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Delving into Quirky, Compelling Corners of the Internet Radio Universe

A Q&A with Peter Skiera, author, researcher and founder of the Recommended Stations list

Peter Skiera

From a radio station that streams from underwater to stream-of-consciousness thoughts from a New Yorker calling exclusively from payphones, there is a wealth of unique, charming, niche and bizarre internet radio stations out there online.

Radio World recently spoke with Peter Skiera, creator and author of the Recommended Stations website, which uncovers and highlights stations that listeners might discover on their own.

“Given that there’s over 61,000 internet radio stations from around the world, people understandably get overwhelmed trying to find stations, and they never discover many really good stations,” he told Radio World. “I figured it was time somebody sifted through all of these stations and made recommendations.”

The interview has been edited slightly for length and clarity.

Radio World: For the uninitiated, can you tell me a bit about the Recommended Station list and what it offers listeners?

Peter Skiera: The point of my monthly Recommended Station list is to make radio and music enthusiasts aware of different, interesting, great radio stations they probably would never have discovered on their own. Last month I recommended a station that specializes in music from the early 20th century. This month I recommend two holiday stations, both very different from what one would normally expect from a holiday station. Next month’s Recommended and Hitchhiker Stations are associated with outer space.

Once someone joins the Patreon membership platform for $1, they get access to all of the stations I’ve recommended, as well as future recommendations and occasional blog content. I just want to try to recover my website and blog expenses since this endeavor is entirely self-funded. I don’t accept advertising on my website, no companies sponsor my articles, and I don’t earn a commission for recommending a station or a CD or LP.

RW: Before we get to an explanation of what a “Hitchhiker Station” is, could you share the backstory on the creation of this service?

Skiera: There are people who recommend audio equipment, books, movies, restaurants, cars … so why not internet radio stations? Given that there’re over 61,000 internet radio stations around the world, people understandably get overwhelmed trying to find stations, and they never discover many really good ones. I figured it was time somebody sifted through all of these stations and made recommendations.

So I started writing Recommended Station articles for an audio company’s blog about every six months, highlighting between six and nine standout internet radio stations, really going into a great deal detail about them, including interviewing station founders or music directors, to get the story behind the station.

A couple of readers emailed me suggesting I put out a monthly Recommended Stations newsletter rather than writing an article every six months. It was a good idea, but finding and vetting stations is a lengthy process, and there was no way I could come up with six or nine stations every month for a newsletter. I got the idea to do one Recommend Station a month along with one Hitchhiker Station and linked my recommendations to Patreon to help support my music-related blog. As far as I know, I’m the only person in the world who recommends internet radio stations on a monthly basis and purposely seeks out bizarre stations.

RW: Tell us a bit about the unearthing of a Hitchhiker Station? What do these stations do?

Skiera: I call them “hitchhiker” stations because searching internet radio is akin to picking up hitchhikers on the highway. You don’t know if the person getting into your car is a college professor or a serial killer. Honestly, I think I get more excited when I find a Hitchhiker Station than I do a Recommended Station because they’re so rare. I love discovering bizarre stations that would not exist were it not for the internet. Granted, they’re not stations you’d probably listen to for an extended period of time, or perhaps at all, but it’s fascinating to learn about them.

RW: It’s surprising to hear how many free internet radio stations are out there. Can you tell me a bit about some of the niche stations you’ve found?

Skiera: I’m also amazed at the number of stations, and the list keeps growing every day. Many people have no idea about all of this free content. I’d be very surprised if you couldn’t find at least one internet station streaming your favorite music.

Examples of some of the stranger stations I’ve uncovered: There’s a station in Washington state that streams live audio from a microphone that’s 23 feet underwater. Trying find that on your AM or FM dial. Then there’s the internet station that has outdoor weather instruments connected to an analog synthesizer, so when you tune in you hear the current weather conditions expressed as a continuously changing frequency.

In the U.K., there’s an internet station that plays nothing but radio station jingles. But I think my favorite Hitchhiker Stations is Payphone Radio Network. The New Yorker who started it calls in and records his thoughts about whatever happens to be on his mind at the time and then plays the recordings over his internet station. The kicker is he calls in exclusively from public payphones! Yes, Virginia, there are still payphones.

RW: When it comes to curating a list, is there a catalogue of criteria you are looking for before including them on your list? Do distinctiveness, listenership or other qualities come into play when making a recommendation?

Skiera: My stations have to sound good. Some stations stream at low bit rates or have audio problems like random noise or large gaps of silence. I won’t recommend those. They also must stream reliably. I’m not interested in the guy who streams out of his garage three days a week between midnight and 5 a.m. for seven months out of the year.

The station’s format is the real key. There are a ton of internet stations with the same format, be it classic rock, oldies, country, classical, rap or what have you. Most of them play the same songs. The stations I write about have to do something different.

Perhaps they mix in other types of music not normally associated with the genre, or they have a really different format altogether, or maybe the station’s founder has an interesting backstory that motivated him or her to start their station. Just about anything that makes a station stand out from the other 60,000 radio stations usually gets my attention.

This month I’ve been listening a lot to a Canadian internet station I discovered called “Easy Listening Christmas,” playing artists like Percy Faith, Hollyridge Strings, Manheim Steamroller, Ray Conniff Singers, etc. It’s old-school holiday music for sure, but it won’t put you in a coma for Christmas.

RW: How do you find out about some of the more obscure radio stations hiding in various corners of the internet?

Skiera: Believe me, it’s not easy. There isn’t a “bizarre” station category one can search under. Most of the time I find my Hitchhiker Stations purely by accident. I will be searching for a particular station and up pops a list of stations in the search results. I scroll through them and see a station with a curious name and tune it. Bingo! I found myself a Hitchhiker Station. But they are few and far between. On average I sample 10 internet stations a day. Sometimes I audition 100 internet stations and not find a single Hitchhiker Station among them.

RW: Can you share a bit about your music blog and the kind of music/stories you gravitate to?

Skiera: Ordinarily, I try to keep my blog articles (which are free) music-related. I devote a lot of time researching and crafting each one.

In October I traveled to Minneapolis to visit some Prince landmarks and wrote an article about it. In December I posted an article examining strange holiday music, including an album of Christmas music played on hand saws and a group of 80 harmonica players who recorded several Christmas songs in a garage!

I recently posted an article featuring Dean Martin’s backup singers, The Golddiggers. I tracked down five of the original members and interviewed them about the Christmas record they released in 1969 and about working with Martin. I also spoke with the producer of the record.

I also plan to post an exclusive, extensive interview I did with composer Paul Zaza who scored the soundtrack to A Christmas Story, among many other movies.

I love music and radio. I love learning. I love painting pictures with words. And I love interviewing people. Everyone has a story to tell. It could be about anything. I enjoy telling people’s stories as it relates to the subject matter.

Case in point: A few months ago, I recommended a U.S. station called Crooner Radio and interviewed the station’s founder, who I knew nothing about beforehand. In the course of my interview, I found out he knew Frank Sinatra and other big-name crooners, some of whom gave him previously unreleased recordings to play on his internet station. He is also a singer himself, but never made any records. I love opening a door and finding a wonderful surprise.

RW: Have you been interested in music/radio for some time?

Skiera: I worked in radio broadcasting for almost seven years in various capacities throughout New England, including operations manager, DJ, promotion director, talk show producer, news announcer and board operator. I was a DJ at my college station, WERS(FM); I interned at WBCN(FM) in Boston; and my first radio job was with WPRO(AM) in Rhode Island. Radio is still very dear to my heart. I also worked in consumer audio at companies like B&W loudspeakers, Rotel, and Cambridge SoundWorks.

I took accordion lessons for a year when I was a teenager and piano lessons about 20 years ago, but I didn’t stick with either. I’m not gifted musically. I’m very jealous of people who have mastered a musical instrument. It’s truly a gift from God. Maybe when I retire 20 years from now, I’ll be able to dedicate the time necessary to learn an instrument.

RW: Is there anything else you’d like our readership to know about the kind of work you’re doing here?

Skiera: Internet radio is the new shortwave. You can tune stations a few miles away or from almost any part of the world without needing a shortwave radio or fiddling with an antenna. All you need is a stable Wi-Fi network and an internet radio or an app on your smartphone or computer. I live in an area with poor terrestrial radio reception, so internet radio is a godsend for me, and the sound quality is excellent.

There are so many music lovers who have no idea how much internet radio has to offer (and for free) or who are afraid of the technology. It’s my mission to make the medium less intimidating and expose great — and strange — internet stations for people to enjoy. As my website’s motto says: Stop Searching. Start Listening.