Internet Radio Station Review: SomaFM
Jim Richardson is the managing editor for home audio/video and pro audio learning content on Crutchfield.com.
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I'm a big fan of listener-supported radio. I'll gladly endure a week or two of fundraising pitches twice a year, as long as they sustain a worthy source of out-of-the-ordinary, commercial-free programming. Here in Charlottesville, VA, we're lucky to have four such stations accessible on the airwaves. Most of you aren't so lucky, but stations such as our beloved WTJU, while scarce on the air, are fairly plentiful on the Internet.
WTJU and many other listener-supported broadcast stations also stream their programs online, of course, but the listener-supported business model also underpins some very intriguing Internet-only stations. SomaFM is a prime example.
SomaFM launched its first channel in February, 2000. The name, if you're curious, alludes to the fictional wonder drug of Huxley's Brave New World, which promised "all the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of their defects." It also refers to the place from which SomaFM started operating: San Francisco's South of Market area, also known as SoMa.
Ten years later, SomaFM offers 19 extremely diverse channels year-round, plus two holiday-season channels. Serving more than 5.8 million "listener hours" a month, SomaFM says it's "one of the larger Internet-only broadcasters." Their music library contains 7,000 CDs and 120,000 digital tracks. They claim to have played over 13,000 different artists during the last two years.
While scores of traditional broadcasters have joined the online streaming crowd, SomaFM is one of the few Internet-only stations supplying programs to airwave broadcasters. A special version of the Groove Salad show airs on the HD2 channel of KPBS-FM in San Diego.
Here's how SomaFM describes their channels. Follow the links to see recent playlists.
Space Station Soma - Tune in, turn on, space out. Spaced-out ambient and mid-tempo electronica.
Sonic Universe - A mix of avant garde jazz, euro jazz and nu jazz. Eclectic takes on traditional jazz.
Groove Salad - A nicely chilled plate of ambient beats and grooves.
Secret Agent - The soundtrack for your stylish, mysterious, dangerous life. For Spies and PIs too!
Lush -Sensuous and mellow vocals, mostly female, with an electronic influence.
Drone Zone - Served best chilled, safe with most medications. Atmospheric textures with minimal beats.
Suburbs of Goa - Desi-influenced Asian world beats and beyond.
cliqhop idm - Blips'n'beeps backed mostly w/beats. Intelligent Dance Music.
indie pop rocks - New and favorite classic indie pop tracks.
Digitalis - Digitally affected analog rock to calm the agitated heart. Screengazing encouraged.
PopTron! - Electropop and indie dance rock with sparkle and pop.
Noise Pop Radio! - Music and interviews from past and upcoming artists in San Francisco's Noise Pop Festival.
Boot Liquor - Americana roots music with a bit of attitude. For Cowhands, Cowpokes and Cowtippers.
Illinois Street Lounge - Classic bachelor pad, playful exotica and vintage music of tomorrow.
Beat Blender - A late night blend of deep-house and downtempo chill.
Tag's Trip - Progressive house / trance. Tip top tunes.
Covers - Just Covers, songs you know only not by the original artists. We've got you covered.
Doomed - It's always Halloween! Dark, haunting and scary music.
Mission Control - Live and historic NASA mission audio mixed with electronic ambient.
How to listen
Accessible through most wireless music players
Website: somafm.com - There are links below each channel's description to stream in a variety of file formats and bit rates. Choices include AAC at 128k, aacPlus at 64k and 32k, MP3 at 128k, and Windows Media at 128k and 32k. There's also pop-up player. As a rule, the higher the bit rate, the better the sound quality, though you may find the lower-bit-rate streams to be more reliable.