Jonathan Puckey's Radio Garden Knows No Borders A new website called Radio Garden allows users to spin a virtual globe and click on live radio around the world. NPR's Ailsa Chang speaks with the site's designer Jonathan Puckey.
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Jonathan Puckey's Radio Garden Knows No Borders

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Jonathan Puckey's Radio Garden Knows No Borders

Jonathan Puckey's Radio Garden Knows No Borders

Jonathan Puckey's Radio Garden Knows No Borders

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/506045527/506045528" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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A new website called Radio Garden allows users to spin a virtual globe and click on live radio around the world. NPR's Ailsa Chang speaks with the site's designer Jonathan Puckey.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

This week, a website launched. It's like catnip for radio-obsessed people like me. I'm looking at the website radio.garden. It's a simple globe. You spin it around with your mouse and click on dots to play live radio broadcasts from around the world. Like - OK, let's just spin around over here.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Korean).

CHANG: Chungju-si, South Korea.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Korean).

CHANG: All right. How about here? I'm just going up to Seoul.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OE TOL I YA")

CNBLUE: (Singing in Korean).

CHANG: Oh, yeah - nice.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OE TOL I YA")

CNBLUE: (Singing in Korean).

CHANG: All right. Now I'm going to scoot on over to Europe. Rome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED ARTIST #1: (Singing in foreign language).

CHANG: It's basically an awesome real-time adventure to hear voices and music from around the planet. Radio Garden was designed by Jonathan Puckey in collaboration with the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. Jonathan Puckey joins us from Amsterdam now.

Welcome.

JONATHAN PUCKEY: Hello.

CHANG: So how did this project come about?

PUCKEY: Yeah. So a year ago, we were invited by the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision to actually come up with an installation for their museum for a research project called Transnational Radio Encounters. And this research project is about radio that crosses borders and radio of different languages. And we actually quite quickly came up with the idea of making a website instead of an installation.

CHANG: You know, it is interesting. On this globe, you don't see any state borders in the U.S., and you don't see any country designations in the rest of the globe. You know, it's just, like, a satellite image. Why leave out the borders?

PUCKEY: Like, radio itself, of course, doesn't know about borders. It's a signal that travels as far as the signal strength goes. And we kind of wanted to reflect that idea. In the past when you used to listen to radio, you would even have, like, the city names on the dials. Like, you would tune into - for example, in the Netherlands, you would tune into Hilversum. And we kind of wanted to, like, replicate this sort of idea that, yeah, you're kind of traveling in your mind as you listen to this radio. And you're not, like, busy with where you are exactly.

CHANG: I like that idea. Like, right now, I'm just going to click on this dot in the middle of Asia - oh, it's Afghanistan.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED ARTIST #2: (Singing in foreign language).

CHANG: I love that. I feel like I'm peeking through the window at someone else's party. But I don't feel shut out. I kind of feel invited. And it makes the world feel smaller to me by being able to navigate it so quickly with a mouse.

PUCKEY: Yes, I really like the idea that you can get lost. Like, you don't know exactly where you're going. Like I tried, for example, to find San Francisco the other day and actually had a hard time pinpointing it because I'm so used to actually seeing a map and sort of knowing exactly where I need to go - really enjoy this sort of fact of sort of getting lost.

CHANG: Right. So besides the live broadcast, there are a couple other buttons here. I'm looking at jingles. I'm going to click on jingles.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Seventy-seven WABC.

CHANG: (Laughter) That is from 1961, New York, obviously prerecorded.

PUCKEY: Yeah, well - because we were working together with this research group and one of the research projects was research actually into the world of jingles.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Laughter) Seven-ninety, WAKY...

CHANG: The Radio Garden website - it's less than a week old, right? And it's already been shared like crazy on social media.

PUCKEY: Yeah, this was really surprising. We launched on Monday, and it's just been going all over the globe. Right now, we're sort of going viral in Brazil and actually Saudi Arabia and actually countries where we didn't even have that many radio stations or content from those places.

CHANG: Wow.

PUCKEY: But they seem to really be getting into it. We've been receiving, like, copious amounts of requests of radio stations to have their station put on the website, which is really surprising. I have, like, a list of, like, 600 emails that I still need to, like, run through this weekend...

CHANG: Wow.

PUCKEY: ...Adding all these stations the website. So that's been great.

CHANG: Jonathan Puckey helped design the Radio Garden website. He joined us from Amsterdam.

Thank you.

PUCKEY: Thank you.

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Radio Garden Lets You Tune Into A World Of Global Broadcasts

Katherine Streeter for NPR
Katherine Streeter for NPR
Katherine Streeter for NPR

Before my family bought a television set, it was radio that I stayed glued to. I must have been 10 years old, or maybe 9. My grandfather, uncle and I would sit close to a massive analogue radio. One of them delicately held the dial between the thumb and the index finger, fine-tuning, ear close to the speaker, listening carefully for a clear sentence of English amid the sizzle and the crackle of radio signals. A clear signal that lasted for barely a minute put a huge smile on our faces.

Back in the late 1970s, the rectangular machine was our window into the world, a world we had never been to.

Each glowing dot represents a radio station. Screengrab by NPR/Radio Garden hide caption

toggle caption
Screengrab by NPR/Radio Garden

Each glowing dot represents a radio station.

Screengrab by NPR/Radio Garden

Sometimes I listened to a cricket commentary for a game played in New Zealand, Or the news from BBC London. Every once in a while the radio caught a station that wasn't English, but I listened anyway. A foreign language from thousands of miles away — how exotic!

This week I stumbled upon a new website on the Internet called Radio Garden. Curious, I clicked on it and a globe started spinning before my eyes. It looked similar to Google Earth. Then I zoomed into the northeast part of the United States. And then a radio station started playing. On the bottom left side of the screen it said, Lewiston, United States. This is about 30 miles from Brunswick, Maine, where I now live. On the bottom right side, it said WRBC. The Bates College radio station was playing.

I planned to move the cursor halfway around the world to my homeland but first I dropped in on Tehran, Iran. My screen now said Radio Hamdam. I couldn't understand a word of the song, but the rhythm was upbeat, the kind of music you'd listen to while running on a treadmill. After two songs, I then wandered to Ghana. Highlife Radio Ghana, Kokrokoo FM 90.5 was on my screen. This seemed to be a talk show. Two guys were talking in a language unknown to me, but one of them was speaking in an animated voice, the other was laughing hysterically. They reminded me of Tom and Ray Magliozzi from Car Talk.

To find out more about Radio Garden, I contacted Jonathan Puckey, who is based in Netherlands and is one of the people behind this project.

"The main idea is to help radio makers and listeners connect with distant cultures and re-connect with people from home and thousands of miles away," he told me. So far, some 8,000 stations have signed on.

The website just launched this Monday, and it's got a few glitches. Not every station is located in the right place on the map. For example, if you point at a dot in Texas to listen to a Lone Star broadcast, you might get a station from Russia.

Puckey said he's already being inundated by calls from around the world: "Just yesterday, 300 stations requested to be added. It's going viral. We were not expecting it to be this big. There are 56,000 page views per minute. We have a meeting tomorrow to see how we are going to manage this."

He also told me that Radio Garden is funded with public money from the Netherlands Institute of Sound and Vision and that there is no commercial aspect to the project right now.

I thanked him, ended the call and moved the cursor to Lahore, Pakistan. I had never listened to a Pakistani radio station, although it's a country next door to my native India. I was hoping to find an Urdu language station — I can understand Urdu. Only "Somebody to Love" by Jordan Smith was playing. I wondered if this was one of the geographic glitches that Puckey was talking about. I stayed on the station for a few more minutes and heard a Pakistani host with a fake American accent. He threw in a sentence in Urdu later. It wasn't a mistake. It was a station in Lahore, Pakistan, that played songs by American singers. The next song was "Can't Feel My Face" by The Weeknd.

I took the cursor to India and put it in New Delhi, India. A Hindi devotional song was playing. The bottom left of the screen said, 10.57 p.m., New Delhi. On the right: Bollywood Radio. I couldn't help but smile.

The whole experience of tuning into stations on Radio Garden was exactly like the analog radio I used to tune several decades ago. Even the crackle and interference of other stations sounded the same. The only difference was that I was using the track pad of my laptop — not the radio dial.

I thought about how Jonathan Puckey described Radio Garden's idea of connecting listeners with distant cultures and re-connecting people with their roots. I found it funny and true. Back in India, when I was little, I used radio to connect with faraway places. Now living in the U.S., I was using Radio Garden to go home again.

Deepak Singh is the author of How May I Help You?: An Immigrant's Journey From MBA to Mininum Wage.