Chinese Radio on the Internet: a Platform-Agnostic Option at Last!
In theory, watching Chinese TV seems like a great way to expose oneself to more Mandarin. But somehow I can’t bear to watch most TV programs in China. It’s not that I’m immune to the charms of all forms of Chinese media, though. Strangely, I’ve found that I tend to encounter the most interesting Chinese programs while riding in a taxi late at night. It’s those call-in advice radio shows that taxi drivers like so much. I love those shows!
What’s so great about the call-in shows? Here are some of the reasons I like them:
1. They don’t come across as rehearsed, and if they’re not 100% real, the interactions sure seem spontaneous to me.
2. The callers are from all over China, so there’s a great variety of accents.
3. The language (of the callers, at least) is unpretentious and real.
4. As callers discuss their personal problems, you get some nice snapshots of various Chinese social issues.
5. Many of them are actually very easy to follow; tuning in feels like much less of a listening comprehension exercise than other programs.
Naturally, I don’t want to actually listen to these shows on the radio at their scheduled times, I want to listen to them online when I want to listen to them. So quite a while ago I started hunting for ways to tune into Chinese radio stations online. There are more than a few, but there are serious inconveniences associated with each. The types of shows I wanted were hard to find, and most stations required either Windows Media Player, IE6, or RealPlayer. No good!
Recently, however, I discovered a Chinese website that has gotten it right. It’s radio.BBTV.cn, 上海网络广播电台 (Shanghai Internet Broadcasting Station), an effort of SMG. So what’s so great about this site? Allow me to gush a bit…
First of all, the site uses Flash. This is not a great thing in itself, but in this case the use of Flash means that the site’s functionality is cross-platform and cross-browser, and there is no longer reliance on any one media player file format (WMP, Real, etc.). I’ve tested the site on my Mac using Firefox, Chrome, and Safari. The site works quite well on all of these modern browsers, and I’m fairly confident it works just as well on Windows and IE. This is fantastic to see.
Pretty much every page of the site allows you to easily switch between the 11 available “channels”. From the channels page (pictured below), it’s possible to navigate to an individual channel’s page, then into its programming archives. From there it’s possible to access lots of old programming.
The site’s channels include:
2. 第一财经（CBN Radio）
3. Love Radio（103.7FM）
4. 戏剧曲艺（AM1197 / FM97.2）
8. 东方广播电台（city 792）
9. 上海交通台（Traffic 105.7）
10. 东广新闻台（News 90.9）
11. 上海人民广播电台（News 990）
Many of the site’s pages, like the “Radio Guide” page pictured below, use the intuitive slowly moving red line convention to show you the progress of the program currently being broadcast. As an internet user looking for on-demand audio content, this basically just serves to tell you “you can’t listen to anything after this line yet.”
Navigating the Content
I find the best way to find interesting content from the main page is to first click on the black “点击收看” button overlaid on the top right corner of the big photo. That takes you to a more detailed playback screen that looks like this (click on the photo below to see a Flickr page with some of the functionality on the page below annotated):
On this page you see the radio station and title of the program at the top. Under that on the right side, you see what looks like a row of calendar pages. You can click on those to go back through the past week of the radio’s archives. Underneath those is that entire day’s programming (note the vertical slide bar on the far right). You can click on any of the shows (provided they have already aired) and then skip around using the Flash player’s slider to find interesting content. Under the day’s content on the right side, you’ll find a row of little icons. Those represent the different stations. This is probably the least intuitive and usable part of the site design, but to switch radio stations on this page, you click on those. Hover your mouse cursor over one to see the Chinese name. Anyway, in this way from this one page it’s possible to immediately listen to a week’s worth of programming content across 11 Shanghai radio stations.
Radio Program Recommendations
One of the call-in programs is called 渠成热线 (“Qu Cheng Hotline”). Qu Cheng is the name of the male host, and 热线 (“hotline”) is the word used for “call-in show” in many of the programs’ titles. This one has a variety of guests and different types of callers, so it can be pretty interesting. For example, I enjoyed listening to the adventures of a girl who had gone to Colombia to study.
More difficult to follow but also interesting show is 家住上海 (“At Home in Shanghai”), a call-in show where the two hosts, a patient man and a not-so-patient young woman with a nice voice, attempt to answer callers’ questions about real estate and property rights in Shanghai. I was a bit surprised that this topic has both the volume of calls and sufficient audience to support a daily show.
If you’re looking for Shanghainese, do not go to the one called 阿拉上海人 (“We Shanghainese”); the shows I listened to were all mostly Mandarin with only occasional comments in Shanghainese. Instead, tune into 闲话上海滩. Of course, Shanghainese shows are not the only place you’re liable to hear Shanghainese; I was listening to a medical advice show, and one of the callers spoke only Shanghainese, while the hosts replied in Mandarin.
I’m actually still looking for good call-in shows, but this is a lot of audio material to wade through! I like the ones that are about general advice, psychology, and relationships, but it’s a lot easier to find shows on more specific topics like real estate, health, or legal matters. If you find anything particularly good, please share it in the comments.
Downloading the Content
The DownloadHelper extension for Firefox lets you download a file called
0.flv from the site, but it turns up empty every time.
If you’ve got a solution for a relatively easy way to download any of this content, I’d love to hear it!
Finally, the BBTV site features a “TV / Radio” toggle in its header. Oddly, when I switch over to “TV,” I get the error message below:
It reads, “We’re very sorry, our website is currently only open to the Shanghai region.” I don’t know where they think I am; I get this message even though I’m not using a VPN or a proxy of any kind. Maybe it’s not available yet?
Anyway, there is tons of great content available on the SMG radio.BBTV.cn site. I’m going to be exploring it for quite some time, and would appreciate recommendations from you readers. Also, do you know other (cross-browser, cross-platform) Chinese radio websites as good as this one? Please let me know in the comments!