I listened to a lot of sad music during the pandemic, which taught Spotify’s algorithm that I like sad music. The result: a never-ending stream of depressing indie songs. I was stuck in an algorithmic rut. That changed when I started searching for online radio stations DJed by actual human people.
Algorithms are smart but they’re also kind of stupid. They don’t know who you want to be, or who you might become—they only know who you were. They see your past behavior as indicative of your future preferences. Human DJs don’t do that. The good ones just play whatever they feel like, which exposes you to artists and songs no automated system would even consider.
Don’t get me wrong—I love melancholy indie songs. But there’s more to me. I contain multitudes. That’s why I try to get out of my algorithmic bubble and listen to something new.
Why online radio is the answer to an algorithmic rut
Algorithmic playlists aren’t all bad—we’ve talked about finding the best Spotify playlists, for example, and the results can be great. But there’s something about a good radio station that even the best automated playlist can’t give you. A few things stand out:
- Discovering music algorithms won’t show you. This is the key point for me. Radio stations play stuff I wouldn’t choose, and that Spotify wouldn’t choose for me. It’s refreshing.
- The little human touches. The best DJs talk between segments, introducing an artist and giving you background. They’ll also just talk about… whatever. I work from home, alone, and it’s nice when a little bit of spontaneous conversation breaks up a killer playlist.
- A better connection to your local community. If you find a local radio station you’ll learn about up-and-coming artists in your area and possibly hear them talk about their music. You’ll also hear about upcoming concerts.
- Learning more about other places. I’ve taken road trips abroad multiple times, and a small pleasure is scanning the local radio stations. I learned about The Great British Bake Off because rock DJs on three different stations were talking about cakes while I was driving from Liverpool to Glasgow—I was confused at the time, but I wouldn’t trade this memory for the world. Listening to radio stations from other places can bring this small part of travel to your life, even when you’re sitting at home.
Once you find a station, you can stream it in your browser or, if you prefer, ask your smart speaker to stream it for you. Some stations offer apps you can install on your phone—I tend to prefer just using the browser.
How to find great online stations
By now, you’re probably wondering how to even find radio stations online. There are all kinds of services for this, but I can recommend five that worked for me.
- TuneIn has a handy local station feature that lists a bunch of radio stations near you—try out any that sound interesting. Make sure you scroll to the bottom to find any online-only stations you might miss. The TuneIn app (free for Android and iOS) is a pretty good way to listen to such stations on your phone, too.
- The website Public Radio Fan is basically a massive database of public radio stations all over the world, including community stations that play music. You can filter by location or the kind of music you want to hear. The site provides links to the station’s website and, in most cases, direct streaming links.
- InternetRadio.com is another site that makes finding online radio stations easy. Browse by genre or try a search.
- NPR Music offers quick access to hundreds of local stations from all over the US—just scroll down to the Listen Live section.
- Apple Music stands out from Spotify and Pandora by offering a bunch of radio stations with actual human DJs, a few of which you can listen to without a subscription. It also offers a directory of local radio stations, if you’re subscribed, which is an underappreciated reason to consider Apple Music over Spotify.
There are other sites you could use as starting points, but these are my favorites. While I’m here, though, there are a few specific stations I want to highlight:
- Poolsuite.net is so weird and wonderful that I couldn’t not mention it. The website mimics the look and feel of a ‘90s Mac, and the music is a constant stream of serotonin-inducing summer sounds (basically the opposite of my sad indie Spotify situation).
- Radio Paradise is an internet legend—it’s been around since the early 2000s. Everyone should check it out once.
- Soma.fm is another service that’s been around forever, and it offers dozens of commercial-free stations covering all kinds of genres from pop punk to “secret agent.”
You’re not here for my radio station recommendations, though—the point is to find your own. But I do hope the tips and resources I’ve provided have given you a solid starting point and that you find a few stations that pull you out of whatever algorithmic rut you might find yourself in.