09 December 2020

    Craig Wilson

    Radio Garden connects you to new worlds... or your own

    Radio has always been a means of connecting people far apart. Thanks to the internet, it can now do that, and so much more.

    Radio Garden started out back in 2015 as a non-profit research project by the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. Available for Android, iOS, and for desktop via any web browser, Radio Garden lets you spin a virtual globe and tune in to thousands of radio stations, no matter what device you choose to use.

    Stations are represented as green dots, and you can see how many stations there are in a particular city based on the density of the dots. Zoom in to a particular area and a local station will start playing. If you’re looking for one in particular you can tap a button to bring up a list of the stations in the area you’ve dragged the pointer to.

    More than just a menu

    Users who want to see their local station included can submit it using a form on the Radio Garden website. The only requirement? The station needs to have an internet stream of its audio because that’s the backbone of the service and the antecedent to its existence.

    But Radio Garden is far more than a free selection of radio stations from all over the world, it’s a real-time window into what’s going on around the planet at any given moment. You can pay to remove the interface ads on Android and iOS, but they don’t meaningfully impact the audio you hear at all and are purely cosmetic, which means this incredible service is free beyond the data needed to consume it. Amusingly, the team which maintains the service reminds those opting to dispense with ads in the app for a nominal fee that they’ll still hear ads in the broadcasts because that’s beyond Radio Garden’s purview or powers.


    Whether you’re looking to listen to local news somewhere because of something breaking in the region you’ve read or heard about, or you’re trying to learn a new language and want to work on your listening skills, or you’re just curious about which pop songs are burning up the charts in Cairo, Caracas, or Cape Town, Radio Garden can scratch all of those itches and more.

    American exceptionalism

    One thing a few hours of scanning the airwaves with Radio Garden will teach you is that American pop music really is as ubiquitous as our elders fear. If you only stick to the big cities and their stations, hearing the latest in teenage-pleasing Americana is inevitable, but go off the beaten track a little — whether that’s by panning to further-flung, smaller towns, or just digging deeper into the station lists of densely dotted locales — and there are delights to be had.

    Whether it’s Spanish folk music in Cuba, Korean pop in Seoul, or regional talk radio (and the attendant hyperlocal trivialities that often involves), there are plenty of gems to be had, and part of the fun lies in trying to find them. Once you do, you can mark stations as favorites so you can return to their pleasures again. Though, like trying restaurants in a bustling metropole, it’s also easy to simply keep flitting between stations without ever returning to the same one twice.

    In a time where travel remains severely curtailed and meeting new people is as impossible as it is reckless, Radio Garden offers auditory succor, and a reminder that there’s still a whole wide world out there, resplendent with customs, cultures, callers, cat food advertisements, and the other mix of mundanity and marvels that we’re all looking forward to returning to eventually. For now, though, listening to them unfold in faraway lands offers an unusually piquant pleasure.

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    Craig Wilson