Ever fancied listening to some pop music from Prague? Rock from Russia, or talk from Taiwan? With the pandemic limiting travel abroad, an online app has ignited the imagination of millions, allowing them to experience new sounds and travel the globe by radio.
The free app, Radio Garden, which carries tens of thousands of radio stations broadcasting live 24 hours a day, has seen a huge spike in popularity during the Covid crisis. Its founders say in the past 30 days they had 15 million users, a 750% increase on the visitors they normally get in a month.
One of the app’s founders, Jonathan Puckey, said he was confused as to where the sudden interest has come from. “To be honest, I don’t know … We do go viral every now and again, but this is the largest spike we have had to date,” he said. The popularity appears to have come from people sharing the platform with friends on social media websites.
The app launched in 2016 as the brainchild of the Amsterdam-based studios Puckey and Moniker. It was originally commissioned as a temporary project by the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision as part of a research that looked at how radio has fostered “transnational encounters”. It started out as a a web-only offering, but has been available as an app since 2018.
The concept is simple: you look around a global map and select an area that interests you. When you click on that region and select a green dot signifying a radio station, the feed will automatically start playing, telling you the name of the station you are listening and where it is. You can listen to stations from all over, as far and wide as Italy’s Sicily to Texas in the US.
The platform gets hundreds of submissions every week and has grown its collection of live radio stations from 7,000 to more than 30,000.
Puckey said: “We had the idea to make a modern version of the old world receiver radio sets … We hoped to recreate this magical feeling of travelling across the globe blindly, relying on the sense of hearing and the knowledge of location to bring these live radio stations to life.
“The globe should act a kind of derivé device: people should be able to get lost and use their ears to paint the picture of the location. Hopefully we can also remind people that those borders that divide us are just in our minds. Radio knows no borders.”
He added that the “beauty of radio is that while radio signals themselves cross borders, radio studios have very fixed locations and are therefore always regional in nature”.
“Radio is at its best when it represents local tastes and cultures,” Puckey said.
The app has seen millions of people tune in each month. “Our hope is to provide an alternative to the fibreless fare currently provided to us by technology giants. I see young people questioning the ease and emptiness of algorithmic playlists and taking back control over their listening,” Puckey said.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010