Next to e-mail, internet radioranks as the greatest accomplishment of the online world.Shortwave radio aside, in the days of AM and FM radio your listening options were restricted to the radio stations in your immediate area. A freak storm might bring an old-time revival broadcast from Alabama within range, but most days dialling up anything from more than a few miles away was unlikely.
Now, with Internet radio, streams and broadcasts from thousands of different radio stations around the world are only a click of the mouse away. Ostensibly, any radio station in the world is available, from Nepalese news stations and tiny free-form campus stations in Tulsa to the pirate feeds of bluegrass enthusiasts in Paris.
Sorting through all of them is another matter. The sheer number of available broadcasts is overwhelming, and virtually impossible to categorize. Inevitably, people develop favourites -- some of mine include www.bbc.co.uk/6music, www.wfmu.org and www.afropop.org -- but you always have the impression that you're missing out on many more.
The excellent Rough Guide To Internet Radio isn't a complete list of every station broadcasting online, but it is a start. Seattle writer L.A. Heberlein has assembled a comprehensive list of what he thinks are some of the best Internet broadcasters, covering everything from talk radio and surf music to Ethiopian DJs and First Nations stations.
Lists are broken down into stylistic and regional categories, with detailed explanations of what to expect from each address and hints for where to find similar styles of music and programming elsewhere on the Web.
As a stand-alone guidebook, it's indispensable if you love radio or spend any amount of time in front of your computer.
Even more impressive is the way Heberlein puts Internet radio in context.
Because he breaks down the basic concept of what broadcasting online means and offers easy steps to make your computer play streaming broadcasts and set up your own basement radio station, even a computer amateur could read this and be listening to Radio Havana in minutes.
In the face of the current argument in the United States over the future of Internet radio, with a proposed levy on online broadcasters threatening to shut small stations down for good, the Rough Guide To Internet Radio becomes an even more useful tool. Read and listen. firstname.lastname@example.org
THE ROUGH GUIDE TO INTERNET RADIO (Penguin) by L.A. Heberlein, 370 pages, $14.50 paper. Rating: NNNN