Whatever you're looking for, chances are it'll be hipper in New York than anywhere else. One big exception is radio. I work in New York, live nearby, and find that the Big Apple's on-air musical offerings run from insipid to mediocre. The high cost of buying a station means programmers aim for the broadest audience. Musically, you get the bland leading the bland. So when I want cutting-edge radio, I boot up my PC and spin the dial--on the Internet--where hundreds of stations offer everything from acid rock to zydeco.
Net radio comes in two categories: on-air stations with an Internet feed and Net-only broadcasters. With the first group, you can skip around the world to find interesting outlets. With the second, you can hear a wide variety of good music, often commercial-free. To enjoy these sites, you need nothing more than a sound card, speakers, and at least a 28.8K modem. And if you don't already have RealPlayer or Windows Media Player--virtually every station broadcasts using one of these programs--you can download them free from the Real Audio and Microsoft sites, respectively. Then just start clicking.
CATEGORY KILLER. To find the good stuff, start with a Net directory listing on-air and Web-only stations (table). There are already dozens of Net-only broadcasters. By far the best sound quality I've found comes from www.SonicNet.com, from MTV Networks Online. Its 47 channels are programmed by DJs, music producers, and other experts. My faves: Smoke, one of three jazz stations; URBalicious, which plays a lovely range of contemporary and classic R&B, and n, a treasure of Latin pop. Every channel displays the artist and song playing, usually standard on Net radio. You can even mix and match playlists from SonicNet's channels to create your own station. SonicNet also sports links to 142 global on-air stations. Unfortunately, the music played on too many of them is the same stuff you'll hear on U.S. stations.
Bored rockaholics might try www.WWW.com, the self-proclaimed category killer of Web music, with about 200 channels. Rock choices alone include gothic rock, experimental rock, pop rock, and trailer trash rock (don't ask). One rock outlet with a strong alternative playlist is www.3wk.com, which has all the Flaming Lips you can stand. And for those devoted to the truly alternative, www.NetRadio.com has 120 channels, including ones for Native American music, Celtic songs, Ska, and Gregorian chants.
On-air broadcasters on the Net have some attractive sites, too. For mainstream jazz, I like public radio stations: KLON (www.klon.org) in Long Beach, Calif.; KPLU (www.kplu.org) in Tacoma, Wash.; and WBGO (www.wbgo.org) in Newark, N.J. Classical listeners should enjoy Chicago's WFMT (www.wfmt.com), with its live Chicago Symphony broadcasts. Rock fans should like San Francisco's KFOG (www.kfog.com), with its great mix of new stuff and classics. If you have eclectic tastes, try www.kut.org and www.kpfa.org. At University of Texas-based KUT, I've heard Eastern European music followed by rockabilly. The original outlet of the iconoclastic Pacifica radio network, Berkeley-based KPFA pumps out a very '60s mix of left-wing politics and cool music. Want more? Don't touch that radio dial. Just grab a mouse.