NEW YORK - Want to take your favorite radio shows with you on your portable music player? A few new software packages that record Internet radio make that possible. They all aim to be "TiVo for radio," but the comparison is not quite deserved - none of them is as easy to use as a TiVo.
But if you're a radio fan, or getting bored of the same old songs on your iPod, Radiotime ($39.99 for one year), Magix Webradio Recorder ($29.99), or Replay Radio ($49.99) are worth a shot, particularly Replay Radio.
Just to clear up some potential confusion: there's already a gadget that's claimed the title of "TiVo for radio," the RadioShark. It's a radio tuner that connects to the computer and records local AM/FM radio.
Radiotime does sell an optional receiver for over-the-air radio for an extra $20, but the main use of all three programs we tested is to record streaming Internet radio. For this, you don't need extra hardware.
The gist of the programs is this: you select which shows to record through a built-in program guide. The software keeps track of when they "air" and records the shows on your hard drive.
Somewhat impractically, the computer has to be left on when the show is Webcast. You really need a broadband connection for this to work - it would be a hassle to make sure a dial-up connection is established every time you want to record something, and in any case, dial-up connections aren't fast enough.
The programs all have their peculiarities:
- Radiotime, which is available for Windows and Macintosh PCs, is the one that reaches hardest for the TiVo model. It has an extensive program guide, which it claims has 25,000 shows.
Like the TiVo, but unlike the other radio recorders, it allows the user to schedule recordings from another computer.
Also like the TiVo, it charges a subscription fee ($39.99 a year). This makes some sense, since maintaining the program guide is an ongoing job, but it does make the software more expensive.
Radiotime's challenge is that keeping track of the world's radio stations is a much bigger job than keeping up with U.S. TV schedules. Radiotime recorded domestic shows fine for me but trying to record a BBC historical show yielded a broadcast of some mysterious British sport, probably cricket.
Radiotime's interface is also the most confusing of the three.
Radiotime is sold as a download from Radiotime.
- Magix Webradio Recorder has a somewhat more friendly interface. It has a 2,000-channel program guide but the selection is haphazard, with a large proportion of foreign stations, a symptom of the software's German origin.
If you're an immigrant craving your homeland's radio, this might be for you, especially since you can overcome the difference in time zones by recording.
However, the guide is organized only by channel. You have to find out for yourself when specific shows air - a big disadvantage.
In Webradio's favor, it was the only program that managed to record two shows at once. It's also the only one that can extract song names from some MP3 audio feeds.
Webradio is only for Windows PCs. It is sold in stores and online at Webradio.
- Replay Radio is the winner in this test, mainly by virtue of its simple interface. It's also the only program that helps you find the addresses, or URLs, for audio feeds you want.
Radio stations generally don't encourage recording - they want listeners to come to their Web site - so they hide the URLs of their audio feeds.
Replay Radio comes with a little tool that can extract these URLs from the Internet Explorer browser. This means that if the station you want is not in the program guide, you can record it anyway. (The hidden URLs may make you wonder if its legal to record Web radio. It is, if it's for personal listening.)
Replay Radio can also download "podcasts," audio recordings that are posted online, mainly by amateurs but also by traditional media.