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LinuxGazette: Have Your PC Listen to the Radio For You

Feb 11, 2001, 14:00 (2 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Charles Shapiro)

"A lot of Great Stuff goes out over the broadcast radio bands, but it's rare that you're actually in a position to hear it. I have solved this problem with various systems to record radio broadcasts to cassette tapes. My starting equipment was a boom box and a hardware-store AC power timer switch, later updated to a fancy stereo tuner and a slightly nicer timer switch. Some stereo tuners have an 'instant on' feature which remembers what radio station they were set to when they were turned off, thus allowing you to hook a tape drive to them and turn them on through the power cord. All of these approaches suffer from several drawbacks. Hardware-store timers work only in 24-hour cycles, so if you want to tape a show at 8pm Saturday and another at noon Sunday, you must reset them between days. More expensive timers feature interfaces which are very difficult to learn and manipulate, limiting their usefulness. It is also difficult to keep these timers precise; they're really not built for that purpose. In addition, you can only turn the radio on or off with them. You must also be sure to get the thing tuned to the right channel. Every step you do to catch a radio broadcast increases the chance that you will make a mistake and miss the show."

"The obvious solution to this problem is to use a computer to control both radio and tape deck, setting times and channel tunings through it. The ideal way to have this work would be to have a single device with a radio, a computer, and a tape deck all tied together inside, along with a clean, simple interface to control them all. In the real world, there's probably not enough crazed radio listeners to justify designing and manufacturing such a thing. But it's still possible to hook all these things together. With Linux, an old PC, and a PC radio card, you can build a device to hang off your home network which will be simple to operate and let you listen to some Really Cool Stuff for less than $150."

"The system I built started with a '486 DX 66 PC with a 1.5 GB hard disk and 16 MB of RAM, which I obtained in exchange for a 6-pack of good homebrew beer. I could have done only a half-gig of drive space. To this I added a PC Cadet radio card (about $40), a CM17A 'Firecracker' X10 control module (I got mine free in a promotion), the tape deck (bought used from a friend), an X10 radio transceiver module ($20 or so), and some audio cables. The tape deck must have a 'record on' feature, so that you can force it to begin recording immediately when you supply it power. The audio cable has a miniature stereo plug on one side, and a pair of RCA plugs on the other. Most audio stores sell these for plugging portable CD players into room stereo systems."

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