TiVo for radio online

RadioTime is a web-based interface to the vast invisible world of sound publishing — music, talk, news, sports, journalism, and non-fiction stories — or what used to be called “radio.”

These days you can get “radio” over the web at your convenience and in your preferred format: live in real time, downloaded, or archived. Just about any respectable station will provide some of their programs over the internet. However RadioTime aggregates the full schedules of 5,000 commercial and public radio stations and provides a uniform web-based interface to their schedules and your preferences of how and when you’d like to hear them. Like a TiVo for radio, you can browse, sort and shift the universe. You can use RadioTime to program your RadioShark, or you can simply program RadioTime to record certain select programs to your computer, or even better, drop them right into iTunes. It’s then an easy hop into the iPod for playing in the car (which is how I like to use it since I am never driving when This American Life is playing on the radio.) Their web-based guide is free; to record from it they charge a $39/year subscription.

What’s the difference between RadioShark and RadioTime (other than one is hardware and one is software)? If you want to time-shift or migrate to your iPod only one or two locally broadcast radios shows, then your best bet is to pay up front and plunk down your money for a RadioShark, which you can program once and thereafter pay no fees: the free radio model. A RadioShark is also great for the 50% (as of 2005) of all radio broadcasts which are still NOT bit-streamed, including many talk shows, certain sports events and so on. It’s a cheap way to record the free radio you can hear — but only what you can hear.

You can’t hear much locally. Most of the great radio made will not reach your RadioShark, but it will come through RadioTime. There are 36,000 radio stations world-wide streaming some part of their programs. Only a tiny sliver of all that is produced is aired in one locale. In fact only a tiny portion of all the material produced in American public radio will play on your local station. Whole rivers of great stuff — music, stories, interviews, talk, sports — are flowing by invisibly. A monthly subscription to RadioTime will record your favorites, but also make visible and manageable this sonic tide, an entirely new territory. Indeed, on first entry the amount of audio material, much of it excellent, is overwhelming. I am reminded of the early web; so much so fast. RadioTime is in the first days of figuring out how to navigate through this immense hidden library (much greater than the world of TV and video); their actual launch date is March 2005. BTW, you don’t need to pay RadioTime to benefit from their aggregation. You can explore and play (but not record) simply by registering.

In fact if your tastes tend toward the intellectual, then you might consider the Public Radio Fan base, which is a great index to all the public radio programs on the air. This heroic treasure is compiled and maintained by the OTHER Kevin Kelly (!). Dip into it to discover some amazing interviews, stories, and reportage that never makes it to your local station. You can then download or stream at will, or use RadioTime (its database is incorporated into RadioTime) to schedule regular recordings.

-- KK 02/7/05

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