The golden age of internet radio: Curation in the age of the algorithm

Operating in a freeform space between traditional radio curation and mixed club sets, live-streaming internet radio has kept the craft of the radio selector alive while offering a platform to DJs and producers.

Over the past decade, internet radio hit its stride, as stations around the world began playing a critical role in underground music culture, growing communities that transcend space in the digital age.

Besides offering residencies to artists and curators, internet radio stations serve as powerful community hubs for music culture, in both the physical and virtual domains. Internet radio connects people in meaningful ways, while reminding us just how much better it can be to be introduced to new music by a human rather than an algorithm.

Community IRL

Some internet radio stations have physical locations open to the public like The Lot Radio in Brooklyn, NY. Inhabiting a shipping container, which functions both as a DJ booth and cafe, it brings life to a once-vacant lot in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, now regularly filled from morning to night with music heads and casual passersby in search of coffee. Meanwhile, NTS’ original London hub has become a landmark in Dalston’s Gillett Square since 2011, one of the few public spaces that, in the words of NTS, offers a sense of “communal freedom that is rare anywhere else in London.”

Community URL

While the potential for physical engagement with the public is one way in which internet radio has evolved beyond its AM/FM ancestors, its capacity for virtual engagement is its most revolutionary facet. With many stations supporting video live-streams, audiences around the world can peer into DJ booths at any given moment and join the station’s chat room to communicate with DJs in real-time.

“BikerBob,” an avid Lot Radio listener from California in his sixties, says the Lot changed his life when he discovered it a few a years ago. A regular in the chatroom of every show, The Lot soundtracks his life almost 24/7. When BikerBob was flown out by the station to attend its annual fundraiser in appreciation for his ardent listenership, he told me, “When I tune into The Lot and see the DJs, I feel like I’m in the room with them. After tuning into their shows for years, I feel like I know them.”

Curation in the age of the algorithm

Internet radio can forge surprisingly intimate relationships, however virtual, through the power of music and the internet. The experience of being introduced to your new favorite record in an organic and personal way is at the heart of what makes music discovery a profound human tradition. While digital streaming platforms like Spotify relentlessly churn out algorithmic playlists and ‘learn’ your preferences, there’s no true replacement for human curation. Internet radio thrives on this simple fact, sustaining its golden era in an independent music revolution.

Some internet radio stations worth explroing

The following stations only begin to scratch the surface of the live-streaming internet radio institutions around the globe that change the shape of music culture worldwide with their thoughtful curation:

1. NTS

One of the most influential and globally actualized stations in internet radio, NTS began in London and spread to Los Angeles, with pop-ups occurring regularly across six continents.

2. Rinse FM

Established in the pre-internet 90s as a pirate radio station, Rinse FM has been transmitting uncompromising and innovative music out of its East London heartland for decades.

3. Dublab

Los Angeles’ Dublab is an early pioneer of internet radio and a crucial voice in the American West Coast music landscape. Acquiring their own FM wavelength in 2017, Dublab reaches a wide audience around the world from a city where car listening is crucial and traditional radio remains alive and well.

4. The Lot Radio

Broadcasting from a shipping container on a rare sliver of unoccupied land in Brooklyn, The Lot Radio funds itself through its cafe and fundraiser parties. It’s among the most important music community hubs in New York City today and is recognized around the world after four years of operation.

5. Noods

A focal point in the musical landscape of Bristol, this UK station leans into its city’s vital contributions to leftfield bass and experimental techno.

6. Radio Nopal

Mexico City’s Radio Nopal features experimental programming, integrating talk-radio and social discourse. The community-run station is currently opening a one-month, live-work creative residency in the neighborhood of San Rafael.

7. Balamii

Balamii broadcasts from Peckham, Southeast London, and offers its listeners an app for ease-of-listening and track ID-ing.

8. Half Moon BK

Brooklyn’s Half Moon BK plays an important role highlighting people of color and members of New York’s queer community.

9. Berlin Community Radio (closed)

While no longer active, Berlin Community Radio receives an honorable mention for its vast archives and rich contribution to a city in the midst of cultural renaissance (and to the world at large).

Looking for more on the impact of radio? Check out our article on why non-commercial radio matters to a musician’s career.

February 20, 2020

Erin Rioux Erin Rioux is a record producer and co-founder of the New York label Human Pitch. As a member of the Splice team, Erin creates sounds and content.