Back in the day there was something known as DXing. Radio nerds (like me) would sit with their radios–some of which were designed with super-sensitive tuners and antennae–trying to pull in distant radio stations. The coldest winter nights were the best because the ionosphere was at its thickest, acting as a mirror for far-off AM radio stations. Instead of those signals flying off into space, the ionosphere reflected a portion of them back to Earth and if you were tuned in at the right place at the right time, the effect could be magical.
As silly as it sounds, my radio buddies and I used to drive around the countryside beyond Winnipeg, one guy at the wheel and the other at the radio, trying to tune in something far away. The best times were Saturday and Sunday nights when some local AM stations went dark for transmitter maintenance. If atmospheric conditions were just right, we were able to pick up stations in Mexico.
“What did he say?” No clue. We just knew from our radio frequency guides–expensive things at up to $100 each in 1985 dollars–that this station was in Cidaud Juarez or somewhere else along the Rio Grande. These monsters pumped out programming at 250,000 watts or more, five times the legal limit in Canada and the US.
Wolfman Jack used to work at one of these Mexican stations. The RF radio was so strong at the transmitter sites that chickens wandering about were literally microwaved alive.
During the first Gulf War, I graduated to shortwave radio, looking to pick up stations in the tropical band, propaganda stations from places like Russia and China and the US and those weird numbers stations that still exist today.
Today, though, tuning in a distant radio station is as easy as calling up your TuneIn radio app on your smartphone. But Internet radio wasn’t always this easy. Skimpy bandwidth led to frequent dropouts and lost connections. Plus it took a while for radio stations to get on board with streaming their over-the-air programming.
Which brings me to this milestone. On November 7, 1994, the first-ever radio station Internet broadcast commenced. The source was WXYC, a college radio station at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It was a huge technological feat for its day. The era of webcasting had begun. Read more about the history of webcasting here.