a high return on their investment.
Hitchhikers On The Highway
Hitchhiker Stations are a different story altogether. These are stations that range from the strangely unique to downright bizarre. I call them Hitchhiker Stations because it’s like picking up hitchhikers on the highway. Hitchhiker Stations are the serial killers of the Internet radio highway. Some past Hitchhiker Stations include one that plays background music from proprietary records made for a kind of compact juke box designed for stores and businesses; a station that streams the sound of a hydrophone 23’ under water; and a station I featured in a Radio Replay article on my blog that airs confessions and commentary recorded from public payphones. Tease: This month’s Hitchhiker Station on Patreon is firmly anchored in the 1980’s and 90’s, and originally, the only way to hear that music was to put money into a machine.
Unlike searching for a Recommended Station, I cannot instantly generate a list of potential Hitchhiker Stations by calling up a certain category or region. Finding a Hitchhiker Station is a lot like finding a real hitchhiker…I just happen to find one while cruising down the Internet radio highway. Despite there being tens of thousands of Internet radio stations, I often go many weeks until I discover a Hitchhiker Station. It’s a lot of work for a station that most of my Patreon supporters will never listen to or only listen to briefly and never again. I include them because they’re great fun and they exemplify the freedom that Internet radio provides broadcasters, as you would never find such stations on the AM or FM band.
Patreon is another vital piece of the Recommended Stations formula. It allows Creators like myself to raise funds to finance their projects. The point of Patreon isn’t to get rich but to help keep my website blog and Wind Chime Internet radio station going, and in return, I provide my monthly Recommended and Hitchhiker Stations to my supporters as my small token of thanks. Some Patreon supporters drop off after 2 or 3 months presumably because my Recommended Stations don’t appeal to them. Before they pull the plug, I wish I could remind them that their support is integral to keeping my mission alive. Stop and think about it for a minute. No one else on the planet does what I do.
Time For Dessert
If you’re a Patreon supporter, thank you. If you love Internet radio but you’re not a Recommended Stations supporter, perhaps you don’t love it as much as you thought you did. I see my Recommended Stations as a helpful (and very inexpensive) accessory to an Internet radio or app. The interesting free articles on my blog are icing on the cake. Now that you have a better appreciation for the ingredients, I hope it makes my Recommended and Hitchhiker Stations even more meaningful. It’s like digging into a different rich dessert every month. If you knew the effort the chef went through to create them, you’d appreciate each bite that much more. And if they only cost $1 each, it would make them taste even sweeter.