BOOT CAMP ARCHIVE 2004

  

 

BOOT CAMP 340 (24/08/04)

RECORDING INTERNET RADIO

 

The Internet is a truly marvellous innovation that has enriched our lives but in my opinion one of the most important benefits is being able to listen to any recent episode of The Archers, including the weekly omnibus edition, at any time, just about anywhere in the world.

 

Thousands of radio stations around the world, including many from the BBC, broadcast or ‘stream’ live and recorded audio over the web, which you can hear through your PC. Broadly speaking it works quite well and the quality can be very good, especially over a broadband connection, but like a lot of Internet technologies it is bedevilled by competing formats and standards.

 

The BBC succeeded in irritating a lot of people by using Real Player. It requires the listener to download a particularly insidious piece of software (see Tip of the Week), and great care needs to be taken to ensure that it doesn’t take over the audio facilities on your PC. In its favour it is free and once installed, fairly easy to use. However, whatever type of software is used to receiver Internet radio, and whether it comes to you through the ether or down a telephone line, the programmes you want to listen to are rarely broadcast at a time that’s convenient for you.

 

It’s not necessarily a problem for Archers fans; episodes from the previous seven days can be heard at any time but Real Player, like most Internet radio software doesn’t have a recording facility. Clearly this would be very useful for those that cannot get to a PC in time to hear past episodes before they are removed from the archive.

 

Legally recording radio programs on the web is a bit of a grey area, as far as the copyright issues are concerned, but this is nothing new and the technology to record or ‘time-shift’ broadcast radio and TV programmes -- using radio-cassette recorders and VCRs -- has been around for at least the past 25 years. It is extremely unlikely to cause problems provided recordings are purely for personal use and not sold, re-broadcast or played in public.

 

From a technical standpoint recording Internet radio is surprisingly difficult. Of course you can easily make a direct recording on a cassette or MiniDisc recorder using a cable connection or a microphone placed next to the PC speakers but the point of this exercise is to record the programme on a PC. This has the added advantages of simple archiving, rapid file access and downloading or copying to other media, such as audio CDs, tape, MiniDisc or MP3 and personal audio players.   

 

The Sound Recorder utility included in Windows (Start > Programs > Accessories > Entertainment) is a non-starter. Apart from the fact that it can only make recordings lasting one minute (though there are ways around that), it cannot record the output of a PC’s sound card or adaptor. Most third-party sound recorder programs suffer from a similar limitation and can only record audio from an external source, such as the PC’s microphone or ‘line input’ sockets.

 

Fortunately there are a good number of specialist programs for recording Internet radio. Most of them are commercial applications, costing from around £6.00 upwards, though there are a few freeware titles and we’ll look at those first, however I would steer clear as in the main they are either rather basic, difficult to use or spiked with adware, so beware! 

 

If you don’t mind the odd pop up advert and a 30-minute recording limit then Freecorder (www.freecorder.com/) might be worth trying. It’s suitable for all versions of Windows (from W98 onwards). Recordings made on the freeware version are made at the medium recording quality rate of 64kbs (upgrade to a fully functional, ad-free licensed version costs $10). Playback of recorded files is via Windows Media Player or third party players like WinAmp (free from www.winamp.com). Plus points include direct recording to MP3 format and it is very simple to use. The other freeware recorder worth considering is Silent Bob (www.silent-bob.de/en/index.htm), this is also record only and very simple to use, it works with Windows 95 onwards and records in MP3 format.

 

You are spoilt for choice if you don’t mind spending a few pounds. You will find plenty of programs with a Google search (keywords record internet radio) and in most cases you can download a trial version and upgrade to a fully functional paid-for copy if you like what you see.

 

Replay Radio (www.replay-radio.com/) is one of the market leaders and it’s very well specified with a timer facility, to make unattended recordings, editing facilities, compatibility with most streaming and recording formats (including Apple iPod/iTunes) and automatic CD burning. My personal favourite is Total Recorder (www.highcriteria.com/), which costs only $11.95. This program lacks some of the bells and whistles of its more expensive rivals though it does have a timer so you can schedule recordings, and there are simple editing features. It is easy to use and very flexible moreover configuration is reasonably straightforward. In most cases it will work straight away using the defaults. Files can be saved to 15 different audio formats including MP3, wav, WMA PCM and the exotic-sounding Ogg Vorbis system.

 

Next week – Internet Explorer, time for a change?

 

JARGON FILTER

 

MP3

Motion Picture Experts Group audio layer 3 -- digital audio compression system commonly used to send files containing audio and music over the Internet

 

OGG VORBIS

Free, unpatented ‘Open Source’ audio compression system, comparable in quality with rival systems like MP3

 

STREAMING

Technique used to send sound and pictures over the Internet. Data is 'buffered' or stored in a temporary memory by player software on the PC to minimise the interruptions that would otherwise occur as data on the net is sent in chunks or 'packets'.

 

 

TIP OF THE WEEK

If you are an Archers fan then Internet radio is a must for keeping up with the goings on in Ambridge while you are away from home. Go the BBC web site at: www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/archers/index.shtml, click the Catch Up button and you will be told whether or not Real Player is installed on your PC. If not you will be directed to the download site, just follow the instructions but be aware it is a large file, typically 9Mb, which could take a while on a dial-up connection… During the installation you will be asked if you want to make Real Player the default for all music and video files. I would deselect the lot, and you can skip on-line registration by pressing the Cancel button. It will still work though if you haven’t signed up you may need to click the tiny blue ‘Listen with native RealPlayer’ button next to ‘Get Help Listening’ in the BBC Radio Player window.  

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