Listening to Latvian radio just got easier

Thanks to a broadband connection to the Internet, it has not been uncommon for someone visiting my home to hear a Latvian radio station playing from a computer’s tinny speakers. But no more. For the holidays I gave myself a present, an Airport Express wireless device that now lets me play audio from my computer on a better-sounding stereo system.

The Airport Express, manufactured by Apple Computer Inc. and sold for USD 129 (EUR 149 in Europe, AUD 219 in Australia), extends an existing wireless network and allows for connections to devices such as printers and external speakers. It plugs into any available electrical socket and works with both Macintosh and Windows computers. In my case, I’m using the Airport Express to feed audio to a stereo in the living room. It picks up the signal from my Airport Extreme base station. Any computer that has access to the wireless network now is able to use Apple’s iTunes software to “broadcast” a signal to the stereo.

Anything that iTunes can play can be sent over the network, including MP3, AAC, WAV and AIFF audio format files. Hook up an iPod to the computer and you can transmit its content through iTunes to the external stereo or speaker.

The one problem is that iTunes only handles one kind of audio stream from the Internet, the so-called streaming MP3 or M3U playlist formats. Listeners to Internet radio via Shoutcast already are familiar with the formats.

More than a dozen radio stations in Latvia now offer streaming audio over the Internet (that’s counting the four services of that state-owned Latvijas Radio (Radio Latvia) and the three of the commercial Radio SWH). But only half of those use the Shoutcast format that can be understood by iTunes.

Those stations that can be heard through iTunes include three Russian-language broadcasters in Rīga—Gold FM, Mix FM and Radio PIK—and the tiny Radio Ef-Ei in Rēzekne. Latvijas Kristīgais radio (Latvian Christian Radio) also has streaming MP3 audio.

A new favorite is Radio Skonto, which offers its signal to Internet users in several flavors, including the Shoutcast format. Listeners outside Latvia only get the monoaural signal, not the bandwidth-eating stereo stream. But the mono stream is good enough. Skonto plays a mixture of American, European and Latvian pop in the “adult contemporary” format. Controlled by the U.S.-based Metromedia International Group, the influence of American broadcasting is clearly heard in the musical mix and the jingles and slogans tossed to listeners several times an hour.

“Mazāk runu, vairāk mūzikas,” says the recorded voice of a female Skonto announcer. Less talk, more music, just like many American stations.

Also sending a Shoutcast stream is Top Radio.

It would be great if iTunes could handle the Windows Media Player and RealMedia formats. Then I could use the Airport Express to listen on my stereo speakers to state radio, Radio SWH and the college station, Radio NABA. I wouldn’t be surprised if in the future iTunes will support these other popular formats. Already there is a third-party product, Nicecast by Rogue Amoeba, which can relay Windows Media and RealMedia streams in format understood by iTunes.

It also would be great if more stations in Latvia would put their signals on the Internet. Noteworthy broadcasters such as Rietumu radio in Liepāja, Kurzemes radio in Kuldīga and European Hit Radio are missing from the list.

Airport Express

The Airport Express from Apple extends a wireless network. (Photo courtesy of Apple Computer Inc.)

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

2 thoughts on “Listening to Latvian radio just got easier

  1. Don’t you think this is weird, to pay hundreds of dollars for a component that cannot handle Windows Media Player and RealMedia formats. Long live Apple Corporation, ahhh! Why not use a pair of wireless hi-fi headphones instead?

  2. No, it’s not weird, because the component in this case (Airport Express) isn’t the problem. The problem is the iTunes software, which is a free download from Apple. As noted in the column, Nicecast, a program by Rogue Amoeba, allows sending of broadcasting audio output that can be understood by iTunes. The same company now is working on Slipstream, a product that will directly send audio output from RealMedia and Windows Media Player sources to the Airport Express device. And, yes, long live Apple Computer!

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