Ten years ago, I used to work in a Radio Shack. (Damn. I just reread that last sentence, and it makes me feel friggin’ old.) My boss and I (Brian1 and Brian 2) used to make fun of certain customers. Well, we used to make fun of just about every customer, but a particular class of people, specifically, is what I am referring to right now. These customers would trickle in, maybe one person a month. They were typically rather old and always had the same request. They wanted to record from the radio onto a blank tape. We’re not talking about simply turning on the stereo and hitting play and record simultaneously, like any normal human would do. We’re talking audio VCR. We always had a couple of creative answers…an analog (not digital because it would reset if you turned it off) combination radio and tape recorder, plugged into one of those vacation light timers…feed your radio output (“using this here handy adaptor cable”) into your VCR, then simply program your VCR, and you have an 8-hour recording device…go to Price Club and get a metric ton of peanuts, then buy a trained monkey… Anyway, all the old geezers wanted to record their radio shows.
Guess what? Now I am one of those old geezers. The technology has advanced, but the concept has stayed the same. The radio is a simple digital shortwave radio, the tape recorder is a SoundBlaster sound card, the blank tape is a hard drive–but it is essentially the same thing. First, I tried to locate one of the FM radio tuner cards. You used to be able to find them from $10-30, but they are nowhere to be found now. Then, I checked out the combination video capture/FM radio cards, but they were either too big (the computer is about a 1ft x 1ft x 1ft cube), too expensive for experimenting around with, or not supported under Linux. I finally settled on an external digital radio (plugged into the wall), and a 1/8″ headphone-to-headphone cable between the headphone jack on the radio and the sound input on the sound card.
Oh, you think programming a VCR is hard? It’s NOTHING compared to programming the radio recorder. There’s no on-screen display. There’s no monitor. There’s no nifty little user interface where you hit the arrow keys to advance the time. No, you find another computer on the same network, use SSH to set up a cryptographically secure tunnel into the machine. Then you open up your favorite text editor and edit your crontab file to fire off processes at distinct times. That’s all you have to do. The processes, in turn, record from the line in (from the radio) into *.au files, convert those to *.wav files, convert that to a *.mp3, then synchronize the recorded radio programs to a remote web server where I can grab it and listen to at work. On the plus side, there is no blinking 12:00. The machine checks, every time you turn it on, what the current time happens to be with the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Washington DC.
At least, I’ll be able to listen to Film Week and Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me any time I want. I usually am working during the former and sleeping through the latter.