Hosting audio content on a website used to be difficult, expensive, and usually required Real Player. But as with most technology, what’s tricky in one decade becomes trivial in the next. Today, any blogger with rudimentary audio-recording gear can deliver high-quality broadcasts.
Even better, intrepid hackers have written software that will automatically transfer audio tracks from the net to an iPod or any other MP3 player—prompting the coining of the term “podcast.” Thousands of music lovers are now creating their own podcasts, featuring new music from podcast-friendly indie labels. Production values range from radio-quality to dude-in-the-back-of-his-van, but it’s a fabulous way to find new music relatively untouched by the “music industry.”
But you needn’t limit your listening to what’s most easily available. You’ll find loads of streams from radio stations and other sources, and though they’re often in difficult-to-copy formats, sucking them directly from the net to your MP3 player can be simple—if you have the right software. You’ll also encounter some programming that isn’t streamed over the net at all; if you connect your AM/FM tuner to your PC, you can record anything broadcast over the airwaves and listen to it whenever you like.
Note: Recording this material for your own use is as legal as using a PVR to time-shift a television show. Distributing these files, on the other hand, is most likely illegal. Play it safe and download this stuff solely for your own enjoyment.
With that disclaimer out of the way, get ready to move beyond radio.
Listen to Podcasts
The first thing you’ll need for listening to podcasts is a podcasting app. We prefer iPodder (ipodder.sourceforge.net), but feel free to experiment with any client. Download and install iPodder, and then click the Status tab. There should be a few feeds already displayed in that window, but you’ll want to add more that suit your own tastes before continuing. You’ll find a massive list of feeds at www.podcast.net, but we’ve listed a few of our favorites in the sidebar on this page.
iPodder lets you automatically download as many independent podcasts as you’d like from the Internet, and then automatically copies them to your MP3 player.
Once you’ve selected a few feeds, click the Scheduler tab. We set the app to automatically check for new podcasts every eight hours or so. Once you’ve configured the appropriate settings, click the Preferences tab. Check “Hide iPodder at Startup” and “Check for new podcasts at startup,” but make sure “Play downloads” is unchecked. Note the location for your saved podcasts (it defaults to a folder called “My Received Podcasts” in the My Documents directory). You’ll need that folder’s location if you use something other than iTunes to copy music to your MP3 player. Now, go back to the Status tab and click “Check for new podcasts” to start downloading.
Once you configure the schedule iPodder uses to check for updated podcasts, you’ll never know the app is running.
iTunes users are done at this point. Whenever a new podcast is downloaded, it will be copied to your player automatically, and a playlist will be created with the name of the podcast. If you use Windows Media Player to manage your player’s tunes, you’ll need to add My Received Podcasts to the folders that WMP 10 monitors for new media. Click WMP’s Tools menu, choose Options, and then click the Library tab. Click the “Monitor Folders” button and add the folder where your podcasts are stored. Once you’ve done that, any podcasts that iPodder downloads will automatically be stored in your music library and synched to your device.
To lessen its impact, configure iPodder to minimize itself at startup and not play new downloads when they’re downloaded.
Rip Traditional Internet Radio
Creative Labs has quietly been shipping a utility that lets you rip damn near anything that comes out of your computer’s speakers. It’s called Audio Stream Recorder, and it’s most likely on your Sound Blaster’s installation disc. If you own a supported Creative Labs soundcard—all the way back to the Sound Blaster Live days—you can download the app as part of Creative’s MediaSource software.
Once installed, the app makes ripping audio streams as simple as typing in the stream’s URL and clicking OK. In fact, this program will let you record anything that it doesn’t think is protected, which means it will record just about anything except DVD-Audio—which isn’t a huge loss, in our opinion. Audio Stream Recorder won’t automatically transfer the ripped file to your MP3 player, but you can use the same Monitor Folders trick we described in the previous section.
Don’t have a Creative Labs soundcard? The WinAMP plugin StreamRipper (available at streamripper.sourceforge.net) will accomplish the same trick for any audio streams that WinAMP will play. Download and install the plugin, and then select the Configure Plugins option from the menu. Set the directory where you want the streamed files stored and you’re set.
The hard part about podcasting is sifting through the millions of crappy podcasts for those 10 gems you’ll listen to every day. Here are a few of our favorites:
Insomnia Radio - webpages.charter.net/jevangelho01/IR.xml
Radio Clash – www.mutantpop.net/radioclash/rssfeed.php
IndieFeed ModernRock - radio.weblogs.com/0141318/categories/altModernRock/rss.xml
Engadget - media.weblogsinc.com/common/videos/pt/rss.xml
The Good Stuff - rizzn.net/Scripts/podcast/rss/Nucks1.xml
Rip Straight from the Air
You’ll need a tuner to rip audio from the radio. Many TV-tuner cards include an FM tuner, but AM tuners are rare. Griffin Technology’s (www.griffintechnology.com) RadioShark is a $70 AM/FM tuner that plugs into your PC’s USB port. It comes with software that behaves much like a PVR: You can listen to the radio in real time, but you can also pause and rewind live radio. And, of course, you can program the software for time-shift recording.
The RadioShark is a PC-based radio tuner. Use it to not only
listen to radio programming on your computer, but also to
record any radio broadcasts.
Once you’ve plugged the RadioShark into your USB port and installed the software, you can schedule a recording by clicking the “Sched” button and then clicking “Add.” Set the schedule, quality, recording location, and desired format—the RadioShark records only to WMA and uncompressed WAV formats on the PC at this time—and click OK to create your recording. The RadioShark can’t turn on your PC when it needs to record. If you want to record something when your computer wouldn’t otherwise be on, you’ll need to go into the BIOS and set it to turn on a few minutes before your broadcast starts.
RadioShark makes it a snap to schedule recordings. Although there’s no easy-to-use list of programs, it’s easy to select the time, duration, and file format for your recordings.