Podcasts on the radio

I love listening to the radio. And I love podcasts because they mean I can listen to my favourite radio programmes from around the world whenever I want, plus the growing number of high quality podcasts that are not radio programmes, like Philosophy Bites, Ruby’s Chicky Boilups and the Hackney Podcast. I’ve recently made a fantastic discovery that is allowing me to listen to podcasts on the radio.

Podcasts are great but I what I like about the radio is that I can listen wherever I am – in the kitchen, in the garden, in the bath, upstairs or downstairs. When my trusty Roberts portable died a few years ago I bought one of those swanky portable Tivoli PAL radios with a lovely sound and an 8-hour rechargable battery.

Unlike radio, which is carried on the airwaves, podcasts come down the broadband pipe and this means that to listen to one I have to be within earshot of my laptop. Even with wifi, that’s a bit irritating. And the sound isn’t so good from my laptop speakers. Of course I could plug my laptop into my radio’s line-in socket to improve the sound but that still ties me down because I’m not going to carry the laptop and the radio around with me. It’s cumbersome and the ageing battery in my laptop now lasts well less than an hour. I could invest hundreds or thousands of pounds in installing an elaborate home audio network with speakers in every room.

I suppose I could download all the podcasts I want to listen to into my iPod and plug that into my radio but that is just another another chore involving another device. I don’t want to spend my life synching my iPod and filling it up with stuff that I might never listen to. Unless I’m out and about, I prefer to play podcasts directly from an RSS reader like Google Reader or Netvibes. This allows me to keep tabs on a huge range of podcasts without actually downloading them. I can listen ‘on the fly’ to whatever takes my fancy at the time.

The simple and cheap alternative solution I’ve just discovered is to use one of those tiny FM transmitters that are sold to be used to play an iPod over a car stereo. The one I’ve got cost less than £5 and though it can be powered by two AAA batteries, it’s also got a USB power cable which means I can power it from my computer, or from the mains. The headphone jack of the transmitter connects to my laptop’s headphone socket and the USB cable to one of my laptop’s USB ports. Once it’s all connected it means that in effect I am broadcasting my own radio signal from my laptop on FM with a range of about 20 metres. This is more than enough for both floors of my house and the garden. I can tune in using my portable radio and listen to whatever is playing on my laptop. Of course, I can also plug the transmitter into my hifi amplifier and broadcast records or CDs over the airwaves in the same way. I can also play radio from the BBC iPlayer which is handy as not all material available on the iPlayer is available as a podcast. And Spotify widens the music choice even further.

Broadcasting on FM!I’m using the Veho FM Transmitter, though I think any would do. The bonus of the Veho is that it can be powered by USB. They’re £5 at Amazon.co.uk.

Besides the portability, the best thing about this set up is that the podcasts really sound like radio, with that FM warmth and ever so slight crackle. Now, does anyone know where I can find a Medium Wave transmitter so I can listen to all my 60s 7-inches in the blistering AM mono that they were always meant to be heard?

  • David

    Hi Jack,

    Does it remember the selected frequency after a power down?

    Thanks

  • Jezza

    …and with the latest updated models from Apple now including an FM tuner, you could listen to your podcasts on the radio… on an iPod.

  • Ian

    Great idea, and I’ve followed suit. Pretty much dislike most modern technology, but having just got a laptop (one major reason being Resonance listening) I love the idea of actually listening to the radio – on the radio! (how novel).

    However I can’t figure out how to connect it for USB power – seems like it needs male to male which no one seems to know about. What do you use?

  • Jack

    @David: Yes, it does remember the frequency. I have mine stuck on 87.5fm as there’s not much else at that end of the dial.

    @Ian: A male-to-male USB is what you need to keep it powered. Should be available online – e.g. http://tinyurl.com/y8j38g9 – or from somewhere like Maplin.

  • Kieron

    This isn’t a frugal solution but I can highly recommend one of these – http://tinyurl.com/5eshbx – DAB radio, FM radio, internet radio streams from around the world, podcasts, BBC “Listen Again” and your iTunes library, all at the twist of a knob. Radio Joy!

  • Jack

    @kieron:
    Looks mighty swanky. How is the “PURE Lounge” directory? Are most stations listed? Is Resonance there? Are the listings accurate? There have been time zone problems with internet radio listings in the past.

  • Jack

    @kieron: And there’s a half-price version at Argos:
    http://tinyurl.com/yzf4gyy

    A fairly thorough review on Amazon suggests that this cheaper one is better in all respects except the sound (and the option of a rechargeable battery). I guess if I was running my FM transmitter out of it, or playing it through my hifi, the sound issue wouldn’t arise. Anyone had experience of the Binatone IR804 WiFi DAB Radio?

  • Kieron

    @Jack

    OK. The most obvious downside first.

    The PURE isn’t the most intuitive machine to use but it doesn’t take long to get used to the quirks.

    As for the problem with Media Streaming mentioned in the Amazon review, I found that the results varied according to the Media Server used. Twonky Media gave the best results as far as searching goes. Not all audio media types are supported – WAV files will play but tend to skip and it doesn’t play older iTunes Protected AAC files (there is software out there to strip the DRM protection from files but I haven’t tried this yet). The other major hassle with the media server is getting it set up – give yourself a couple of hours.

    The “PURE Lounge” directory works well although the interface is a bit clumsy. It lists 12 500 internet radio stations – including Resonance FM – and the list grows every day. There was a station in Memphis I wanted to listen to that wasn’t listed but it was very simple to add the station myself – I had reception straight away and a day later it was listed in the “PURE Lounge” directory. I’ve had no problems with the accuracy of the listings or time zones.

    You don’t need to be a Flow user to use the “PURE Lounge” – visit, play around and see what you think.

    “Listen Again” can be clunky. Shows are sometimes slow to be listed and then it’s the usual hassle of the BBC removing them after a week. If there are a number of shows you listen to on a regular basis it’s very useful.

    The podcast directory is good but limited. At present it lists about 2000 podcasts – two weeks ago it listed 3000, possibly they have cleared out shows that aren’t broadcasting at the moment. I added The Bike Show to my favourites two weeks ago but the listing has since gone, GRRR! The work around is to stream from a downloaded podcast using the Media Server. PURE say they will add podcasts upon request.

    For the size of the box the sound really is very good – probably the best I’ve heard from a small radio. Volume is limited but loud enough. The drop off in level at lower volumes is a bit too sharp – if you listen to the radio in bed you may find it hard to get a volume level which satisfies.

    From what I have read the Binatone sounds like very good value for money but I’ve not found any information on how it is serving Internet Radio stations – is it from a web site like PURE’s?

  • http://myitalodisco.blogspot.com dj Kostas

    I have this transmitter and it work very good!