SAN FRANCISCO (05/23/2000) - With dead rockers, twangers, and one-hit wonders at my fingertips, I may never listen to radio traveling by the airwaves again.
These are just a few of the creative music channel categories found on AltaVista Co. Radio. Launched this week, AltaVista Radio streams about 150 "stations" of uninterrupted music. You play it on your PC using RealAudio's RealPlayer 7, and AltaVista Radio plans to build its selection to more than 200 channels within the next few months.
The online channels are divided into 13 music genres and contain more than 180,000 songs, according to AltaVista Radio representatives.
AltaVista's entry into Internet radio differs from those of competitors such as Lycos Radio and NetRadio because of its straightforward control panel.
Resembling a digital radio tuner, the browser-based control panel displays the station, song, artist, and CD for each tune. In many cases, it shows you the CD cover art as well.
Click on the artist or CD label, and you'll jump to an Amazon.com page where you can get more information and, of course, buy if you wish. Lycos Radio, by comparison, doesn't offer convenient links for buying. NetRadio does, but the links are on a separate page from the music player window.
AltaVista's music channels are often more imaginative than those of its competitors, too. Twangorama, for instance, is devoted to "instrumental guitar with gusto," such as Hawaiian, surf, and rockabilly. Dead Guy Rock and One-Hit Wonders are just what you'd think they'd be. The first plays nothing but songs by dead rockers. The second focuses entirely on the likes of Terry Jacks and Stacey Q., and if you just asked yourself Who?, then that's precisely the point. Other quirky channels I enjoyed include Rock en Espanol, Japanese Pop, Female Blues, Slow and Sexy, Classic Girl Bands, and Indian Classical.
AltaVista Radio has some room for improvement, however. The music selections are sometimes inexplicable--why was a Kurtis Blow song played on the Classic Girl Bands channel, for instance?
You can only preset four music channels, compared to Lycos Radio's six channel presets. AltaVista Radio provides no button for stopping the music, as other control panels offer. A banner ad plays across the bottom of the control panel, although that's certainly better than listening to ads as you do on regular radio.
Most importantly, a broadband connection is practically a requirement, as is the case with just about any streaming media site. The AltaVista tunes streamed across my Digital Subscriber Line with barely a hitch. When I dialed in with a 56-kbps modem, however, I heard lots of burps and skips in the music--and that's the last thing you want during an intense Twangorama session.