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AARP Internet Radio

Fresh new music isn't just for the young

Ralph Graves is one of Crutchfield's blog editors, and part of the company's social media team. He writes about home audio/video gear, specializing in Apple-related and wireless technologies. Ralph holds a master's degree in music composition, and his works have been released on various labels. He's served as product manager for an independent classical and world music label, produced several recordings, and worked extensively in public broadcasting. Since 1984 he's hosted a weekly classical music program on WTJU, and is also active as a blogger and podcaster.

More from Ralph Graves

In recent years, the AARP has not only been concerned with adding to its membership roles, but also redefining what it means to be a retired person. The arrival of their Internet radio service just furthers that initiative — and makes the organization more attractive for Boomers who don't feel quite ready to be put out to pasture.

For those already familiar with streaming music services, the AARP Internet Radio Player isn't anything new — but for those just discovering music on the Internet, AARP has made it as straight-forward and easy as possible.

The service opens a stand-alone player in a separate window. So you can go on visiting other websites and doing other things while the player keeps serving up music.

Music that matters

AARP Internet Radio is programmed by the Concord Music Group, an independent label uniquely qualified for the task. Concord start out as a jazz label, and over time has absorbed other small quality labels, such as Telarc (classical and jazz), Fantasy (Credence Clearwater Revival's label) Rounder (folk), and Stax (soul) The combined label catalogs that Concord has available, plus the ones they've licensed from others for this service make an impressive mix of music (more on that later).

A simple player that simply works

The AARP player was created by Slacker, although a little less interactive than the one for Slacker's own service, or even PANDORA® Internet Radio. You can't "like" or "dislike" tracks, but basic functionality is still present. You select the station you want to listen to, and the player starts off with one track, and then another. You can pause the player, or skip to the next track (up to six times per session).

Album art, artist and song info are provided, and of course you can purchase the music through Amazon with a simple click of the cursor. There's also an Artist Bio tab that provides additional background about the group you're listening to. All in all, it's a very simple player to use — which is the whole point. AARP wanted something Internet newbies could use.

But who wants to listen to old people's music?

You might be surprised.

I was.

Quite frankly, I expected the stations to be a mixture of geezer rock, big band classics, golden oldies, Motown, and some Frank Sinatra.

As I said, AARP's out to redefine its image, and the stations it offers further that goal. There are a total of 18 stations, some of which are along the lines of what I imagine AARP would offer, such as Smooth Jazz, Vocal Standards, Oldies (1950's), Pop Oldies (60's & 70's), Country, and Classical.

But when I actually listened to the stations, I found some surprises. I expected the Oldies channel to be a rehash of the American Graffiti soundtrack, for example. I didn't expect to hear artists like Eddie Cochran, Ray Charles, Brian Hyland, the Flamingos and Larry Williams — but there they were. Digging deeper into the back catalog is one way to keep an oldies format sounding fresh.

New music for old people (and others)

As AARP states, "If you have a hard time finding music you love, or you miss the days when radio turned you on to great new sounds — we've got a radio player for you." Some of their stations are designed to help listeners discover new music that's similar to music they already like. This type of context-based programming might be old news to Slacker, PANDORA, and MOG users. But to folks just making the transition from broadcast radio to streaming audio — which is the market AARP's player is designed for — these stations can be a revelation.

I briefly checked out the Fresh Sounds channel, and was impressed by the variety of artists represented. I challenge you to find an over-the-air radio station that's going to play Amos Lee, TV on the Radio, Local Natives, and tUnE-yArDs back to back!

All this and great sound — free

One thing I appreciated was the quality of the sound. The streams I sampled had very good audio with nice stereo separation. I couldn't find any specs, but it sounded like 128kbps or better to me.

At the moment, there doesn't seem to be a smart phone app for the service, but I wouldn't be surprised if one wasn't offered in time. In the meantime, the only way to listen is through the AARP site. You don't have to be an AARP member to listen, though. Just go to the website and open the player.

The service is free to the listener. All of the licensing costs are being covered by the ads that display on the player, and (I'm sure) income from music sales originating from the site.

Music for all ages (mostly)

I might say that if you're of a certain age you should check out AARP Internet Radio. But their new music channels are so good, I'd like to expand the range of my recommendation. If you interested in music at all, then give the AARP stations an audition. Based on what I heard, I'd say there's something for everyone — even twenty-somethings.

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