Listen to a World of Radio Stations on the Internet
Back when I had more hair, there was a great independent radio station called KFAT in Gilroy, California, that played western swing, blues, and other genres of music that you rarely heard on other stations. KFAT went off the air 20 years ago (the call letters now belong to a Top 40 station in Anchorage, Alaska), but a bunch of KFAT on-air personalities started up a new station--KPIG--that broadcasts exclusively over the Internet from kpig.com. Now I can still get my heapin' helpin' of "fat" tunes even though I dwell in far-off Colorado.
Lots of AM and FM radio broadcasts can be heard on the Internet, many providing programming from the quirky to the sublime to listeners who are beyond the reach of the stations' local transmitters. Some stations broadcast only on the Net, pumping out great jazz, the latest trance and techno mixes, and news and talk in just about every language. To hear them, all you have to do is tune in using a streaming audio player.
My favorite is Nullsoft's Winamp, but others--Microsoft's Windows Media Player, Musicmatch's Musicmatch Jukebox, Apple's QuickTime, and RealNetworks' RealOne--will also do the job. You can download these players from PCWorld.com's Downloads library.
So Many Stations
Each of these audio players lets you browse Internet radio stations (see FIGURE 1), though most promote broadcasters that feature the player manufacturer's technology. For example, Winamp's minibrowser lets you browse Nullsoft's Shoutcast directory--a list of stations that broadcast using the company's Shoutcast Server streaming audio software. Windows Media Player's Media Guide lets you peruse stations broadcasting in Microsoft's Windows Media Audio format; QuickTime and RealOne offer similar indexes that spotlight QuickTime and Real Audio formats, respectively.
Luckily, you're not limited to one format or another--having all these players installed simultaneously is no problem. What you really need is a directory that lists every station regardless of format. Radio-Locator is a good place to start, especially if you want to search for foreign broadcasts by country. The site lists thousands of Internet stations, as well as AM and FM broadcasters, but it doesn't show which formats the stations broadcast in. BRS Web-Radio includes the digital audio format information for many stations, and it lets you search for stations by location, call letters, or programming. RadioTower.com is similar, but it also lets you rate stations on quality and posts those ratings in its listings.
Once you find a station you like, you need a way to find it again without having to search an online directory. Like Web browsers, most streaming audio players let you save station bookmarks that connect to the audio stream instantly.
To bookmark a station in Winamp 2.79, click the Control menu in the program's upper-left corner and then choose Bookmarks, Add current as bookmark. In RealOne, choose View, Favorites, Add To Favorites. In Windows Media Player, click Radio Tuner on the left side of the player, then click Recently Played Stations, select the station you want to remember, and choose Add to My Stations.
The best-sounding Internet radio stations broadcast their audio in near-CD quality, usually at 128 kbps. That's too much data for a telephone connection, but that doesn't mean streaming audio is only for broadband users. Most stations offer lower-bit-rate streams for dial-up users and for specific media types. Most 28-kbps MP3 streams sound like AM radio--not that great, but perfectly fine for news and other speech broadcasts. Interestingly, the Windows Media Audio format sounds noticeably better at lower bit rates. For example, London's JazzFM.com Windows Media stream sounds great at only 20 kbps, though not as rich as a local stereo FM broadcast.
Crush Your Own Cookies
You don't need Betty Crocker to bake a cake, and you don't need a third-party cookie-blocking utility to take control of who can and can't leave cookies on your PC. Cookies are small text files that Web sites save on your hard disk to customize your browsing experience. Though mostly benign and often helpful (they bookmark your ID for easy return to the site), cookies can be a threat to your privacy (some track your every move on the Net). Fortunately, the latest versions of the Internet Explorer, Netscape, and Opera browsers include cookie-crushing tools that are nearly as powerful as those offered by third-party utilities.
Internet Explorer 6: Choose Tools, Internet Options and click the Privacy tab. IE's privacy-level presets may be good enough for most of us, but you can also configure IE to accept or reject cookies site by site. Click the Edit button, enter the URL of the site you want to always--or never--prevent from writing cookies to your hard disk, and then click either Block or Allow (see FIGURE 2). When you're done entering URLs, click OK to save the setting.
In addition to managing cookies site by site, you can set IE to accept, block, or prompt before accepting all cookies from first parties (which are the sites you visit) and/or third parties (often the site's advertisers tracking your browsing habits). Click the Advanced button under the Privacy tab, check Override automatic cookie handling, select your desired settings under 'First-party Cookies' and 'Third-party Cookies', and click OK.
Netscape 6.2: Choose Edit, Preferences, click the arrow next to 'Privacy & Security', and then select Cookies. To block all third-party cookies, click Enable cookies for the originating web site only. For more-detailed cookie control, choose View Stored Cookies. To banish an individual site's cookies from Netscape in perpetuity, check Don't allow removed cookies to be reaccepted later, then select the unwanted cookie from the list and click Remove Cookie.
The Cookie Sites sheet indicates that Netscape is planning to add the ability to block cookies site by site in a future version; currently, the feature is disabled.
Opera 6.x: Opera is the cookie wrangler's browser of choice, offering tremendous control over cookie behavior--probably more than most of us care to have and certainly more than IE and Netscape. Choose File, Preferences, then select Privacy in the settings list. You can create a list of sites (Opera calls them "servers") whose cookies you want to treat individually. Click Edit server filters, choose the action you want to take on the server's cookies (such as Refuse from server), enter the server URL in the field at the bottom of the dialog box, and click Add. When you're done specifying what to do with whose cookies, click OK. On the other hand, to accept only cookies from the servers you defined as safe in the server list, choose Accept only cookies from selected servers from the first drop-down list in your Privacy Preferences. To block third-party cookies, choose Do not accept third-party cookies from the second drop-down list.
Send your questions and tips to email@example.com. We pay $50 for published items. Scott Spanbauer is a PC World contributing editor.
Revive Dead Connections
Has your Internet connection's heartbeat ever suddenly flat-lined in midbrowse? This can happen when your Internet Connection Sharing server or hardware router reboots, or when your ISP changes the address of the DHCP server that hands out IP addresses. Your computer may need a new IP address to venture onto the Net in this situation. To help it get one in Windows XP and 2000, choose Start, Run, then enter ipconfig /renew in the Open field (note the space before the forward slash) and click OK. In Windows 98 SE and Me, the command is ipconfig /renew_all (with a space before the slash and an underline before all).
Revision Control: Latest Software Tweaks
ZoneAlarm Pro 3.0.118; 3.4MB. According to Zone Labs, this fee-based version is faster and more stable than the initial 3.0.081 release. The company also says it works more smoothly than previous versions with Internet Connection Sharing in Windows 98 SE and Me, and it fixes an HTML rendering glitch that can strike when you use the firewall's new advertisement-blocking feature.
Agent 1.92; 2MB. Version 1.92 of Forté's Usenet newsreader adds a trash folder, improves some existing features, and takes care of various bugs; but more important than the fixes and enhancements is the application's added support for the YEnc binary encoding algorithm.
Opera 6.03; 11MB with Java, 3.26MB without Java. The latest version of the little-browser- that-could cleans up many minor interface glitches that were in the initial 6.0 release, plus a file upload security hole.