I want my "Tivo" for radio in my car


Recently, we picked up a Rio Karma, which is a 20gb handheld jukebox that plays MP3, WMA and Ogg Vorbis. Particularly nice things about it include the Ogg support and the fact it has Ethernet, so that any machine on our net can transfer music into it. That's about all it does with the ethernet (it also has a small web server to serve the manual and a java transfer app) but I expect it will do more later, like be a streaming media gateway when docked on the stereo, allowing control from anywhere.

We've also used it a lot in the car, where we get to use it a bit like a Tivo for Radio. The Tivo is the hard disk video recorder I have for TV, and is the only way I watch TV now. Every Tivo owner has probably wished they could pause their radio as well.

To start, I download radio shows with some simple linux scripts. Some programs like NPR's "On the Media" and the CBC's Quirks and Quarks let you download shows directly. Kudos and Huzzah to them.

For other shows, you must capture streams and listen later, which is legal. For example, each morning I capture a 32kbit MP3 stream of 2 hours of "Morning Edition." It syncs to the player, and can then be played during the commute. The newscasts are 2 hours old but you can fast-forward, pause and rewind, which is great.So we're halfway there, but why not a dedicated device. Of course a car MP3 jukebox is a great thing to have, better than having Satellite radio (except for news). And some new models on the market are putting in 802.11, so they can sync up with the audio stored on the home network when they are in the driveway.

But flash is so cheap these days that you would think in-dash radios would give us some nify features. Basic record-all-the-time into RAM to allow pause and rewind (and eventual FF) would be nice. Radio tuners are cheap, so why not always be recording the last few minutes of the last few stations I have tuned to?

Or on top of that, have a tuner that always listens to the all-news, weather and traffic station that exists in every town. These stations all have news on the half hour, and traffic every 10 or 15 minutes at a particular time. Not hard to have the radio record that station all the time, and give me a preset button that switches not to that station's live feed but to the latest newscast or the latest traffic.

The recent efforts with satellite radio, or the new digital radio competitor that provides extra bandwidth in the sidebands are the wrong direction. The mp3 jukebox lets me program all the music I can want at fine fidelity. You can also record radio streams of music for single-time playback, and you don't care about real-time there. Only news and weather require real-time.

Right now the hand-held player isn't perfect for this. It doesn't know when the car has stopped (meaning it should pause) for example, so you have to start and stop it independently of the car. Some players have FM transmitters, for the rest you need an external one or for full fidelity an interface shaped like a cassette tape. (Remember to turn off dolby!)

I expect we'll see motion on this, as the hardware to make it happen gets cheaper and cheaper. This might also result in another big change.

Everybody predicted radio would die when TV came along. But of course it didn't, though it changed a lot. Radio remains the medium you want when your eyes are busy or you are concentrating on other things. And of course while music can be enhanced with video you tend to want to just listen. But actually broadcasting radio, other than news, may become less important as we get these advanced players, or even data connections to our cars and persons.

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