Radio Shark – Digital Audio Recording Device

Very similar to a TiVo, only works  with radios.   There are some very good radio shows out there, the kind that make you sit in the car long after you have reached your destination.  The kind that you might schedule your day around if possible.

A few of them are syndicated on NPR a few are locally produced, some are interesting talk, some are perspective, some are new music, etc.

Radio Shark Digital Audio Recording Device
Radio Shark Digital Audio Recording Device

Wouldn’t it be great if you could time shift those shows and listen to them when you wanted to?  Imagine this, you know that “This American Life” is airs on Saturday afternoon and it is a favorite.  However, this  Saturday you are busy working or what ever.  Go to the Radio Shark and program it to record your show, then listen to it later.  What a concept.

What this unit does:

  1. Plugs into PC or Mac USB port.
  2. Has AM and FM receivers built in.
  3. Can record programming and play back later, or pause programming and resume playback while recording.

What this unit does not do:

  1. Not very portable, unless the user want to lug a lap top around.
  2. Does not integrate into cars or other playback devices, such as I-pods, etc.
  3. Does not record internet sources directly, although there are a few links to shareware on the Radio Shark website that will do this.

This is a start, but what is really needed is something that is factory installed in cars.  Say the Digital Audio Recording Device (DARD) can be in installed in the car, or in the house, or both.  Then  each DARD has a flash drive that can be moved from one unit to another, but only played back in DARD units (to thwart pirating music). It can even be an I-pod app.

This is the type of new technology that will bring listeners to radio and make radio stations create good quality local content, stuff you can’t get anyplace else.

Why aren’t these being marketed?  Heck, radio stations should be giving them to listeners, I bet you could even get them manufactured with station logos.  Seems like an opportunity lost to embrace some meaningful, understandable, young technology.

Update: Okay, there are others out there as well.  What needs to happen is all these features tied together and offered in stock car radios.

Radio is dead/Radio is not dead

I have been reading with interest the whole debate about radio being dead or dying vs. radio being a vibrant thriving business.

FM-analog-tuning-indicator

Radio is not dead by any measure, however it is declining for a number of obvious reasons.  There are more competing entertainment and information options, that is true.  Ipods, netcasters, satellite radio have taken some of radio’s listeners away.  However, the main culprit in radio’s decline are the investment bankers that are squeezing every drop of blood nickle out of the industry before moving on to their next victim investment opportunity.

The net result of this has made much, not all, of radio predicable and boring.  No longer is radio the source for new music, news, information and entertainment as it used to be.  I don’t think that anyone will argue that point.  The money men have fired most of the creative and talented individuals who used to bring in the listeners and replaced them with computers.  They have also cut news staffs, support staffs and anything else that lives and breaths except sales people.  More sales people are always required.

HD RadioTM radio is a joke at best.  Setting aside all of the technical problems with coverage and building penetration, the programming sucks too.  The same purveyors of crap on the main analog channels are now branching out on the HD2 and HD3 channels.  I can’t believe that the secondary channels will somehow be better than the main analog channels,  or even marginally good enough to buy an HD Radio radio.  Some groups are putting their AM programming on an FM HD2 channel, which is great if one cares to hear drug addled corpulent talk show hosts wheezing into the microphone in full fidelity.   At least on the AM analog broadcasts, everything above 4.5 KHz is cut off, wheezing included.

The good news is, there are still some radio stations that are programmed well.  Radio sets are almost universal, every car has one, every house has at least one or two, most offices, stores, etc. Radio reception is still free.  Radio is still popular among many people.  Radio owner’s could very easily become involved with their communities of license, make better programing decisions, hire staffs, and add valuable informative local programs again.  This decline would soon be forgotten.

The bad news is that is unlikely to happen.  Less than a snowball’s chance in hell unless someone wakes up and smells the coffee.

I am half an optimist.

About community radio

Because of this post, I have received some e-mail asking why I am against community radio.  I am not.  In fact, I support community radio.  I think that community radio done well is a wonderful tool in our democracy, giving a voice to those that are watching government.  It also promotes other locals interests, events, music, etc.    I would like to see more failing stations bought by community broadcasters and turned into something that is a public trust and responsive to the local population.

What I was trying to get at in the previous post was that over crowding the FM band with more and more small signals will degrade it.  There is no ifs, ands or buts, removing third adjacent protections on the FM band will increase the noise floor.  This will lead to more interference on the average FM radio, which will lead to more people getting fed up and tuning out.

Here is why:  You cannot change the laws of physics.  FM transmitters have output filters that attenuate side band energy, that is to say, energy transmitted on 1st, 2nd and 3rd adjacent channels.  A 50,000 watt FM station on 100.3 MHz will have side band energy on 100.1, 99.9 and 99.7 MHz as well as 100.5, 100.7 and 100.9 MHz.  Due to the limitations on the components used to construct those filters, they can only be designed with the accuracy of the components used.  In other words, most electrical components have a tolerance given in percent, example +/- 10%.  That means that the value of the component will change, usually because of heating.  Therefore, output filters cannot be constructed to limit emissions to only the main channel and say one adjacent channel, they would drift off frequency.

Also, creating a brick wall filter that cuts everything off at the second adjacent channel will cause distortion of the RF signal on the main channel.  With analog AM and FM transmitters it cannot be done.  Digital transmissions are another story, but that is not what we are talking about here.

That is an engineer’s point of view.

One other thing about adding hundreds more LP FM signals.  There should be something that stipulates most (say >50%) of the programming be locally originated.  Recorded for later playback is fine.  Having thousands of LP stations broadcasting the same syndicated shows or running voice tracked automation 24/7 would be a recreation of the AM band as it currently exists.  If you want to listen to that, then it already exists, help your self.  I, on the other hand, would like to avoid the AMization of the FM band.

That is all.

If it ain’t broke, break it

One thing that I find a little annoying is the continuing need to reboot everything at some interval.  Computers in the studio, audio vault servers and work stations, e-mail servers, files servers, network routers, and so on.  Got a problem, first thing to do is cycle the power off and on…

One of the most irritating pieces of equipment is the audio processors on one of our FM stations.  A few years ago, we purchased the whiz bang Omnia 6 processor.  Every 6 or 8 months the thing losses its mind and sounds terrible.  The station gets all bassy and the high end sounds distorted.  I have tried everything I can think of to prevent this, including installing an UPS, extra grounding, extra shielding, software updates, etc.  In the end, it just has to be rebooted, which of course, means several seconds of dead air.  Naturally, this processor is at the FM transmitter site, where it is difficult to get to.

Truth be told, when it is working, it does sound pretty good on the air, but is it $10,000 dollars better than the older Optimod 8100A?  No, it is not.

The old Orban Optimods sound pretty good as long as they are re-capped and aligned every so often.  If fact, our number one billing station has an AC format and uses an Optimod 8100A and nothing else.  Our other station in the same market uses an Optimod 8100A and a pair of Texar Audio Prisms. In the ten years I have been working for this group of radio stations, I have never had to reboot the Optimod or the Audio Prisms, they just seem to work continuously without problems. Imagine that.

I have seen this called a “retro audio chain” by some.  Nothing retro about it, a little care and feeding and I’d stack this equipment up against an Omnia 6 any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

This is a grainy video of an 8100A  in action:

That was taken in our rack room using off air audio on the rack room speakers and a cheap video camera. You get the idea.

So here is to Frank Foti and his marketing gurus that have sold all of the program directors in America on the need to “update” there air chain processors, because, you know, the Optimod, that is old skool.