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Oh say can you see?

Still not too well over the Internet, I’m afraid.

The technology for viewing video online is improving slowly. But even with a top-notch computer and a broadband connection, Internet video today remains primarily a pastime for hard-core enthusiasts.

The opposite is true for audio, however. The scratchy sound and frequent interruptions that once characterized online audio have largely been overcome. In short, online radio works. And in the process, it gives us a glimpse at what online video might one day become.

Yet listening to music, news, weather and other sounds over the Internet still hasn’t hit the mainstream.

Perhaps the furor over Napster has some people thinking that downloading files is all there is to music online. Perhaps others are intimidated by the need to install helper applications, such as RealPlayer.

Then again, maybe people are just unaware of the vast variety of free audio that’s available over the Internet.

As I write this, for example, some fine jazz guitar work is playing softly over my PC speakers from radio station WWOZ, which is broadcasting direct from New Orleans. To my ears, it sounds every bit as good as the music that comes from my stereo receiver or car stereo.

With just a couple of mouse clicks, I’m listening to classic rock from WNCS in Essex Junction, Vt. Click again, and I’m listening to last week’s “Golf Power” radio program from Santa Fe, N.M.

All of these sounds came my way courtesy of Yahoo! Radio (radio.yahoo.com), which hosts and categorizes scores of online audio resources.

Alas, many more stations are temporarily silenced by a dispute over rights issues involving commercial voiceovers. That logjam is bound to break sometime soon, putting dozens – perhaps even hundreds – of additional radio stations online.

Meanwhile, there are thousands of Internet-only stations broadcasting to extremely narrow slices of audience interest. There is something out there for everybody.

One of the biggest clearinghouses for Internet-only radio broadcasts is Live365.com.

Among its many “channels” are blues, country, Irish, New Age, comedy, talk, reggae, oldies, R&B and classical – just to name a few. Another radio site is online at www.internetradiolist.com.

Listening to radio over the Internet may not have the same sizzle as online video. But it does have a couple of key advantages.

For one, you can listen and surf at the same time. By contrast, surfing and watching online video simultaneously is practically impossible.

For another, if you’ve got an Internet-enabled PC on your desk, you’ve got the opportunity to listen to the radio while you work. That’s a boon considering that conventional radio signals never seem to penetrate the steel-and-concrete blockhouses that enclose most offices.

So crank up those speakers or, if other people are working nearby, slap on your headphones. Either way, there’s a world of online sound out there waiting for you to lend an ear.

Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service

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