Doc Searls’ The Continuing Death of Radio as Usual is definitely worth reading. I’ll buy most of what he says, but I still think there is plenty of beautiful music on the radio. That plus some advice on how best to enjoy it.
If you live in or near a big city, my experience is that there’s good stuff on the air. I travel in the States quite a bit, and in my rent-a-car I can usually find interesting music and intelligent talk, mostly over at the left side of the FM dial.
Here in Canada of course we have the CBC, which is full of beautiful music. Not only are their radio feeds on the Web, they have an excellent all-Web presence called CBC Radio 3; if you can’t figure out the navigation on their beautiful-but-confusing Web site, neither can I, but every time I go there, interesting music starts happening so I just ignore the screen and listen.
Of course, to appreciate this properly you need to pipe it through something that doesn’t screw up the potentially-excellent sound quality that FM radio offers. Cars are all over the place, clearly some of the world’s most gifted car designers don’t know beans about audio. While Lexus offers equipment by the excellent Mark Levinson, I took the base no-name “Symphony” sound in my new Audi because the “upgrade” was to equipment from Bose, a company that’s all about marketing and is loathed by audiophiles everywhere.
For listening to radio at home, if you want beautiful sound it’s going to cost you a lot of money and then a little bit more money. First you’re going to need a standalone FM tuner, I recommend the models from Magnum Dynalab and Fanfare.
The picture of the MD-90 above is here just because Magnum Dynalab has better pix on their website than Fanfare; both companies make superb products, and any suggestions that I’m prejudiced because I have a Magnum Dynalab at home, or because they’re Canadian, will be ignored.
My tuner is FM-only and the tuning/audio electronics are all-analog, but it has a digital frequency display somehow back-computed from the analog innards, which is perversely pleasing.
A lot of money, I said; these things start around $1000. If you love music and have some decent FM stations in-range, I think this is a no-brainer, that $1000 is buying you an infinite amount of music plus the services of expert listeners who will play stuff you’ve never heard, all for no additional charge, what’s not to like? Be careful if you go to check tuners out in person, the good ones can go north of $5K and if the salesman gets you in a comfy chair listening to a good radio station on the top-line model through high-end speakers you may find yourself five kilobucks lighter before the effect wears off.
Then you have to spend a little more money; a good antenna is totally essential. Both Magnum Dynalab and Fanfare make excellent antennas, I use the Silver Ribbon and it has a steely grip on anything I might want to listen to. I suspect that any hacker who understands RF-spectrum technology could cook up a home version from whatever’s lying around the garage that would work about as well.