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The BBC Radio-4-Matic - hacking radio for good

An amazingly clever way to get some sanity back to this Seattle radio listener's life.

BBC Radio 4 is a station unlike any other. Spend any time in the US, and the sing-song voice-tones of NPR, the inexplicable plinky-plonky jazz excerpts and the underwriting credits are enough to send a proper Brit to turn off his radio for good.

Adam Foster is a proper Brit, who lives in Seattle. On a recent visit to the UK, he realised how much he missed Radio 4. "A long car journey, starting with the Today programme... I realised how much I was losing back in Seattle," he said via email to us. And so he decided to do something about it.

While anyone in the world has access to live BBC Radio 4 over the internet, that's not much good for Seattle. Radio 4's built for a British audience, with the Today programme setting the tone for the day ahead, the evening comedy slot providing a useful bumper between the end of the day and the beginning of the evening. Adam believes that Radio 4 really has to be listened-to at the right time. "The written-in-stone Radio 4 schedule must not, under any circumstances, be allowed to become misaligned from the rising and the setting of the sun", he adds on his blog.

So he decided to do something about it.

He bought a 1970s Roberts transistor radio on eBay - the one with the Queen's warrant on the top and a wonderfully warm sound - and inside the box he's added a £25 (British-built) Raspberry Pi computer. The Raspberry Pi records BBC Radio 4 from the internet, buffers it, and plays it back at the right time for Seattle. "At 6pm, it provides the Six O'Clock News. Only the 6pm is Seattle-time, not London-time. Waking up can be accompanied by the Today Programme. All very civilised."

And, as he's particularly proud to point out to us over email, "the hack is fully reversible. Remove two wires, replace another, and the radio is exactly as it used to be. The chunky '70s transistors give awesome sound quality, too - and the Royal Warrant on the top? Oh yes."

For more, you can read his blog post, and there's more in the Raspberry Pi forum.

This is radio hacked right. Wonderful to see, isn't it?

James Cridland is the Managing Director of Media UK, and a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business.
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5 comments

Recommendations: 0
Vusi Sibiya
posted

Awesome… hope this is something that will prompt popular radio services to look at Anytime cloud based streaming till fill this need.

Recommendations: 0
James Cridland
posted

A Google+ correspondent points out that there’s an online service that does this sort of thing already, at http://www.delayplayer.com/

Recommendations: 0
Vusi Sibiya
posted

Thanx!

Recommendations: 0
Daniel Fox
posted

Sadly, I’m not blessed with the technical know-how: but I’ve often thought about something similar to this. In fact this idea could be very easily adapted for my idea.

IRN BUFFER” – So if you’re in automation, rather than your playout system ‘murdering’ a song or having to pitchshift to hit the news on time, you could let it run into a buffer and then be delivered when it’s required. (maybe a few seconds or minutes later) Could also be useful in live mode etc.

Obviously I hit my news on time – every time – but not everyone can be as great as me

;o)

Recommendations: 0
James Martin
posted

But that’s easily doable without a buffer. Have Sky record the bulletin – or a bulletin – at XX:50 instead, upload it to an FTP server and then individual stations set their playout system to pull it from there and pop it in the log, as they might do if they get their news from a regional group hub.

And in the first place there shouldn’t be pitch-shift or premature fade issues if a bit of attention to detail took place. So many times I’ve heard automation play out so slowly it was unlistenable, yet all was probably needed was an extra 3 minute song.

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Credits: Photo Adam Foster