Publicly funded art installation makes dialing around planet a visceral experience
by: James Careless
OTTAWA — Imagine being able to spin an image of the earth on your computer screen, tuning into radio feeds that pop up as you move across the planet’s surface. You can, using the Radio Garden website (http://radio.garden/).
|Source stations show up as green dots and on a multi-page menu at lower right.
Credit: Radio Garden
Using real-life satellite imagery running on the open source Cesium platform, Holland’s Studio Puckey has created an online installation that makes finding and listening to about 8,000 audio streams as easy as moving your mouse. It allows you to spin the earth such that a tuning circle (with embedded cross inside) in the middle of the screen turns from white to green whenever you encounter a location with one or more live radio streams. Each broadcast location is marked with a bright green dot, which you can click on to go directly to that station’s audio stream. (You can zoom in and out of the earth’s image using the mouse’s scrolling wheel.)
As you home in on a radio station using Radio Garden, broadcast-band static coming through your speakers morphs into the station’s audio — just as it would if you were tuning an analog-type radio with a tuning needle and dial. In the upper right hand corner of the screen, you’ll see the actual link to the stream, which you can click on to get to the station’s streaming page. If there is more than one station in the location, their clickable names will be listed in the lower right corner for easy access.
Because the green dots representing available streams are all shown on the Radio Garden Earth, it is easy to see where broadcasts are coming from, whether dense urban areas like London and New York or remote places such as Ushiaia, Argentina, near the southern tip of South America; Reykjavik, Iceland; or Bairiki on the Pacific island nation of Kiribati. More important, because tuning around the world is easy and precise, Radio Garden gives its users unparalleled access to radio stations around the globe on their PC or smartphone; all for free.
“Our goal was to recreate the experience you get on an old-fashioned radio, where the names of world cities are marked on the glass dial, inviting you to roam the world with the turn of the dial,” said Jonathan Puckey, an interactive designer at Studio Puckey.
“The use of satellite imagery, rather than maps, gives the sense that there are no borders to radio at all.”
|Click on Madrid, Spain, and Radio Garden will take you to seven radio stations that are streaming from that location.
Credit: Radio Garden
AN AUDIO JOURNEY
Amsterdam-based Studio Puckey was invited by the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision to create an interactive installation incorporating content from an international research project called Transnational Radio Encounters. Instead of only using archival material, they felt it was important to present radio in its present-day form and came up with the idea of projecting thousands of radio stations on a virtual globe.
“You hear all kinds of music and voices from all kinds of places,” said Puckey. “Sometimes the most surprising and eye-opening experience is to hear music from distant places and people that you nothing about. I myself have found a new favorite station far from home, namely Marina FM (www.marinafm.com) in Kuwait.”
To populate Radio Garden, Studio Puckey’s staff uses custom content management software that helps them connect new streaming sites to the site’s earth-based graphical interface. “As long as the streams are functioning, we allow all stations on our site,” said Puckey. “Just like the air knows no barriers to radio signals, we feel that our website should be open for everyone who is broadcasting.”
Whenever a user launches the Radio Garden site, a title comes onscreen indicating that Radio Garden is “sprouting live radio streams” as its Earth view is populated by green dots. The association between living things and radio stations is no accident: It reflects Studio Puckey’s belief that radio content is “a vibrant living thing,” said Puckey. “People are intensely interested in what they hear on radio, whether over the air, on their computers or their smartphones. So radio is very much a living medium, even in the internet age.”
|Radio Garden provided quick access to a number of stations in Mumbai India, such as Planetradiocity.com.
Credit: Radio Garden
AN UNEXPECTED SUCCESS
As a publicly funded art installation, Radio Garden was never intended to become a mass-market phenomenon. But since it launched in December, the Amsterdam-based website has captured the world’s attention, and people have been logging on in droves.
“We had 12 million unique visitors in our first month, and 20 million unique hits,” said Jonathan Puckey. “This is far more than we ever expected. We’ve had to scramble to scale our servers and resources to keep the site properly provisioned.”
Also unexpected is where people are tuning in from. “I thought the majority of our users would come from North America and Europe, but in fact the number one country logging onto Radio Garden, in term of listeners, is India,” Puckey said. “Next is Brazil, the United States, Saudi Arabia and the UAE: What a surprise.”
Of course, serving all these listeners costs money. At this point, the parties behind Radio Garden are trying to figure out where to find the funds to keep Radio Garden online indefinitely.
“The project is currently being financed by the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision and HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area), but there was no plan in place for this amount of success,” said Puckey. “Our challenge now is to find a way to keep Radio Garden going without having to resort to things like advertising.”
As a result, it is not clear at this writing how long Radio Garden will be fully functional, despite its inventive interface and definite popularity. So radio lovers would be well-advised to get to the site and start tuning into the world’s radio stations while this magical site is operational.