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Hacking Radio on the Mac

by Wei-Meng Lee

So you've been having a lot of fun with your iPod and iTunes ever since you got your brand new shiny iPod mini. But no doubt you will, at some point in time, be bored with all of the songs you have in your iPod. What about having something new, for a change? Perhaps you want to hear some news or listen to the latest songs by some other artists. In this case, the radio is the next best companion. Unfortunately, the iPod does not come with a radio receiver, and hence, it is not possible to listen to the radio with it. But there are some other nifty ways to get the radio on your Mac. You can then record it and copy it onto your iPod. In this article, I will show you how to listen to and record radio on the Mac.

Listening to Radio on the Mac

There are times when you are on the road with your Mac and you might want to tune in to the radio for the latest weather information or road conditions. In this case, it is useful to have a radio receiver on hand. The much-delayed Griffin RadioShark is one such radio receiver (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. The Griffin RadioShark

The Griffin RadioShark is powered by its USB cable connected to your Mac. It comes with an application that allows you to record radio programs. The recorded broadcast can be transferred to an iPod or any other AIFF-compatible digital music player to replay on the go.

The Griffin RadioShark has received some rave reviews on the Web. Unfortunately, I was not able to obtain a unit in time for this article. But going by the Web reviews, the RadioShark is definitely worth its $69.99 price tag.

Recording Direct from the Radio

If you do not have the Griffin RadioShark, the next best thing you can do is to connect your Mac directly to a radio. Figure 2 shows connecting my stereo to my PowerBook.

Figure 2. Connecting my stereo to my PowerBook

To listen to the radio on your Mac, connect the line-out (or headphone) connector on your stereo to the line-in port on your Mac (see Figure 3) using an audio cable.

Figure 3. Locating the line-in port on the PowerBook

To record the radio on your Mac, you can use the following applications:

  • Sound Studio
  • AudioX

Using Sound Studio

Sound Studio is a Mac OS X audio application that lets you record and edit two-channel audio. You can download a trial copy of Sound Studio that will work for 14 days, after which you need to purchase a $49.99 license to use the application. (After the trial, you cannot save your recorded sound tracks.)

Figure 4 shows the Input Levels window detecting signals coming into my line-in port. You can enable your Mac to play the incoming sound by checking the "Soft play-thru" checkbox. To record the incoming signal, click on the Record button.

Figure 4. Using Sound Studio to record incoming sound

Once the sound is recorded, you can click on the Play button to hear the recorded sound. You can also edit the recorded sound track (see Figure 5).

Figure 5. Playing back the recorded sound track

You can save the recorded sound track in a number of formats (see Figure 6).

Figure 6. Saving the recorded sound track

Using AudioX

AudioX is another Mac OS X application that records sound. You can download a trial edition of the application (with a 30-second recording limit) or purchase the licensed copy for $19.95.

To record incoming sound signals, click on the Rec Window button in the main AudioX window and click on the Record button (see Figure 7).

Figure 7. Using AudioX

Upon recoding, you have the option to save the recorded sound track to a number of formats (see Figure 8).

Figure 8. Saving the recorded sound track

Broadcasting Your iTunes Music to Other Radios

In the first two sections of this article, I discussed how you can get the radio signal into your Mac. What about the reverse? Can your Mac broadcast radio? Actually, the answer is a simple yes, if you use a FM radio transmitter.

Recently, I bought the Griffin RoadTrip (see Figure 9), an iPod vehicle mounting kit for both charging and transmitting the iPod sound signal over FM. One interesting feature of the Griffin RoadTrip is its removable FM radio transmitter (Figure 9).

Figure 9. The Griffin RoadTrip

And so, I connected the FM radio transmitter to my PowerBook's microphone port (see Figure 10).

Figure 10. Connecting the FM radio transmitter to the PowerBook's microphone port

To broadcast the output signal of your PowerBook, select a frequency on the FM radio transmitter. You can now launch iTunes and play your favorite music. To listen to the music, simply tune in to the selected frequency using any radio.

Wei-Meng Lee (Microsoft MVP) is a technologist and founder of Developer Learning Solutions, a technology company specializing in hands-on training on the latest Microsoft technologies.

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