In last week's Part One of this series, we looked at the phenomenon that rocked the music industry: Napster and illegal downloads, and today's music portability in an iPod world. Today, in Part Two, we examine the growth and volatile future of Internet radio.

Related:

• Part 1: Portable Sounds
• Part 2: Online Radio
• Part 3: Death of the CD?

An old Billy Joel song, recorded in 1976, reminisced about the days when "you never heard the words of your favorite song through a three-inch speaker."

I used to listen to my CDs through massive floor speakers in woodgrain cabinets with 12-inch woofers. They've been replaced by tiny surround-sound speakers now, but another interesting thing has happened. I probably hear just as much music through my iPod earbuds and my computer speakers as I do on my home stereo system. A day at work is often accompanied by hours of uninterrupted music, not from a set of CDs, and not from a local radio station, but from the unique hybrid of Internet radio.

The digital music that was born with the CD, and grew into illegal and then legal downloads, also means streaming audio. Streaming audio means radio stations are not limited to the geographical reach of a broadcast tower. Most over-the-air stations have a "Listen Online" option, allowing listeners to find a musical genre that's not locally available or stay connected with hometown happenings.

'Closer to Home'

While stationed in Iraq, Major Lowell McKinster used a satellite Internet connection to find the online broadcast of his hometown station, 104.7 The Fish Atlanta. "Being on the other side of the earth, I felt closer to home and it kept me going on those tough days when not so good things happen," recalls McKinster. "My experience in Iraq was very positive and having the ability to listen to my favorite radio station made it even better."

Hundreds of Internet-only stations exist as well, like live365.com and last.fm, and several Christian music stations address very specific niches, such as Spanish worship music or Christian rock classics from the '70s and '80s.

p>Bill Hardekopf, general manager of AllWorship.com, which streams to over 230 countries, uses an interesting example to underscore the power of Internet radio. "[Imagine] a station that plays only Christian harp music. A terrestrial station which plays only Christian harp music would never survive—there are simply not enough numbers in a local market to sustain a station. But if you put that station on the Internet, there are enough people in the world that like Christian harp music to keep that station afloat. That is why our Christian worship music station has found such a wide audience throughout the world."

He also notes the reach of Internet radio to markets not served by terrestrial Christian radio, and his station's listeners underscore the value. A listener from Saudi Arabia wrote to say, "In an environment where churches do not exist and Christians are desperate to get the Word and fellowship, you are manna from heaven."

More Than Just a Delivery Tool

Musically, the Internet is more than just a tool to deliver digital music. The Internet has as its backbone a massive storehouse of computing power, and that power has been largely untapped. While some sites make recommendations based on past purchases, newer efforts seek creative ways to turn listeners on to new music.