INTERNET RADIO

We’ve been playing with the Phoenix Wi-Fi Radio recently, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s also expensive: around $200 from discounters. That’s pretty darned pricey¬†for a radio, but it can pull in stations from all over the world and no heavy breathing.

The only thing it needs is access to a wireless Internet connection. These days, wireless hubs are all over the place, from coffee shops to some neighbor down the block.

Once the radio recognizes a Wi-Fi connection, you can start tuning in. The company claims you can bring in over 7,000 stations, from Afghanistan toWi-Fi Radio Zimbabwe, but we could find only a couple of thousand. Maybe the others are down for repairs.

Internet radio has a major difference from regular radio because you can listen to podcasts and small, very local stations. It turns out there are lots of broadcasts you can get only through the Internet, and many of those are pretty darned interesting.

The New York Times, for example, has a daily podcast of front-page news and a weekly one called “Tech Talk.” We also found the president’s weekly radio address and business news podcasts from The Wall Street Journal and Business Week magazine. Coming down the road: audio books. A particularly neat feature is that you can fast-forward through a podcast if you’re bored with a part of it.

The sound quality on the Phoenix was excellent. There was none of the static you frequently get with regular broadcast radio and as we said, it was a lot of fun going through the dial. There are eight preset buttons you can use for going to your favorite stations.

It’s best to use the present buttons for music or talk radio, not podcasts, which have a specific date. For example, if you set a preset button for The New York Times news show, the button will forever link to that day’s (or week’s) news.

We found just one other problem: There’s no on/off switch. The radio runs on batteries or an adapter. When we wanted to turn it off, we had to pull out the adapter and (or ) detach the battery cover to break the circuit. Tech support told us it’s supposed to be always on, and when you’re not listening, it’s on stand-by. OK, but we like to have a switch. More info at: WiFi-Radio.biz.

NOTE: You can also listen to radio stations from all over the world through your computer, using AOL’s radio service, Yahoo, Google and many other services. Microsoft’s Encarta encyclopedia also lets you tune in stations from all over the world. The difference with all this is that you have to listen though your computer, whereas the Phoenix radio is a stand-alone.

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