AOL Radio...Tune It In, or Tune It Out??
Welcome to another installment in my series on the accessibility (or lack thereof)
in AOL (America Online). For the past couple of months, I have discussed various
elements of AOL, and how well it can (or can't) be navigated by a person using
screen reading software for the blind. This month, I want to talk about AOL's
answer to Internet Radio. For the newly converted ludite, or for the uninitiated,
Internet Radio is a way of hearing music and other programming via your Internet
connection and what is commonly called streaming audio. It is called "streaming"
because it is constantly flowing into your computer via your modem. It's not
a one-time download, and it doesn't remain on your computer's hard drive. So,
in that way it is akin to listening to the radio on your computer.
Okay, so you've got mail, and you're reading it, and you decide some mood music
would be a good thing. Well, you're in luck
or are you? That's up to you,
dear reader, and just where your tolerance levels for certain nuisances are.
Overall, AOL radio is a wonderful thing to have. You get a vast selection of
music (and even talk) choices. You are even exceedingly likely to find music
you will not hear on the actual radio dial. There are choices such as disco,
blues and jazz, R &B, Inspirational (including contemporary Christian and
gospel music), world music, and Latin. The list is fairly long, and has sub-categories
which is why I am not printing the complete list here.
Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks is that there were no keystrokes written
specifically for AOL radio. It's just typical web browser basic navigation that
gets you around.
When you do choose a station to listen to, you get a wealth of information
about the music you're hearing. You can even, if you are so compelled, buy the
CD on which the song playing was recorded.
How it Works
First of all, AOL Radio is for AOL Broadband users. That is, for those who have
a DSL or cable modem connection. If the service were to be accessed on a 56K
dial-up connection, I imagine the sound would be greatly diminished.
AOL Radio functions much like a web browser (like Internet Explorer). There
are four frames on the page: Stations frame, currstation (current station) frame,
Nowplaying (Now Playing), and status, which contains the time remaining in the
currently playing song.
In the stations frame, you select the station you want by double-clicking
(pressing Enter) on a link. Now, either you will go straight to that
station, or you will need to arrow down to see what is listed below the link
you clicked on. Why? As I stated above, there are sub-categories within the
list of stations you can choose. For example, the inspirational stations
include Christian, Mod Gospel, and traditional gospel. It's not the most user-friendly
interface, but it could be far worse. Just play with the links, be brave, explore
and see what you find.
There is one major nuisance with the now playing and status frames, however.
When a new song starts, the screen does not automatically refresh itself and
update to the new artist/song. Instead, I have found this must be done with
your screen-reader's screen update keystroke (Insert/Escape in
the case of JFW). The problem in the status window is that the time remaining
clock doesn't seem to work in real time. Again, you need to update your screen
for this to work, seemingly.
A Comment About One Set of Stations
There is a category of stations called celebrity DJ's. As I write this,
I have been listening to the station that purports to be James Taylor as DJ.
While I heard the title track from JT's new album October Road, I (so
far) haven't heard the man speak. This leads me to the question; Are we being
mislead, or are the celebrities just using AOL accounts to act as music
servers from their own homes, allowing music from their CD/MP3 collections to
be played on AOL? I would certainly like to know.
Oh, and be prepared for a five second (approximately) pause between stations
if you (as I tend to do) navigate from one station to another.
Now for the one major downside, as far as I am concerned. The Radio's player
doesn't have an independent volume like Windows Media Player or WinAmp does.
This means, for screen-reader users that you cannot turn the volume down on
AOL radio without doing the same to your speech synthesizer. If you plan to
make a habit of AOL radio, I highly suggest getting a hardware synthesizer such
as the Double Talk or DecTalk Express. It's either that, or don't
plan on multi-tasking while listening.
Either way, if you're a radio buff, or just want music that is different from
what you'll here on the typical FM dial, AOL radio is for you.
Next month, I go mall rat with AOL shopping!
Non-AOL users can also listen to the Radio via Internet Explorer. In version
5.5, click View/Toolbar/Radio. In version 6x, click View/Explorer