It’s been at least a year, possibly two, since I last published a list of the most tuned Internet radio stations by Como Audio owners around the world. As many of you know, I worked for Como for over 7 years as Vice President of Product Development, and more recently, General Manager. I found it fascinating to learn what stations our customers were listening to and enjoyed bringing these lists to you on a semi-regular basis. With the company shutting its doors literally just a couple of days ago, I thought I’d author one final article on the most popular stations amongst Como Audio users and also amongst the millions of people using the Frontier Silicone platform.
Accordingly, here are the top 50 Internet radio stations ranked from the most to least listened to by Como Audio listeners:
Radio Swiss Jazz
WQXR 105.9 FM
BBC World Service
NPO Radio 1
BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 6 Music
VRT Radio 1
WNYC 93.9 FM
WDNA 88.9 FM
Radio Swiss Classic
BBC Radio 3
NPO Radio 5
SomaFM – Left Coast 70s
NPO Radio 2
WBGO Jazz 88.3FM
WGBH Boston Public Radio
KEXP 90.3 FM
WBUR 90.9 FM
La Première RTBF
VRT Klara Continuo
Classical California KUSC
BBC Radio 2
Classical California KDFC
VRT Studio Brussel
Radio 10 – 60s & 70s Hits
VRT Radio 2 Oost-Vlaanderen
In scanning through the above list, it’s not surprising to find Radio Swiss Jazz in the top spot. Anytime I’ve published this list it’s always been number one, and for good reason. Radio Swiss Jazz was stored in preset #1 in every radio we made and it was our go-to station whenever we performed product demonstrations. Streaming in the superior AAC audio codec at 100 kbps and playing a great selection of mainstream jazz, the station always sounded fantastic.
Now, here’s the list of the 50 most tuned stations by everyone using a Frontier Silicon platform-based radio of which there are millions around the world.
BBC Radio 4
Radio Nowy Świat
RadioMv – Slavic
NDR 1 Niedersachsen Hannover
NDR 2 Niedersachsen
BBC Radio 2
BAYERN 1 Oberbayern
NPO Radio 1
RTÉ Radio 1
WDR 2 Rheinland
NPO Radio 2
NPO Radio 5
OLDIE ANTENNE – Oldies but Goldies
HIT RADIO FFH
BBC Radio 3
Radio U1 Tirol
MDR THÜRINGEN Erfurt
Radio Swiss Jazz
The thing that stands out immediately to me with this list is there’s only 1 or 2 stations from the USA. That’s because the majority of these listeners reside outside the USA. Surprisingly, unlike the Como Audio list, Radio Swiss Jazz ranks almost at the very bottom.
It never fails to surprise me how many people have no idea Internet radio exists or even understand what it is. So, I get very excited when people discover it and the wealth of free entertainment it offers, regardless of what brand radio they use. Unfortunately, many users are discouraged by the amount of effort it sometimes can take to search through almost 70,000 Internet stations. That’s why I launched Recommended Stations via Patreon. With Recommended Stations, I do the searching for you and recommend a different radio station every month in addition to uncovering a bizarre station you never thought would exist. This month’s Recommended Station is unique in that it mixes two different music genres. Most radio stations are dedicated to a single genre, but not this station. Last month’s Hitchhiker Station (the name I give strange stations) is dedicated to the oral orifice. If this sounds interesting, sign up for a free trial using the link at the bottom of this article. And if you’re a Como Audio customer, join at the Elite level and I’ll be available to address any Como Audio tech support questions you might have about your music system.
I get very excited when people discover it and the wealth of free entertainment it offers, regardless of what brand radio they use.
Farewell Como Audio
As we started to wind down Como Audio last month, I personally received emails from many people thanking me for their music system(s) and for my assistance over the years. It was a lot of work developing and voicing every model while keeping to a totally unrealistic schedule. We also provided over- the-top customer service, especially for a very small company with limited resources. There were many instances where we took care of customers who were very clearly in the wrong or were downright unreasonable, but CEO Tom DeVesto always placed a very high value on customer support. We made our share of mistakes as well, but we always did our best to admit to them and to try to make them right.
The lats 2 years were difficult ones. You have no idea how hard we worked to try to keep the company going and the sacrifices that were made. As part of the cost saving measures my hours were gradually reduced to the point where I was only working 1 day per week. In November of 2022, I was forced to sell my home because I could no longer afford it. As was my luck, the red hot housing market had cooled off by then and I didn’t get the price I should have. I’ll put my violin back in it’s case now.
We were all hoping things would turn around for Como Audio but they never did. In the end, we had to face the reality that the business just wasn’t sustainable. Our most popular model, Musica, proved to be our chief downfall because we couldn’t get them in a timely manner due to parts shortages, high required order quantities, and price increases.
I may not have been a doctor saving lives or a scientist curing diseases, but it was very gratifying to bring music into people’s lives, especially during the pandemic when we were all isolated. Sadly, Como Audio is now history, but Internet radio lives on. As we were fond of saying to our customers- enjoy the music.
Trivia:Como Audio was founded 7 years ago last month and was named after beautiful Lake Como in Italy. It’s the third largest lake in Italy. Actor George Clooney owns an 18th century, 25 room mansion on Lake Como which he bought after falling in love with the area while on holiday. He was made an honorary citizen and often spends the summer months there.
Trivia: That’s Como Audio General Manager Peter Skiera’s voice speaking the confirmations from the Como Blu Stereo system.
Trivia: The default preset Internet stations in presets #7 & 8 on Musica were hand picked by Peter Skiera.
Trivia: While brainstorming names for our first two models, Peter Skiera proposed naming them Musica 1 & Musica 2.This was rejected in favor of Solo and Duetto, but our top of the line model was named Musica. Skiera also introduced the hickory finish.
Trivia:Peter Skiera started with Como Audio before the company had an office. He would meet with Tom DeVesto at DeVesto’s home on Cape Cod or at a cafe in Hingham, MA.
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Any Elite Supporter of Recommended Stations has the option of being the subject of a profile article which allows fellow supporters an opportunity to get to know them a little better. We’re like a family supporting the same cause so why not get to know each other? In this, my first Patreon Profile, I introduce you to Chris Cromwell, founder of WJST, my Recommended Station nearly 1 year ago.
As a reminder, WJST, “Jet Set Radio” out of Lexington, Kentucky plays “easy listening” reel-to-reel analog tapes as originally played over airline entertainment systems in the 1970’s. Other related reel-to-reel tapes of the same vintage are also featured. Cromwell adds occasional “announcements” from his “crew” to reinforce the in-flight experience.
Cromwell was a big rig truck driver and was frequently out on the road, but he’s currently recovering at home from a health issue so it was an opportune time for me to present him with some questions for this profile.
Peter: Where were you born?
Chris: I was born at the Vandenberg Air Force Base Hospital in California; near Santa Barbara. My dad was in the Air Force at the time.
Peter: Was music a part of your childhood?
Chris: Yes! Definitely! An interesting story behind that! Around late 1967, early 1968, my mom grew more weary of the turning tides of rock music she once liked. First it was the Beatles using drugs and claiming they were more popular than Jesus. She frowned hard on that. Then it was The Rolling Stones’ deeper use of hard drugs, she really didn’t like that! Finally, when she heard Jim Morrison of the Doors on the stereo, that pretty much drove the last nail into the coffin. She was DONE with rock music. So, she started tuning around the FM dial for better music she would enjoy. She stumbled onto Beautiful Easy Listening station KSBY, among several others located around the area; like KPMJ. She quickly fell In love with Beautiful Easy Listening and soon got my dad to love it, too! They always found a Beautiful Easy Listening station no matter where we lived. So when I was born in December 1970, I was born directly into Beautiful Easy Listening Stereo Music and of course Reel To Reel Tapes! My folks had two Sonys back then! I kind of liked Easy Listening, but soon got into the more mellowed out rock music of the mid-late 1970’s. My mom gave Rock music another chance in the mid-late 70’s; especially with disco. But as time went on, she was listening to more Beautiful Music with my dad, and I eventually grew more to like it too, especially as I got further into my 40’s. Now Beautiful Easy Listening music is all I listen to.
Peter: Who are some of the artists in your personal CD/LP/download collection?
Chris: In my 20’s-40’s I was into New Wave Music, (Pet Shop Boys, Til Tuesday, The Ramones, Art Of Noise, New Order, etc.). I was also into Classic Rock, (Eric Clapton, Moody Blues, Heart, Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, etc.). I also had a good decent collection of Disco Music from the Bee Gees and many others. A good variety from almost everybody. But I no longer have my CD/LP collection any longer. I gave away 5 big cases filled with CDs for free. Same thing for my cassette tapes. Everything except my Reel-to-Reel tapes are gone now.
Peter: What was the best concert you’ve ever been to? Did you ever meet a famous music star?
Chris: The only concerts I could go to was Christian music concerts during the 1990’s. Mostly because they were free for me to go to, or really cheap price; working at the Christian AM Radio station back then. There were several, I long forgotten who they were. I think one was Eddie Degarmo & Key, also Rachel Rachel? Or Amy Grant was another maybe.
I did meet Eddie DeGarmo personally for a few minutes to say hello.
There was one Christian music concert I went to, I forgot who the artist was, but she pointed me out to everyone that I was totally rocking out with her! That was pretty cool!
Peter: When did you first discover Internet radio as a listener and what about it appealed to you?
Chris: Perhaps the very first time I discovered Internet Radio was in 1998-1999. The dial-up connection of 32-56k was laggy at best, but I was quite surprised to hear different kinds of streaming music playing! At that time, I thought how cool it was to hear any kind of station or music from anywhere, not heard before. A free glimpse into everything!
Peter: How do you usually listen…a computer, an Internet radio, a smartphone app, an Alexa device?
Chris: Most usually I listen through my iPhone 12Pro. I use GetMeRadio or MyTuner Apps; maybe Live365 app. In the car the iPhone will connect through Bluetooth, and I can listen to the apps that way. I do have an Alexa device, but it’s only turned on for testing the WJST Jet Set Skill. Other times I might listen through my PC computer.
Peter: How often do you listen and what stations do you listen to (not including your own)?
Chris: I listen to Internet Radio pretty often, especially to the LoFi Music Stations, such as LoFi Girl.
Peter: Is there anything about Internet radio as a listener you wish you could change or improve upon?
Chris: I wish Internet Radio could just sound better, instead of the compressed sound all the time. Unfortunately, most legal streaming platforms only give you a low compressed signal for too high a price.
Peter: For anyone interested in listening to Internet radio or starting their own Internet station but afraid to take the plunge thinking it’s too complicated, what would your advice be?
Chris: I would say, if you have the serious passion and drive, go for it! Only the most passionate and creative broadcasters can be successful thinking outside the box.
But if you don’t have much passion or creativity for internet radio, you won’t see much use for it.
In reality, having your own internet station isn’t really all that complicated at all. It’s more about trying to build an audience over time.
Peter: Do you think Internet radio makes a difference in people’s everyday lives?
Chris: I would say it does! I have seen multitudes of positive comments from listeners. They all mention how healing and beneficial the music or programming is. Goes for me too!! Unfortunately, not many people are into sharing a station they like with others. So, nobody knows what they are not told.
Peter: You used to be a truck driver. How did you listen to Internet radio when you were out on the road?
Chris: From 2000-2017 I used XM Satellite Radio, or my USB Sticks to listen to my favorite music out over the road. My cellphones didn’t have unlimited data streaming capabilities back then. Eventually in 2018 I began listening to internet radio over the road using my Samsung Android phone. I was able to connect to the truck stereo using [the] Bluetooth connection. The Live365 app being the only one I knew of at the time. I would eventually discover other streaming apps.
Peter: I see from your Facebook photos that you own a motorcycle.
Chris: Yes! I still own (currently buying) a used 2011 Harley Davidson Nightster Sportster 1200. Fuel injected with Tachometer, Vance & Hanes exhaust pipes, plenty loud to be noticed with a car horn installed. It’s a pretty nice bike! Good mixture of blue, black and chrome.
It only has a 3.25-gallon tank, so I mostly ride it around locally near the house. Sometimes I might take it down to Richmond, Kentucky or down by Lancaster, Kentucky where my folks live. So not too many interesting places recently.
However, back in 2006, I had a brand new 2006 Harley Davidson Sportster 1200 Low dark metallic red, with all kinds of extra options, chrome, gauges, and goodies! It had a 4.5-gallon tank, so I enjoyed riding it down to Knoxville, Tennessee, around parts of Colorado, and of course, different places in Kentucky. I probably should have just kept the loud Harley instead of trading it in for a 2011 Chevy Camaro. That didn’t turn out too well.
Peter: In 2018 you started your own Internet radio station, WJST. What do you enjoy most about having your own station?
Chris: What I enjoy most is, knowing that me and several others that work with me, are making a positive difference with other listeners.
I’m told frequently how healing and melancholy the programming is. They think of their past relatives, loved ones, memories, childhood, etc. They appreciate the Easy Listening Relaxing music, compared to the anxiety filled Rock Music of today.
Peter: What changes have you made to WJST since it was named a Recommended Station?
Chris: I have made quite a few new changes since winning the award! It was a motivating factor to introduce a lot of new Easy Listening, Lounge, Exotica & Christmas music! I also introduced a bunch of new poetry that airs overnight during Music Till Dawn! Some of the Poetry is read by Chief Stewardess Something Blue! Late night drink recipes are read by Koop Kooper! Just recently, I added two new weekly shows to WJST!
“The Tiki Lounge Happy Hour” from D. Argyle Vermouth airs Wednesday at 6PM Eastern Time. Followed by “The Atomic Age Cocktail Party” with Jason Croft! Wednesdays at 8PM Eastern Time. Both programs are one hour long and feature music built around a central theme.
I have also included many new singing jingles. You will often hear a British girl singing about WJST!
Last and certainly not least, I introduced a new Captain to the Jet Set Plane to replace Gary Miles. She is known as “Captain Martha”, and turns out to be my spouse as well! Several listeners told me they really like her sound on WJST.
I recently signed up an account with Strimm and uploaded a good handful of my videos from YouTube to try it out. On January 20th, 2023 at 1:15AM, I launched WJST Jet Set TV 65 on Strimm! Channel 65, meaning the year 1965, when Jet Setting was in full swing, playing popular music reel tapes on Astrostereo. Of course, I had no viewers at all, as nobody knows about it, but it gave me time to learn how everything still works. I am still figuring stuff out…There isn’t a lot of content yet and I have much left to upload in the coming weeks and months.
Last night, I placed WJST Jet Set TV 65 on the WJST Jet Set Website! Everyone is familiar with that, so it should be easy to find and view! You can head over to https://wjstjetset.com, scroll down some, and you will see the large video player; TV Guide included! Eventually I will get it set up for Ad’s, and even for Roku! I will produce promos for the TV station, too. Otherwise, nobody would know where to find my TV station on the Stremm site, even with a link, few people would know of.
The Strimm website came around in 2012, so they aren’t going anywhere that I know of. They claim to have multiple Internet TV stations around the world. It’s https://strimm.com if you want to take a look, pronounced Stream. This is what I have been working on the past few days.
Peter: This might be an odd question, but I have to ask…Who is the young boy wearing a WJST T-Shirt on WJST’s Facebook page?
Chris: LOL! It’s easy to think it’s a boy with such short hair and cute face! But that’s actually a 23 year old woman named Jonah Tojo. She lives in Chiba Prefecture Japan, not too far away from Tokyo. Jonah is a popular former JPop Star singer! Her short blue hair is her trademark look. I aired a few of her songs sung in English and Japanese on WJST! I also sent her some WJST T-Shirts to wear. One large WJST shirt I gave her is worn as a nightie! So that is who you see on the FB Page.
Peter: Why did you become an Elite Supporter of Recommended Stations via Patreon?
Chris: After such a glowing article was written for WJST, I soon had a large increase of new listeners! More people are listening longer than ever! Even more so after winning Runner Up to Station Of The Year! Everyone wants to find out why! So, it’s the least I could do to return the favor, to become an Elite Supporter of Recommended Stations. To say Thank You so very much for listening and for your support!
Peter: What do you enjoy most about the monthly Recommended and Hitchhiker Station articles?
Chris: As I began early in this article, I was amazed to hear new music and stations on dial up internet! So, what I enjoy most is reading about those new or obscure stations anywhere in the world, I wouldn’t have known about earlier. Kind of like stumbling into an unknown dialup BBS site no one else knows of.
Peter: Anything else you’d like to add, Chris?
Chris: Since October 30th, 2022, I have been at home on medical leave; currently not working. I probably won’t return to truck driving, not knowing what other job I can do with my physical limitations.
I constantly worry about keeping WJST Jet Set Radio on the air. The high monthly costs are always due, and my short-term disability pay may not always be there.
I’m asking everyone to please donate to WJST, especially if it really does provide a beneficial service to you.
Otherwise, I might have to ground the Jet Set Plane for an indefinite period of time. People tell me WJST is a station like no other. I would have to say I agree! Let’s keep it flying with your support. Tomorrow is always another day.
Update: A few days after my interview with Chris he sent an email to the folks on his list which read in part: “I’m reaching out to all of you today, our most loyal Jet Set Fliers and listeners. We deeply appreciate every one of you most very much and we definitely love bringing a unique music format not found anywhere else. But we could really use your support at this time. As with the new increased costs from Live365, it may become necessary to ground the Jet Set Plane at Midnight March 1st! WJST will go dark, indefinitely! Please donate today securely to the PayPal Widgets located on the website.”
My thanks to Chris Cromwell for his time and support and I’m sure you join me in wishing him a speedy recovery and all good things for WJST.
If you’d like to make a contribution to WJST or enjoy a musical round trip flight or two, head on over to the station’s website…no need to pack a bag and no long security lines to navigate.
If you’re a Recommended Stations Elite Supporter or upgrade to that level and would like to be the subject of a future Patreon Profile, please get in touch with me directly at: email@example.com
Trivia (from apnews.com): “Boeing bid farewell to an icon on Tuesday [1/31/23], delivering its final 747 jumbo jet as thousands of workers who helped build the planes over the past 55 years looked on.
“Since its first flight in 1969, the giant yet graceful 747 has served as a cargo plane, a commercial aircraft capable of carrying nearly 500 passengers, a transport for NASA’s space shuttles, and the Air Force One presidential aircraft. It revolutionized travel, connecting international cities that had never before had direct routes and helping democratize passenger flight.”
Much like Santa Claus, WALM Radio – Christmas is shrouded in mystery. There’s no information about WALM on its website and no method of contacting them. WALM Radio has other Internet stations under its belt like jazz and old time radio (OTR), and what I take to be their anchor station, a Christian music station. The “Christmas vinyl” playlist is definitely laid back, but it’s just shy of full blown “easy listening”. You’ll hear music from artists like Anne Murray, the Boston Pops, Robert Goulet, Mitch Miller & The Gang, Peggy Lee, Mahalia Jackson, Montovani, Johnny Cash, Lawrence Welk, Celtic holiday music, and, gulp, Jim Nabors. If you can get past the insipid spoken promos (“We’re the home industrial strength, elf-powered turntables…”), you’ll thoroughly enjoy the music. You can even make a song request through their website and the meta data will show “Requested” when the song plays!
Streaming at 320 kbps, this is one of the best-quality, all-holiday streams available on the net, plus there are no commercials. Because it’s streaming at such high quality (“ultra-high fidelity” as WALM Radio calls it), there can be annoying stability issues with their Internet radio stream such as not connecting or connecting but not having any sound. Still, I included WALM Radio in my list since the stream on their website is very stable. That said, I much prefer listening to my Internet radio, not a computer, so I ended up cutting and pasting the Direct URL (shown at the beginning of this segment) into my Internet radio. It’s not perfect but it has better reliability than their Internet radio stream.
The WALM Radio – Christmas mix is mostly calming and peaceful…something we could all use a little of during the holiday rush. And no, WALM Radio is not short for Walmart Radio.
Update: Unfortunately, WALM’s website stream has also become unreliable as well as the direct URL and I can find no way to contact WALM about this. However, my other holiday station suggestions more than make up for this.
I have a soft spot for crooners, especially the legends of the past, and Crooner Radio – Christmas Vintage delivers Christmas crooners and then some. All of our old holiday friends are here…Andy Williams, Mel Torme, Sammy Davis, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Della Reese, Wayne Newton, Lena Horne, and even dashes of Elvis and Bobby Darin. Crooner Radio pushes the boundary with artists like The Pointer Sisters, but what the heck, it’s Christmas. Strangely, the stream’s meta data sometimes lags, meaning it continues to show the artist and song title for the previously played song. But with these big-name crooners, it’s pretty easy to figure out who’s singing what.
If you’re not in the mood for sugary holiday pop hits and you have no use for commercials, give Crooner Radio – Christmas Vintage a listen this holiday. You’ll feel so warm and fuzzy inside you just might start crooning some Christmas classics yourself.
I’ve freely admitted it before…I don’t know much about classical music and rarely listen to it, but I often turn to it during this time of year to get a refreshing break from the same old holiday fare. This station reaches deep into Santa’s classical bag and plays harp, brass, voices, and carols, and without a single commercial jingle. Artists include the San Francisco Girls Chorus, the Berlin Philharmonic Brass, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Cambridge Singers and Orchestra, the Choir of Kings College, and many more. The music is uplifting and creates a wonderful atmosphere day or night. As ACCC states on its website, “Classical Holiday favorites; comfort, joy and peace whenever your spirit needs a lift.” This isn’t a pop-up station or temporary format just for the holiday. They stream this music all year-round. I think I know which station Santa listens to in the off-season.
If you need a little classical Christmas right this very minute, whether you’re in California or wherever, tune in A Classical California Christmas courtesy of Los Angeles’ KUSC.
JIB On The Web was on my holiday station list last year, and it was also one of my Recommended Stations a few years back. Ordinarily, I never repeat a station, but JIB On The Web is such an exceptional station it deserves inclusion again. It’s a beautiful music station, not a dedicated Christmas music station, but starting at noon eastern time on the day before Christmas, the station airs 15 hours of holiday music. For many, “The Beautiful Music of Christmas”, now in its 5th year on JIB On The Web, is an annual tradition that’s not to be missed.
Unlike some other beautiful music Internet radio stations, a great amount of love and care goes into programming this station, and no less effort goes into its musical holiday extravaganza. JIB On The Web is operated by a very talented radio announcer who worked for the original FM station in Massachusetts, so expect nothing but an authentic WJIB beautiful music experience each time you tune in.
There certainly are a lot of radio stations you could listen to on the night before Christmas and the day of, but none are like this one. In fact, you’ll enjoy it so much, I’m willing to bet you’ll still be listening to JIB On The Web long after the holiday is over.
RadioSpinner Fireplace Sounds isn’t a Christmas station or even a music station, but I’m including it anyway because a fireplace always makes for a better Christmas. It’s just as the name says- the station plays fire sounds 24/7. All fire, all the time. You can practically smell the smoke. It creates the perfect ambience for the holiday or for pyromaniacs. Personally, I like to play this station while I have my electric fireplace on. Why electric fireplaces don’t have a digital recording of fire crackling or just a USB jack to connect a thumb drive with a fireplace recording, I don’t understand. But I digress. By the way, I say “fire sounds” because you’ll mostly hear outdoor fires with an abundance of wind, but I guess Radio Spinner Outdoor Fires With Wind didn’t quite have the same appeal.
The station does a much better sell job on its website: “Fireplace Sounds is designed to soothe, relax. Listening to the radio station is as pleasant as wrapping yourself in a warm blanket, hugging a cup of hot mint tea with both hands and quietly watching the ferocious weather through the window. Only a pleasant crackle of firewood, smoldering coals and barely audible sounds of the wind.”
Fireplace Sounds streams out of Russia where they know a thing or two about cold weather. At 97 kbps in the AAC codec, the sound quality is okay, but the wind noise overwhelms the fire sounds. I also didn’t hear any chestnuts roasting on an open fire, but I’ll take what I can get, especially when it’s free.
Maintaining a fire in fireplace, or anywhere, is a lot of work…tending to the fire, hauling and stacking the wood, clearing the ashes, and so on. In this case, just sit back and enjoy, because RadioSpinner Fireplace Sounds is the lazy man’s fireplace. Now, where did I leave my slippers?
Update: As my luck would have it, this station’s stream stopped working about a week after I posted this article.
You now have five free Internet radio stations to enjoy this holiday season! When someone asks you about the station you’re listening to, be sure to tell them you discovered it through RecomendedStations.com.
Trivia:What was the first radio station in the US to play Christmas music this year? Cincinnati’s Star 93.3FM was the first out of the gate. On November 1st, the day after Halloween, Star FM switched over to all Christmas music.
‘Tis the season for giving, so if you enjoy any of these radio stations, please help support my website by becoming a Patreon supporter today for $1. In return, you’ll get my Recommended and Hitchhiker Station every month in your in box as my thank you. This month’s Recommended Station recalls the early days of radio while the upcoming Hitchhiker Station might cause temporary holiday insanity.
Three years ago, I brought JingleMad Radio based in the UK to light. Within seconds of my first listen I knew this was a Hitchhiker Station. JingleMad plays nothing but radio station jingles. You know, the upbeat music that promotes a radio station’s all-important call letters. JingleMad doesn’t play songs or commercials, just jingles…sixty-six jingles per hour to be precise. Even JingleMad Radio has its own jingle. There’s also jingle montages where multiple variations of the same station jingle play back-to-back. The stream also includes each station’s name in the metadata in case you cannot figure it out from the jingle (unlikely). Some of the jingles are quite creative and funny like, “Get your feet on the floor, get your butt out the door.” Having worked in radio broadcasting, I developed a perverse fascination with this station.
Some of the radio jingles on JingleMad Radio are very short while others run surprisingly long. Some are very upbeat and others are more subdued depending on the station’s format. Regardless, most of the jingles you hear on JingleMad were professionally produced by a jingle company like JAM, Pams, ReelWorld, Zone Radio Imaging, Ignite Jingles, S2Blue, David Arnold, Brandy, Bespoke Music, Sharpsell London, or Murfin Media.
Here’s one of JingleMad Radio’s “clock” (a radio term):
:00 Single Jingle News with Stuart Clarkson
:01 Top of hour jingle
:02 JingleMad JingleMix – 66 jingles in a row!
:17 Demonstration time – jingle demo
:30 Another 66 jingles in a row!
:45 JingleMad jingle montages – user created montages
:59 News intro
In addition to the jingles, you’ll also hear “shouts”, but “ShoutMad Radio” doesn’t have quite the same appeal. A “shout” is radio parlance for a recording by a group of singers who “shout” the DJs name usually followed by the station jingle. Shouts are played by stations in between songs or at the end of a commercial break before going back to the music. When I was a DJ at adult contemporary station WLNH-FM in New Hampshire, I had my own shout. It made me feel important even though I wasn’t. I was a little fish in a little pond. I have my shout recorded on my WLNH air check cassette somewhere in a box in my basement. It’s a bit sad that my nearly 7 years in radio are represented on the single side of a cassette tape stored in a box in my basement.
Be that as it may, I reached out to Roy Martin, founder and President of JingleMad Radio, to get the story behind this Hitchhiker Station:
Peter: When did JingleMad Radio first begin streaming?
Roy: The service was conceived at the end of 2011 and went into testing mode in January 2012. 10 years on and we are still officially in Beta mode!
Peter: What was the idea behind JingleMad?
Roy: On the basis that there is a radio station for pretty much any interest or theme these days, I figured it would be fun to see if I could operate a radio station playing nothing but jingles from radio stations. We sought full permission from the main jingle companies, with almost all of them coming on board, giving us the OK to use their musical works.
Peter: How is JMR funded?
Roy: It’s a personal project funded by myself. It has zero running costs and only takes up a small amount of time to keep the jingles up-to-date and scheduled. Technology helps save much time, and we’ve called on favours from playout companies and streaming providers to make it more worthwhile!
Peter: How many station jingles do you have in your library?
Roy: As of today, we have almost 12,000 individual pieces of audio on rotation. We start each hour with 66 jingles in a row, then into a few demos and montages before returning to non-stop jingles taking us through the rest of the hour.
Peter: Where do you source the jingles from?
Roy: The majority have come from the owners of the jingles, either the companies that made them or the radio stations that bought them. We’ve also been sent many by enthusiasts and collectors, along with ‘jingle montages’ from collectors.
Peter: Do you only play jingles from UK and European radio stations?
Roy: 95% of our jingles are in English, so include all English-speaking nations. The majority come from North America and the UK.
Peter: What is the most bizarre station jingle you’ve ever played?
Roy: We’ve got a few jingles with swear words in, which we schedule ‘after the watershed’ at night. We did have one complaint made to Ofcom [UK communications regulatory agency] about one particular jingle sung many years ago which we have since dropped as it doesn’t seem appropriate these days, as with many songs sung during a different era.
Peter: What’s the most obscure jingle you’ve ever played?
Roy: We play all jingles we’re allowed to, so nothing stands out as being obscure.
Peter: Do you also run a music radio station or you just do jingles only?
Roy: JingleMad Radio is totally about the jingles. No music involved. I personally operate a couple of other radio services but these aren’t connected to JingleMad.
Peter: Are the majority of your listeners in the UK?
Roy: It’s split mostly between the UK and North America, although we are popular in Japan.
Peter: Are you working on anything new for JingleMad?
Roy: Being 10 years old we should probably look at officially launching the station! Maybe we’ll do that. But on-air, we’ll just carry on adding jingles and playing them out non-stop.
To slip in a little shameless self-promotion, earlier this year I added a custom jingle to my own Internet radio station, Wind Chime Radio. It was composed, arranged, and sung by several members of the New Randy Van Horne Singers and plays randomly.
I’ve brought you some pretty off-the-wall Hitchhiker Stations over the years, but JingleMad is one of the maddest. If you’ve got a thing for jingles, check out JingleMad Radio and jingle all the way.
Trivia:Wheaties cereal by General Mills was the first consumer product to use a commercial jingle on the radio, broadcast on Christmas Eve in 1926. In 1947, Dallas radio station KLIF-AM was one if the first stations to use a jingle to identify the station’s call letters.
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Due to financial constraints, I was forced to change the host company for my Internet radio station, Wind Chime Radio. At the end of this article I’ve provided a link to the website to listen as well as the station’s new URL to input directly into your Internet radio if it offers that feature or to provide your station aggregator to get WCR added to their directory (it is already listed in Airable’s directory for those with Frontier Silicon-based Internet radios).
I took this opportunity to make a few other changes. One big change is the upgraded sound quality. My station is now streaming at the maximum bit rate of 320 kbps in the superior AAC audio codec (vs. 80 kbps in MP3 with the previous host). The chimes sound more realistic than ever!
I also made all new AAC stereo recordings of my chimes and more recordings of them to keep the sound as fresh as a spring breeze. As before, the chimes were recorded outside as the brisk Massachusetts coastal winds moved them about naturally.
Another change exciting is a new jingle. The New Randy Van Horne Singers vocal group composed and recorded a custom “jingle” exclusively for Wind Chime Radio. They put a lot of work into it and I’m truly honored to have their wonderful voices blending so beautifully on my station. The WCR jingle will air randomly throughout the broadcast. I’ve included a link to TNRVHS’ Facebook page at the end of this article so you can check them out.
Finally, ‘ll be changing the background color of WCR’s logo from black to white so it will stand out more.
At the start of this article I mentioned a financial crunch. It’s never too late to show your support. If you enjoy reading my blog and/or listening to WCR, please become a Patreon supporter today for just $1. If you’re already a supporter, please consider upping your support. All funds will help support my website blog and radio station. In appreciation, you’ll get my Recommended Stations and Hitchhiker Station in your inbox every month. This month’s Recommended Station has a very unique tie in with an airline, while April’s Hitchhiker Station celebrates music you rarely hear nowadays (and perhaps for good reason). My Recommended Stations are a fun accessory for your Internet radio or Internet radio app!
Thank you in advance for your support and I sincerely hope you enjoy the new Wind Chime Radio wherever you listen from!
Radio Replay is a random “pop-up” series that looks back at a Recommended or Hitchhiker Station from the past. For my first Radio Replay, I re-established a connection with one of my early favorite Hitchhiker Stations, The Payphone Radio Network.
A local supermarket I frequent opened up their second entrance after having closed it for over a year due to the pandemic. As I headed toward the newly re-opened ingress, I noticed something I had never noticed before. I was upset with myself for being oblivious to it. It was an actual, in-tact, public payphone! I had not seen such a rare sight in I do not know how long. My heart started beating faster as quickened my pace toward this unexpected relic. As I approached, desperately fumbling in my pocket for some spare change and racking my brain over whom I would call, my excitement quickly turned to disappointment as I realized the phone was out of service. The sign at the top had been hastily covered up with black paint and there was an abundance of rust on the coin box. I felt like a total idiot for assuming this dinosaur was still alive. Evidently, some payphones are not even worth the effort of removal. This one had obviously been abandoned on the brick wall to dry up and fall off like an ugly old scab.
It occurred to me that with the advent of the personal cell phone, we have lost an entire telephone vocabulary…busy signal, reverse the charges, collect call, out of order, party line, operator, long distance, person-to-person, phone book, yellow pages, off the hook, cut off, directory assistance, switchboard, unlisted, and dial tone. Although we have retained the terms “dial” and “hang up” when we use our smartphones, we do not physically “dial” or “hang up” anything.
God Save The Call Box
Here is a bit of good news from our friends across the pond. Ofcom is proposing to preserve 5,000 of the iconic, red call boxes, but not because the UK’s telecommunications regulator has a soft spot for payphones. There are still areas in Britain with poor cell phone coverage, and for many, payphones are the only alternative. Areas with high accident or suicide rates will also retain their payphones. The new rules would prevent these call boxes from being repurposed into mini-libraries or storage facilities like thousands already have.
Do You Remember?
Like your first girl, they say you never forget the last time you used a payphone, or something like that. There was a payphone on the wall in the hallway opposite the door to my college dorm room. It accepted incoming calls and I’d occasionally get calls from relatives, mostly my father. Someone on my floor would answer the phone and knock on the door if it was for me or my roommate, Dan. There was no privacy, but people weren’t usually lingering in the hall unless they were waiting for the antique elevator which was out of service more than not. I don’t specifically remember making calls from that phone but I must have since this was before cell phones existed and we didn’t have a phone in the room (it cost too much to have a line installed). Besides, I really enjoyed the communal experience of using that payphone.
“This one had obviously been abandoned on the brick wall to dry up and fall off like an ugly old scab. “
Drop A Dime
One good thing that came out of my disheartening supermarket payphone experience was it reminded me of one of my early favorite Hitchhiker Stations, The Payphone Radio Network out of New York. I brought that Internet radio station to light two years ago this month, calling it a “one-man telephone reality show”. As a brief refresher, speaking in a Bill Belichick-like monotone, dropping an occasional, unexpected F bomb, Mark Thomas called into a recording apparatus and left personal reflections on all manner of topics which he later streamed over this Internet station. He called in using public payphones exclusively, thus the name of his station. He estimated he made over 1,600 payphone calls since he started streaming his station 11 years ago. Thomas must have been Ma Bell’s best customer. Ah, Ma Bell. I remember her well. The Payphone Radio Network is still on the air, but Thomas stopped calling it in just about a year ago due to – what else – the pandemic.
In addition to broadcasting his personal thoughts pertaining to whatever was weighing on his mind at the time, Thomas occasionally used a payphone’s handset as a hand-held microphone to record subway buskers. The sound quality was archival at best, but it was fascinating to hear those New York subway performances captured as they happened. Whenever I heard those primitive recordings on Payphone Radio, I was tempted to look around for an open guitar case to toss some spare change into. As it has been 2 years since I wrote about Payphone Radio, I decided to make it the subject of my first Station Replay to see what Thomas and his station have been up to. Normally I rely on email to conduct my interviews, but in this case, I very much wanted to ask Thomas my questions over a payphone. Unfortunately, for several reasons, that wasn’t possible, so, I present my written Q&A with Thomas:
Peter: Will you resume your payphone activity after COVID or are there just too few payphones to carry on?
Mark: I don’t think so. Ten years is a long run for something like this and I have nothing to prove by doing it for the rest of my life. I don’t know if the paucity of phones is necessarily a show-stopper, though. I’ve felt good about redirecting my energies to YouTube, where a loyal cadre of viewers seemingly cannot wait for me to do another emotional overshare or a payphone tour of another New Jersey city.
Peter: Do you miss making your payphone calls?
Mark: I do, but time marches on. Quarantine and lock down do not seem to have slowed the pace of the payphone apocalypse, which presently leaves just a couple dozen working public and semi-public phones in the 5 boroughs. I’ve also canvassed several New Jersey towns and found pitifully few working phones. It’s never been lost on me that the end is nigh for access to reliable public communications structures. If you are in a bind you had better hope your cell phone works. Peter: When was the last time you used a payphone and where?
Mark: I check in on what has come to be known as the “Doomsday Payphone,” so-called because I cannot believe the thing actually still works but also because I like to imagine a future where some kind of neutron bomb destroys all the cell phones, leaving this stubbornly surviving telephone as the last possible link connecting humanity to itself. I frequently dial up my Payphone Radio number from that phone, or else try a random toll-free number. I also dial *10 whenever I find a PTS payphone. *10 connects to a free daily prayer. I’m not religious but I find it enchanting, and sometimes funny. It also makes the owner of the payphone about 50¢ per call at no cost to me, this on account of FCC-mandated dial around compensation fees for calls to toll-free numbers made from payphones. That *10 shortcut only works from PTS-owned phones. Peter: Do you recall the first time you used a payphone?
Mark: I don’t think so but I will never forget the payphone at my high school. That thing was legend in my youth. Having regular access to that phone felt empowering, like I’d made a huge step toward adulthood. I guess it’s not unlike the sense of achievement young people have today when they get their first cell phones. I practically lived by that phone. That may well have been the first payphone in my life. There was also a phone booth outside the University of Tampa, where I took piano lessons. The area was known to be a hot spot of hookers and prostitutes. Even though I probably didn’t even know what [a] hooker was I was intrigued, and would call in to that phone booth and play back cassette recordings of myself at the piano for whoever answered. I guess I thought I was bringing some class and elegance to skid row. Peter: What’s the strangest thing that happened while you were on a payphone?
Mark: There used to be a spot on Northern Boulevard where you’d see a bunch of people strung out on K2 (synthetic marijuana) lying flat on their faces on the sidewalk and even on the roadway. I was making a call once from a phone across the street from that scene, just idly looking in their direction, when suddenly two of them sprang to life and started pounding the snot out of each other. They looked absolutely possessed. It was scary, even from the safety of being across the street, but [especially] when the brawl spilled into the street. Northern Boulevard is practically Interstate type traffic at that spot so those guys were at great risk of getting plowed down by a 70mph truck. One of the less drug-addled people nearby was able to corral them off the roadway but that could have ended very badly. Just as suddenly as the fistfight started those two K2 dudes laid back down on the sidewalk and passed out again. I also can never forget the moment, in the middle of a call, when a stroke of sunlight hit the inside of a Madison Avenue payphone enclosure so the words “GO TO CHURCH READ BIBLE”, scratched into the metal surface, became clear to me. It was like a small miracle because I had been on the hunt for PRAY for months, years even, coming up almost entirely empty handed. “GO TO CHURCH READ BIBLE” is one of the messages of PRAY, the legendary scratchiti (markings etched into hard surfaces) artist of the 1970s and ’80s who scratched messages like “PRAY” “LOVE GOD” “GO TO CHURCH” etc., onto, as the legend goes, every single payphone in New York. Statistics on how many payphones there used to be in NYC vary considerably, I suspect because indoor and outdoor phones were treated differently. But in her day PRAY would have scratched her messages onto well over 35,000 payphones, as well as other surfaces like fences, park benches, mailboxes, etc. That’s a lot of scratching. She was described as elderly, vagrant, and probably disturbed. Still, it was amazing to me that these messages she sent out all those years ago were still being received. Ever since that subtle, even subliminal message became clear to me I suddenly started seeing her everywhere. I simply did not have the eyes to see until then.
Peter: Did you ever have an extended conversation with an operator while on a payphone?
Mark: I remember pleasant back-and-forth chitchat with operators when I was in college but can’t recall any substantive conversation. Except for trying to make operator-assisted collect calls to payphones I seem to have [steered] clear of bothering the operators, though. I haven’t dialed 0 from a payphone in a long time but I seem to remember it leading to a pretty murky world these days. Peter: Did you ever record a famous/semi-famous busker using a payphone handset?
Mark: Probably the best-known and most enduring subway performer I’ve captured is Natalia Paruz, better known as The Saw Lady. I’ve captured her sounds a number of times. She’s quite a versatile musician not just with the saw but hand bells and carillon, though I’ve never seen her do hand bells in the subways, only the saw.
Peter: Do you use a landline and an answering machine at home?
Mark: It’s interesting how the definition of “landline” has changed. Fios phone, which I have, is considered landline, and unless you request otherwise, the number they give you is listed in the phone directories, along with your home address. Just like the old days of the phone book. I do not have a copper landline. I don’t remember when I finally cancelled that but I remember making the cancellation call to Verizon from one of the phone booths at the NYPL. I do have an old Panasonic telephone/answering machine I think I bought in the early 1990s. I also have a payphone given to me by the guy who owns the Doomsday Payphone. I plugged it in to Fios phone briefly but just use it as a conversation piece.
Peter: Why have you started posting select payphone calls on your station’s Facebook page?
Mark: I’d been meaning to do this for a while. The Shoutcast stream is, with over 1600 calls and over 63 hours of content, an awful lot to unpack. Breaking them down into single or short series of calls is intended to give people an idea of what the whole project is about without demanding too much of their time. With Shoutcast, as you know, most people would not be able to back up and replay something that was interesting to them. That is both its blessing and its curse, as I feel strongly that radio should be ephemeral but I also know that all these hours of content can feel like an ocean. I also have enjoyed messing with Adobe After Effects in making visualizations and audio wave forms. I also intend to transcribe some of them.
Peter: Did you learn anything profound from doing payphone radio or did it alter any views you had of something?
Mark: I don’t think I’m getting to the bottom of life’s mysteries with any of this stuff, but I guess I’ve learned a few things about myself. There is so much I do not say, so much I leave out. Almost none the women I’ve been involved with since I started doing this get even a mention, at least not specifically and never while we were together.
Peter: For the benefit of those reading this who’ve never had the pleasure, what was the appeal of using payphones?
Mark: One of my original intents was to capture the rugged, monochrome, earthy sound texture of the copper landline before it disappears altogether. Most of NYC’s payphones were retrofitted with cellular routers in the years after I started doing this but almost all the payphones that remain today are landline and calls from those suckers sound awesome. It’s also aesthetic at work about having both feet flat on the ground and being in a singular place. You can keep shoveling coins in to keep calls going indefinitely, of course, but at a public pay telephone your time is essentially limited. You have to think about what you’re going to say before dropping a coin and saying your piece. That’s how we used to connect before cell phones and mobile telephony caused the pace of communication to hyperventilate. I’ve never warmed to walking-and-talking on a cell phone. To me a phone call remains something important enough that you stop, plan, schedule, and take the experience seriously.
Peter: Did you ever hear Lou Reed’s song, “New York Telephone Conversation”?
Mark: Amazingly, no. I thought I knew all the payphone-related songs in the canon, having researched the matter quite a bit. Thanks for linking to that one, it’s good fun. The greatest payphones song ever, IMO, is “Sylvia’s Mother.” It’s nowhere near as great a song as Jim Croce’s “Operator” but *as a payphone song* it sets the pace, making you feel like you are in the phone booth shoveling coins in the slot to keep the connection alive. The song was actually a parody, meant as a joke, but on the basis of depicting the experience of making that kind of call I think it hits a bullseye.
Peter: Which Internet radio station(s) do you personally listen to (besides your own)?
Mark: Isn’t all radio Internet radio these days? BBC Radio 4 Extra, their radio dramas slay me. Freakonomics. I also binge on older stuff I have recorded: Danny Stiles, Joe Frank, Gene Scott, Paul Harvey, Joey Reynolds, other radio heroes. I find Joe Piscopo to be strangely engaging and I can’t explain why. Joe Walsh (not of the Eagles) was also a lot of fun until he screwed things up by running for President. I used to tune in to Hacker Radio on WBAI, and until I started getting to bed earlier, I’d make a point of hearing out Joe Frank’s 11pm spots on WNYC. I think they finally quit airing that. One obscurity is the Reverend Gary Beeler, who I heard when driving through central Tennessee in (I think) 2002. He delivered a sermon that made me pull the car over to the side of the road, it was so powerful. When I got back home, I wrote him a letter asking if he could send a cassette of the sermon from that day’s broadcast. He did. I play it back often. I wish I could find copies of the Matt Drudge Radio Show. That was a favorite but I somehow never thought to record it, and evidently neither did anybody else. One abbreviated show on YT and that’s it.
PS: What are you up to these days, Mark?
Mark: I continue doing phone projects, relying on an Asterisk PBX that I finally got around to setting up and configuring. You can reach my IVR, for instance, at this number: 917-259-1163. I am also going to be connecting my piano practice room radio to a dedicated inbound phone number in the 917 area code. I acquired 212-255-2748, a coveted phone number which used to be the primary number for the old Apology Line, and connected it to Payphone Radio.
Call To Hear The Calls
As Thomas mentioned, besides an Internet radio and his website, you can also listen to his payphone calls by using…wait for it…a telephone! Call 1-212-255-2748 and you’ll immediately be connected to the stream. Listening to phone calls from a phone…brilliant!
Two Person Party Line
An interesting Payphone Radio phone number “bug” was revealed last month. If someone calls the number while another person is already connected and listening, the Payphone Radio stream ceases at once and the two people can talk to each other for up to an hour (if anyone else calls in during this time they will hear a busy signal)! This would make for a fascinating Internet radio station in itself…recorded conversations of random strangers talking on the phone. Thomas himself called in and ended up speaking with numerous Payphone Radio fans (mostly). He also had several prolonged conversations with a local gal named “Ceci” that led to a date and a potential lasting friendship. But wait, it gets better. It turned out Ceci was a burlesque stripper! Where did Thomas take her on their date? “I gave her the grand tour of midtown’s payphones”, he wrote on his YouTube posting, “handing her a stack of Payphone Radio cards [printed cards advertising the Payphone Radio phone number] for her to stuff into payphones on 5th Ave., at Grand Central, Macy’s, and the Port Authority/Times Square subway station. We also stuck cards into a number of LinkNYC kiosks.” And they say romance is dead. This all reminds me of the Bandits On The Run’s (a NY band, by the way) beautiful song, Love In The Underground.
Anticipating an adventure of my own, I gave the number repeated tries over the course of several days and hung on for about 10 minutes each time, but I didn’t get lucky. Perhaps if I had pulled the handle enough times on the payphone slot machine, I eventually would’ve gotten 3 cherries in a row.
Calling Andy Warhol
Thomas’ payphone-project.com website is worth a browse for interesting payphone-related information. On it I found a phone number to a working payphone inside the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh that accepts incoming calls, a rarity for payphones. I tried calling the number numerous times on different days and times hoping someone, anyone, would pick up, but no one ever answered. I also sent them a few emails but never received any response. Obviously, they must be very busy over there at the museum.
Disappointed with my experiences, but not yet ready to hoist the white flag, I decided to try something else…calling the phone number to the Pawtucket, R.I. apartment I grew up in when I was a child. I remember we had an ugly, army green-colored rotary dial telephone in the living room, and a black one in my parent’s bedroom (I didn’t have my own phone until I was 22!). When I called the number, I got no answer. The phone just rang and rang. That made me think it must have been a land line because there was no voicemail greeting or a message that said the voicemail had not been setup. A Google search indicated the number was associated with a different Pawtucket address than the one I grew up at. They say you can never go home again. I guess the same is true when phoning home again. The white flag is now flying.
COVID has driven the last nail into the payphone’s coffin. You won’t find free, disposable antiseptic wipes at payphones, assuming you can even find a working payphone. It makes me all feel warm and fuzzy knowing payphones still flourish on The Payphone Radio Network, no antiseptic wipes or coins necessary. I suppose it’s about time I stop carrying around spare change in hopes of discovering a working payphone.
Trivia:The first public coin telephone was installed by inventor William Gray at a bank in Hartford, Conn in 1889.
PS: Check out my payphone pictures on the Recommended Stations/stationsguy Instagram page, and if you happen to know of any working payphones on MA’s south shore, please let me know where. I’ve got some spare change I’m dying to use.
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