COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | PHIL BAKER

E-radio to go

Internet radio has been around for a number of years, but with the increased availability of broadband, and with more commercial stations going online, it's become much more accessible and practical. There are no geographic restrictions. You can listen to a station in your hometown or to a syndicated show that's not broadcast in the local area. On a recent trip to China I listened to some of my favorite West Coast stations, just as if I were at home. And they were a lot more interesting and varied than the repetitious CNN on the hotel's TV. The only requirement is having broadband access.

Now, thanks to a nifty software product called Replay-Radio from Applian Technologies of San Francisco (www.replay-radio.com), it's even easier, and you can do a lot more than just listen. Replay Radio, at $30, simplifies the whole process of finding, recording and listening to radio broadcasts anytime or anyplace.

The simple and intuitive interface allows you to search Replay-Radio's database by station name, location, program or personality, and then automatically record that program for any length of time, even on a repeated basis. Currently its database has 742 stations and 528 programs, with more being added weekly.

Of course, your computer needs to be online and running to receive and record, but it has no noticeable effect on other computing activities while it streams the audio from the station to your hard drive. It can then be played back later, saved to a CD or transferred to an audio player. Basically, it will record anything you hear over your computer.

The program workes very well, but a couple of times out of a dozen it would not allow me to connect to one popular station, KGO in San Francisco, indicating the radio station's server access limit had been reached. That was caused by too many people accessing the station at the address used. In that case, I entered through the station's Web site. Applian indicated this was an anomaly and helped me with a workaround.

What's popular these days? Tom Mayes, Applian Technologies vice president of sales, told me there have been many requests for Air America (Al Franken, etc.), since it's only broadcast on a few stations. The station was added as soon as Replay-Radio went live two weeks ago. It has also added magazines and newspapers in audio form, BBC stations and many of the NPR shows, including one of my favorites, Car Talk. Most talk shows from across the political spectrum are available.

Alternatively, you can listen to a broadcast in real time without recording by locating the program and clicking "tune to show." You can save your list of favorites to connect easier and faster than going to the station's Web site.

Replay Radio saves files using three MP3 quality levels (AM, FM or CD quality) as well as in WAV format. Any audio device that can play an MP3 file can play them back. It can also automatically transfer the recordings to iTunes, the free Apple software for the PC that works with the iPod, so that the next time you sync, the recordings are automatically transferred to the iPod.

The recording of radio programs has not run into any of the issues that the unauthorized copying of music has. Radio stations make their profits by increasing their listening audience, and many have asked to be added to Replay's list. It's like having a TiVo for radio on your computer and is well worth the $30 price.

Another nifty product for copying radio programs automatically without requiring the use of a computer is Radio Your Way (www.radioyourway.com), a small shirt-pocket sized AM-FM radio that can record any local AM or FM broadcast at a preset time including, on a daily basis. It stores the program onto a Secure Digital memory card as an MP3 file. (It has a built-in USB port for uploading the broadcast to a computer if you want to save or send them). It's designed, of course, to record in real time while the program is being broadcast. I've used it to record San Diego stations as well as stations coming in from Replay-Radio, using the computer's microphone jack.

Radio Your Way was originally developed for talk radio fans that didn't want to miss their favorite shows. One 32-megabyte SD card can hold 4 hours of recording at a quality level that's fine for talk shows. It can also be used as a portable AM/FM radio using the supplied headphones or its built-in speaker. Cost including a 32MB SD card and AC adapter is $150.

Each of these products takes advantage of the diverse programming available on the radio. And best of all, the content is free.


Baker has developed and marketed consumer and computer products for Polaroid, Apple, Seiko and others. He is the holder of 30 patents and was named San Diego's Ernst & Young Consumer Products Entrepreneur of the Year in 2000. He can be reached at phil.baker@sddt.com.

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