Picks and Pans Main: Bytes
Armchair travel may imply leafing through chapters of Paul Theroux, but these days it also means exploring the world on the Internet.
Online services have been broadening their horizons lately—America Online and CompuServe let you book flights, cars and hotels, often with consumer versions of databases that travel agents use. The American Airlines-owned Eaasy Sabre, for instance, is available on both and awards you 500 frequent-flier miles for some tickets you buy. The perks can be persuasive, but bargain hunters are liable to get Net lag. "If you shop for the lowest fares, you'll find them online, but you have to keep searching," says Jill Falb, a CompuServe marketing officer.
The Internet also offers useful information about almost any destination. A search for web sites related to Aruba, for instance, yielded more than 100, including the A Visit to Aruba! site (http://worldwidemart.com/aruba), with a detailed history of that Caribbean island. Also worth visiting: news groups and unofficial home pages. The Disneyland site(http://www.disney.com/Disneyland) tells you what you'll spend at one of the amusement park's hotels, but travelers' tales alert you to occasional discounts for Web surfers (and recommend that the Indiana Jones ride is worth the wait).
Of course, after the effort you make to locate the information, you may need a vacation.
DISTANT RADIO, ON TAP LOCALLY
KPLX in Dallas has been singing a new tune of late. Not that the FM station gave up country music—a suspicious act in Texas. But three months ago it began serenading audiences in places like Denmark, Hong Kong and McMurdo Station, Antarctica. "I guess the biggest kick I had was when a fella in the Marshall Islands called by satellite phone while he was listening to us on the Internet," says general manager Dan Halyburton. "That's when I knew the '90s were pretty cool."
KPLX is one of 32 stations nationwide featured on AudioNet (http://www.AudioNet.com), a web site where U.S. radio stations can "broadcast" their programs live over the World Wide Wet—and where anyone with a computer and a sound card can hear them. But you'll have to download some software before you can lend an ear. The most popular programs—RealAudio (http://www.prognet.com) and Xing's Stream-Works (http://www.xingtech.com)—are free. While the sound quality more closely resembles shortwave than CD, it can be a kick to hear a political talk show from Boston, sporting events from Florida and the sounds of the Bay Area without leaving your desk.
There's currently no extra revenue in Web-casting, but as Halyburton explains, "Every radio station's dream is to cover the entire world, and here we are, doing it."