Radio-4-Matic

Update, Jan 12: Cargo Cult (whose name is actually Adam Foster) found that a lot of people were very interested in this project. Not least, Radio 4. Who interviewed him for the PM programme this afternoon about his hack. You can hear the programme at the PM website – listen now, because I can’t guarantee how long this will stay up! Adam’s bit starts at 27m00s.

I know several of you are making your own version of this project. Adam’s now blogged all the code you’ll need and very thorough instructions: so you’ve got no excuse for not getting started!

I’ve got a longstanding addiction to BBC Radio 4. It’s my alarm clock, keeps me company in the car, gives me something to shout at, and occasionally furnishes lovely surprises (like New Year’s morning last week, when the Raspberry Pi got a shout out on the Today program, and then Eben’s Dad was on ten minutes later talking about English dialect).

It can be a bit discombobulating trying to listen to Radio 4 online when you’re out of the country – Listen Again isn’t available for a day or so, and if you listen live, nothing is on at the right time. I must be woken by the soft keenings of James Naughtie, or else the day just doesn’t go right. PM must start at 5pm, and always coincides with a cup of tea. The Archers at 7 is a reminder that it’s time to turn off the radio, get out of the study and make dinner. Time-shifting any of these things just makes the day shapeless and wrong. Happily, our forum member Cargo Cult has experienced the same discombobulation. So he’s used a Raspberry Pi to build a time-travelling radio. He says:

Timezones. It’s live radio, but all the timing is wrong. Namely, 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. How could anything (or anyone) remotely British even think of operating normally if the Friday evening comedy gets broadcast on Friday morning, or if the Book at Bedtime arrives early in the evening? Or heaven forbid, if Woman’s Hour escapes from its usual 10am ghetto?

So, short of removing both the North American continent and the Atlantic Ocean in order to make Seattle a suburb of Plymouth, we’re going to have to take the existing internet radio streaming and add a timezone-busting delay. Oh, and then wrap the whole thing in a suitably middle-class casing complete with a Royal warrant of appointment.Luckily, we moved west of the Prime meridian, so we can get away without using actual time travel.

Cue the Radio-4-Matic.

From the outside, the Radio-4-Matic looks just like the old Roberts radio my Grandma had in her kitchen. It’s had a Pi inserted into its helpless torso. The LW, MW and SW buttons provide line-in audio from the Pi’s analogue audio-out – VHF still operates as a regular radio. And the audio that’s coming from the Pi is BBC Radio 4, time-shifted so that wherever you are, the shipping forecast is on at twelve minutes to one in the morning. Ford’s in his flivver, all’s well with the world.

Cargo Cult hasn’t written a how-to guide yet (he does plan to), but he has an excellent description of what he did with enough pointers in there to allow you to set one up yourself if you’re a relatively seasoned coder. You can read more (and ask questions) in this thread in our forums.

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