How to Record Radio

Posted on December 3, 2011 by admin

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What is the best way to record radio? We look here at some of the ways you can record FM, DAB and network radio and how you can use your recordings on the move.

Published in the Radio Listener's Guide 2011 edition

Audio Cassettes

For technophobes, without digital TV, an audio cassette recorder still offers a reliable, if unsophisticated, way to record radio. Panasonic, Sony and Roberts Radio all offer equipment, but bear in mind the limitations of audio cassette recording, particularly if you are purchasing new equipment. Equipment supporting audio cassettes is increasingly rare. Roberts Radio sell the RC9907, £35. It offers LW, MW and FM and has a rather basic one event timer.

Record FM

If you wish to record an FM station the options are somewhat limited. The simplest way is to use an audio cassette recorder. The Roberts Sound 53, £250, offers simple, attended, recording of both FM and DAB radio to SD or USB in MP3 format.  The new Roberts Record R enables attended and timed recordings, although the filing and timing systems are a little confusing.  At £100 it is the cheapest radio we have come accross which records both FM and DAB.

Another solution is to feed the FM signal from a radio, or hifi, with an audio output to a personal computer and record using PC software. If your chosen FM station is available on DAB, Digital Television or the internet you will probably be better off recording from one of these platforms.

There are also a few mobile phones that will record FM. You won’t be able to make a timed recording, but this does offer a simple way to make a recording that you can then easily listen to while on the move.

Record DAB Radio

Digital radio should have produced simpler recording options by now, but even so, if your favourite stations are available on DAB there are a number of models we can recommend.

For simple recordings when you are on hand to start and stop the recording we’d recommend the Roberts RD-55, £100. A key benefit is that it is relatively easy to operate. For timer-based DAB recordings the Pure Evoke-3, £200, is the undisputed champion. It offers up to 20 timed events - recording to SD card, but the menu-driven controls could be confusing for some users.  The New Roberts Record R will also record DAB, and is available for £100.

If your budget stretches a little further, the Teac CRH255DAB, £230, has a programmable timer that enables recording from DAB and FM to a USB memory stick, but it will only perform one timed recording.

The downside of DAB radio recording in the models we’ve tested, is that, with the exception of the Roberts Sound 53, recordings are saved as MP2, not the more useful MP3 format. Most other devices – such as car radios with SD card slots will need the recordings as MP3s – so you’ll have to convert the recordings on a computer if you wish to use them elsewhere.

To do this it is easier and quicker to remove the SD card from the radio and use a card reader attached to your PC, rather than connecting the radio by its USB socket (if it has one). Once on your PC various programs can convert the MP2 files to MP3, or you can simply copy them to iTunes, from where they can be stored and played, or copied to a CD in audio or MP3 format.

Record Digital Television

Ironically one of the simplest ways to record radio is to use a digital television recorder, or PVR. Of the TV options Sky+, or Sky+HD, are the best we’ve used - with similar systems from Freeview and Freesat not too far behind. The main advantage of Sky+ is the easy-to-use EPG (Electronic Programme Guide) and the fact that it has the best range of radio stations available. To set a recording simply select the channel you’d like to record, and press the record button on the Sky+ remote control. This takes you to a menu where you can quickly select the recording duration and frequency – once, daily, Mon-Fri etc… To playback recordings you simply select them in the Sky Planner.

One feature missing from Sky’s EPG is radio programme information. It’s available for TV programmes, but not for radio. In practice this doesn’t make much difference in the time it takes to set up a single recording, but it would be useful for recording a radio series, for example. This is available in the EPG when you make recordings for both Freeview and Freesat.

The big drawback with Sky+ is that you’ll have to pay a monthly subscription of at least £10 to use it (unless you subscribe to a Sky programme package, in which case the Sky+ features are free). If this is an issue, or your favourite channels are on Freeview or Freesat, choose a recorder from one of these two other platforms.

A further drawback to recording using TV equipment is that you are very much tied to listening at the TV. It is not easy to copy the recordings made on digital TV recorders to CD or to an iPod for use on the move. It can be done, but you’ll need to connect your set-top box audio outputs to a computer or another recording device and then copy your recordings across in real time.

Record Radio to DVD

An alternative to using a TV recorder with a hard disk is to choose a DVD recorder with a built-in Freeview tuner. Radio recordings can be made and played back on DVD. If you want to transfer them to other devices the DVD will have to be finalised and then converted on a PC to MP3. Freeware programmes such as VLC media player and LAME encoder will do this.

Record podcasts

We’ve covered Podcasts in more detail elsewhere. They are a great way to obtain a recording of a radio programme if you have a personal computer. Sadly a limited number of radio programmes are available as podcasts – and those that are rarely have music, due to rights issues.

If your favourite programmes are available simply subscribe to them through a program, such as iTunes, and they’ll be automatically downloaded to your PC whenever you open iTunes. You can listen on your PC, or transfer them easily to an iPod.

Record Internet radio to a PC

Most UK radio stations can be listened to via the internet, along with thousands of internet-only stations. But what do you do if you want to make a recording of a BBC or other radio programme that’s not available as a podcast or via the BBC iPlayer ‘listen again’ facility?

BBC radio stations are available as streaming audio (in Real Media or Windows Media) via the BBC iPlayer, but there are no direct URLs to download the entire radio show as an MP3 file. Likewise the output of other stations such as Classic FM are available as live streams only from the station’s website.

The best way we have found is to use a program such as Audacity. It’s freeware, and although it doesn’t have the simplest of user interfaces, it does the job for PC and Mac users. Mac users can also use the excellent Wire Tap Studio, £43. It will pick-up anything playing on your computer and record it to MP3. A simple click of a button will copy the recording to iTunes. From iTunes they can easily be copied to a CD, or transferred to an iPod.

Radio Gaga (for Mac users only) has an excellent interface – and it even offers multiple scheduled recordings of the stations listed on its website – but sadly it doesn’t offer mainstream UK stations.

Media Centers and TV tuner cards

A Windows Media Center, or a PC with a PCI or USB device attached to your PC, and fed with a TV signal enables you to watch and record both radio and television to your PC.

Manufacturers, such as Hauppauge, offer a range of products including software that will enable you to record TV and radio channels from both Freeview and satellite. They are not always easy to set up and can be subject to the usual PC problems such as crashes and software glitches. Depending on your setup you may also have to put up with a noisy PC in the background.

We’ve used the Hauppauge HVR 3000, £75, and its WinTV software to record both TV and radio from Freeview and satellite. Once we’d got over some initial problems setting it up, we found recording and timed recordings easy to make, either manually or from the 7 day Freeview programme guide. PVR features that enable you to live pause radio and TV were very useful too.

Recordings are saved as .TS files. They can be played back from the recordings folder. To convert radio recordings to the more useful MP3 format you can use freeware such as VLC media player and LAME encoder.

Recording on the move

Limited FM recording was included on the 5th generation iPod Nano launched last year. This year’s Nano Touch also has a built-in FM radio - it offers a Live Pause Feature that will record radio for up to 15 minutes only.

Pure’s discontinued the PocketDAB 2000 DAB radio recorder, and hasn’t replaced it with another portable DAB recording device.

The Cowon D2, £150, MP3 player records DAB, but has been replaced by the manufacturer by the J3, which doesn’t have DAB, but it will record from FM

The Cowon J3 comes in various memory configurations with a 16GB model retailing at around £200. All of the models will record FM. If you are listening to live radio simply call up the menu and hit record. Alternatively set the alarm into radio record mode which effectively performs a timed recording. You can set the radio to record for between 20 minutes to two hours, or continuously (until you run out of storage).

Playing back recordings or podcasts on the move – in car or caravan

Nowadays most car radios come equipped with a CD player. The two methods we’d recommend if you want to play recordings or podcasts in-car are to copy the recordings to CD or to transfer the recordings to an iPod or similar portable audio player.

If you are copying to CD make sure that you choose the correct format for your CD player. Older car CD players only support Audio CDs, new models usually support MP3 CDs - which have a much greater capacity.

Another way to play back recordings in-car is to use an iPod or similar MP3 player, or a mobile phone.

Increasingly car radios come equipped with an Auxiliary input or a USB socket. Using these you can connect your portable device so that you can play the audio over the car radio’s loudspeakers. If you are choosing a new car radio, make sure you pick one with connections on the front of the radio where they are easy to access – not on the back as is found on older equipment.

If your car radio has a USB or an SD socket you don’t even need an iPod, you can just copy your recordings to a USB memory stick or an SD card on your computer, and play them on your car radio, but you’ll not benefit from the iPod’s play back controls.

If your car radio doesn’t have an Auxiliary or a USB input you can still play your iPod or music player through it. You’ll need a radio transmitter that sends the signal to an unused FM frequency that your radio can tune to. Griffin is one of the leaders in this technology, with iTrip products starting at around £12. We’ve also tested the Lava 49 Digital FM transmitter, £35, and other products that have worked well.

The Pure Highway DAB radio, £70, is a DAB radio adapter designed for in-car use. It has an iPod input and can also be used to transmit iPod output via an unused FM frequency to your car stereo.

In-car recording

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your car radio recorded and stored radio at the press of a button? The only model we’ve been able to find in recent years that does this, the Blaupunkt Nashville DAB47, £250, was discontinued in early 2009!

Looking to the USA, you’ll find this feature on car radios from subscription-based satellite radio broadcaster Sirius - so it may be something that becomes more widespread in the UK one day!


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