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.
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?