How to Listen to Internet Radio

It's more 'streaming audio' and less 'radio'

Casual businessman wearing headphones and working at laptop in office

Martin Barraud / Getty Images

Internet radio is a bit like standard radio in terms of quality and user experience, but the similarities end there. The online-based version digitizes audio and splits it into small pieces for transmission across the internet. The audio is "streamed" through the internet from a server and reassembled on the listener's end by a software player on an internet-enabled device. Internet radio is not true radio by the conventional definition—it uses bandwidth rather than the airwaves—but the result is an incredible simulation.

What You Need to Listen to Internet Radio 

First, you'll need the hardware. A few choices include:

  • "Smart" Communication Devices: You can access internet radio content using a computer, smartphone, tablet, smart TV or just about any internet- or Wi-Fi-connected device.
  • An Internet Radio: A bit like terrestrial radios, these are designed for the sole purpose of playing streamed content. They typically rely on the local Wi-Fi network or other broadband connection in your home, office or any other place you'd use a traditional radio.
  • Your Car's Sound System: Many automakers now offer stereo systems in their vehicles with built-in functionality to receive and control internet radio transmissions. This setup typically requires a data plan or subscription to a satellite radio provider such as Sirius. Additionally, you can connect your cell phone to your sound system through Bluetooth or its auxiliary jack, so that audio received on your phone is played through your car's speakers. If you don't have either of these options, an FM transmitter can do the trick; it transmits audio from your phone to a station on your radio using FM-radio technology. Unlike satellite radio, these methods rely on your phone's data plan.

Internet Radio Content

Spotify Home Page
 Spotify

A great deal of internet radio content is offered free of charge. Many local channels and national networks offer live transmissions through links on their websites, which you access using your phone, tablet, or other device.

Rather than seek out individual sources, subscribe to an Internet radio streaming service that offers access to thousands of radio stations locally and around the world through an app or website. A few of these include:

You're typically required to sign up for an account with your name and email address. This login allows you to set your listening preferences with regard to stations, music genres, artists, albums, locations and more. In turn, your data helps providers to tailor advertising to your listening habits. Free accounts with most providers mean occasional commercials, which are no more intrusive than those you hear on terrestrial radio. In addition, most services offer paid accounts, which allow ad-free listening, more choices, and more customization options.