SomaFM commercial free internet radioSan Francisco-based online radio station SomaFM serves up a familiar and eclectic offering of music to listeners around the globe.

One late night during grad school in Seattle a number of years ago, I stumbled across  SomaFM while looking for online music to study to. It ended up becoming my regular go-to website for downtempo study music most nights, and for livelier beats when I was getting ready for the day or to go out on Friday evenings. (SomaFM also made writing papers on Saturday nights more bearable.) The appealing aspect of the station was that I could find music without lyrics when I needed to study and music with lyrics or mid- to uptempo rhythms when I wanted.

Established in San Francisco’s SoMa district in 2000 by now general manager Rusty Hodge, SomaFM has twenty channels of streaming music, with an especially fine offering of electronica, the obscure, and the simply unusual. SomaFM is entirely commercial free and listener supported, which means that the station conducts a daily but unobtrusive fundraising campaign.

Secret Agent on SomaFM, commercial-free, independent, alternative/undeground internet radio

SomaFM’s offerings range from the tabla-infused beats of Suburbs of Goa to the late-night lounge feel of Beat Blender—two grad school music staples I still listen to. Other notable channels include the electronified female vocals of Lush and the eclectic sounds of Illinois Street Bachelor Pad. The entire premise of Secret Agent, with its “soundtrack for your stylish, mysterious, dangerous life,” simply makes me smile—especially broadcast as it is from the city of Sam Spade.

Drone Zone on SomaFM, commercial-free, independent, alternative/undeground internet radio

SomaFM appears to retain its original low-key website design—kind of minimalist like Drone Zone—with all of its channel logos with their succinct descriptions neatly lined up and ready for listening on the homepage. Playlists for recent songs are available directly on the site, and extended playlists are found on individual channel Twitter feeds. Each channel provides links to albums by its featured artists, and the range of musicians is astounding—SomaFM is truly a place to discover new and new-old music. On PopTron, an indie dance rock/electropop channel, for example, legendary psychedelic rockers the Flaming Lips stream alongside the emerging pop rock band Anthem In. For those nostalgic for the synthesized sounds of the 80s, a host of familiar names like Depeche Mode and the Human League play on Underground 80s.

SomaFM’s channels are compatible with most streaming music players like Winamp, iTunes, and Windows Media Player, and the station has also introduced its own pop-up player and an application for iPhone and iPod Touch (one for Android is in the testing phase). The thousands of people tuning in at any given time (at 11:00 p.m. PST as I write this there are close to six thousand) and the range of ages and countries of SomaFM listeners represented on the station’s Flickr page show just how far internet radio can travel.

The next time you have a late-night study session or you simply want to listen to music, go online to and prepare to experience a range of music and sounds like nowhere else in the world.

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