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Master of your own ‘radio’ station

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I'm getting tired of radio - even satellite radio, if you must know the truth. Yes, I can find a specific genre of music, but the people in radio keep insisting on playing the songs they want to play when they want to play them.

I mean, really, can't they let the listener do the programming - without having to call in and giggle up some mindless song dedication?

Well, as alluded to last week, I can do the programming at least three ways, and more are coming. In perhaps the ultimate "on demand" move, users are banding together in what you could call a "Media on Demand" squadron. A new MOD Squad, get it? (Michael Cole, please call your agent.)

Enough cuteness: Start with Pandora.com and, well, you might be so happy you'll just stop there. Log on, set up a favorite "radio" station and, as long as you have an Internet connection of sufficient bandwidth, wired or wireless, you'll have the music you want in very good stereo. What's more, as part of the MusicGenome Project, Pandora will use your taste to "predict" songs similar to those you have specified. Have a passion for the music of '70s Christian singer Keith Green? Pandora thinks you'll probably also enjoy current phenom Chris Rice. (To this listener's ears, Pandora was right.)

So far, I can't recall hearing a single commercial on Pandora, and though I haven't figured out how it's "monetized," the Web site will let you click on links to Apple Inc.'s online iTunes store or Amazon.com to buy tracks or a physical CD. Not bad, I guess; in fact, it's rather clever.

Though I haven't tested Pandora on the cult-favorite Linux operating system (or on the six remaining installations of IBM's OS/2, for that matter) Pandora is "platform independent" for Windows and Mac users because it is Web-based. That means I don't have to worry about which computer I'm near; so long as I sign in with my ID and password, I'm good to go and "my" stations are there with me.

Now, this isn't the same as pulling a "Star Trek" move, grabbing the mouse and saying, "Computer! Play me the Carpenters' greatest hits," but Pandora comes pretty close. You can log on, enter the name of an artist or even a single song, and MusicGenome does the rest. I haven't tested this on esoteric artists such as Tiny Tim or Liz Phair, but the choices I've entered so far have been well-received on the whole. Did I mention there aren't any commercials?

With Slacker radio (www.slacker.com) you can select pre-established channels, including varieties of country, pop, rock and comedy, the latter including an "explicit" version. No genomes are claimed here, but the principle is the same: Enter the name of a favorite artist, and you'll get songs from similar performers.

Slacker comes in two flavors: free and $9.99 per month, a price that drops to $7.50 monthly for a year's subscription. Audio quality is very good; the selection seems decent and contemporary (the country top 40 mirrors the lineup you would hear on the District's WMZQ-FM, sans commercials) and that's about all you could want. Slacker sells its own wireless player, but I didn't try that option. As noted here last week, you can get Pandora on an Apple iPhone, which is a great boon when you're sitting in an airport.

But wait, as they say in TV land, there's more. If you own an AppleTV (www.apple.com), you can bring music from your PC or Mac to the high-definition set in the living room and play music wirelessly (provided you have a Wi-Fi network) and hear the sound clearly while showing pictures from a computer photo album. As long as it's not stills from your appendectomy, the two should work nicely. The AppleTV also will go out on the Internet to find YouTube videos and items you can rent or buy from the iTunes store at prices comparable to those online or for Blockbuster rentals. Finally, you can start that rental of "Ratatouille" any old time.

For dyed-in-the-wool PC heads, Hewlett-Packard Co. has announced, but not yet shipped, an item similar to AppleTV. I was mightily impressed by a demo a couple of months back, but demos are one thing, while real-world testing awaits.

AppleTV is not the only wireless entertainment option, of course. < ahref="http://www.sonos.com" target=blank>Sonos is a wireless system that'll stream Pandora, Sirius satellite radio channels and your own music around the house. As soon as I can figure out how to set up the blessed thing, I'll review it. Promise.

The bottom line is clear, however: It's nice that 102.7 can call itself "jack.fm" and claim to be "playing what we want." With the Internet, however, you can jack in to the Web and play what you want to hear - for free.

What's on your playlist? E-mail mkellner@ washingtontimes.com.

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