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BBC Radio
Posted on Saturday 29 June 2013 at 1:40 pm

What To Do Without Radio Downloader

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EDIT: For anyone just looking for the "Here's the best replacement I've found for Radio Downloader" kind of idea, check out this later post where I think I've got something working.

There are two known facts of upmost importance for BBC Radio addicts who have been using Radio Downloader.

(1) BBC has asked Radio Downloader, and presumably similar computer programs if there are any, to stop allowing people to download BBC radio shows. See here for my post on that from yesterday. For me, RD is definitely not letting me make new subscriptions. Yesterday it appeared to still be pulling in existing programs, but it hasn't pulled in anything since sometime yesterday afternoon and I think there should have been stuff since then so it may not be working at all now. I'm definitely not counting on it for anything at this point and will, I suppose, be pleasantly surprised if it does get something.

(2) At some point in 2014, BBC will be introducing a new Radio iPlayer that will be more in-line with their current TV iPlayer. See here for my post on that, including a link to the Beeb's PDF write-up of their intentions with an emphasis on DRM, from the end of May.

Working off these two facts, there are two situations that must be faced: what to do with the new iPlayer system in 2014 and what to do for the next 6+ months while waiting for that blasted new program. I've been giving it all a lot of thought and have many ideas, none of them great.

EDIT: If you haven't read this entry before seeing this edit, just skip over this paragraph and keep reading. If you've read this before, I've made some changes to the bit on recording the streaming audio. Basically, I now know a way to record the stream without it actually going through the sound card on your computer so you can have other sounds going while recording. You still have to just run the entire file and record it in real time, but not actually out loud. I think this is the best option out there at the moment and I'll do more detailed directions once I get it sorted if people want them.

BBC Radio iPlayer: Coming to a computer near you someday

What, exactly, the new Radio iPlayer will allow come sometime in 2014 isn't 100% clear. My assumption is that it will have DRMed self-destruct files with the same time restrictions as the current TV iPlayer: programs must be downloaded within 7 days of airing (no change from the current internet streaming for most radio shows), must be started being played within 30 days of downloading, and must be completed being played within 7 days of starting play. These time restrictions will completely suck for those of us used to downloads with no DRM and no restrictions, but I really do understand why the BBC is taking this measure and I think it is the best option for the majority of the population who was completely unaware of ways to download currently and for the Beeb. It is possible to remove DRM from DRMed files so you would be able to keep the files from the new iPlayer forever that way, but I want to emphasize that to the best of my knowledge that is illegal under both US and UK law at the very least, while the current downloading with programs such as Radio Downloader is, again to the best of my knowledge and understanding as a non-lawyer, legal in both the US and the UK. I personally draw the line at breaking auto destruct DRM. I won't do it and I won't tell others how to do it or provide links to places that do so, but that's a personal call and it is possible so you'll be able to find a way with minimal internet searching when the time comes if you want to go down that road.

Outside the time restrictions, the other main restriction on BBC TV iPlayer is that it is only available to UK residents. BBC Radio streaming and downloading via programs such as Radio Downloader has always been available worldwide and I am currently operating on the assumption that that will remain true. If the BBC introduces UK only restrictions on the Radio iPlayer, I will be beyond pissed off. It is very easy to use a proxy server to get access to UK only programs on the TV iPlayer and that is a step I am willing to take. On the TV iPlayer, it is possible to move shows onto portable devices such as Android-based tablets and smart phones, iPhones and iPads, etc. I am assuming that the same will be possible with the Radio iPlayer but I've never done anything like that so no idea how well it works / will work generally speaking and how it will work specifically if forced to go through a proxy server for the downloads. Right now I'm just going to hope there will be no UK-only restrictions and transferring to portable devices will be easy and that the time limits will be the only problem with the new system and I will figure out how to deal with that when the system is up and running. If the Beeb were better about making all programs available to buy, I'd be perfectly fine with the 7/30/7 time restrictions because that would give me time to try something to find out if I like it enough to buy it so I can have a permanent copy. But since there is no guarantee of things being available to buy, taking files away will suck. In any case, we're still stuck with the problem of no downloading at all, time restricted or otherwise, until sometime in 2014, so at least six months.

Options in the meantime?

What to do until the new iPlayer is available? There are many options for things that might sort of work depending on specific needs, but they all have drawbacks and none are anywhere near as good as RD. These are all the ones I know. If someone knows of something of which I am unaware, or knows of a better way to do something I mention, please let me know!

Option: The BBC Website
All (well, almost all) BBC radio programs are available for online streaming for seven days from the initial broadcast. Anyone, anywhere in the world, can sit at a computer with internet access and listen to any of the major shows.
Problems: You have to be at a computer with internet access within those seven days. This does work from the web browser on my smart phone so it is sort of portable in that sense, but the phone has to be on, not in standby, which requires constantly tapping the screen to keep it awake and kills the battery. Couple that with the internet access requirement and this is not at all an option for on-the-go listening, even within the seven day window. You can't listen to things this way in a car, while working out, etc. no matter how you look at it.

Option: iPlayer Radio App
Similar to the website, but a standalone app available for many portable devices such as Android tablets and smartphones, iWhatevers, etc.
Problems: This solves the "phone can't be in standby mode" problem from above so is somewhat better as an on-the-go option, but it still requires internet access, as far as I know and is thus rather limited. This is absolutely not an option for me, however, as the app is not available in the US. It is called a global / worldwide app and is, to the best of my knowledge, available outside the UK in parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, etc. but it is not available in the US. Again, things are mostly only available for seven days.

Option: BBC Podcasts
The BBC offers many podcasts. You subscribe to the podcasts via a program such as iTunes, and it works just like Radio Downloader in that the program will automatically download all episodes, save them to your computer, and they are yours to listen to forever. Once you have a podcast episode on your computer, you can do anything you want with it and keep it forever just like with the Radio Download files. You can get the full list of available podcasts here.
Problems: There is a very limited selection of programs available on podcasts. For those specific programs, this is by far the best option currently available, but there just aren't many choices and the ones there are skew more towards non-fiction discussion programs, call in shows, music programs, etc. rather than the stuff I like. For my interests, there is a weekly Drama podcast and a weekly Comedy podcast, which will often be one of the radio plays from Afternoon Drama or Saturday Drama or one of the other running shows and the first episode of some sitcom, stand up, sketch, or other series. That's it on that front. One random play and one random episode of a series. There are some shows that have their own dedicated podcasts and you can get basically everything there, but they aren't any of my shows with one exception. The Friday Night Comedy podcast basically does News Quiz (which I love) and Now Show (which I don't like), whichever one is airing at the moment, so you can get all of those two that way.

Option: Buy Programs
Many BBC Radio Programs become available to buy as CDs or as digital downloads. I infinitely prefer digital downloads and have always bought programs I've loved and wanted to listen to over-and-over when they've been available, even if I already had the files from Radio Downloader. BBC programs are often available at places like iTunes, Amazon, etc., but by far the best place to shop is AudioGo, either the US version or the UK version. I am in the US but have purchased from both places. Most of the time, the US version is cheaper than the UK version, no matter the fluctuations in the exchange rate. Every once in a while, something will be available on the UK site and not on the US site, but that is increasingly rare. I recommend AudioGo over all other sites because it is the official BBC site, therefore it has the most complete collection and has always been cheaper than everywhere else unless someplace else is doing a random and brief major sale. Anything you buy from AudioGo can be downloaded to your computer so you have the file to do with as you please, including transfer to a more portable device or burn to CD, and can also be listened to from the AudioGo website from any internet accessible device. Also, AudioGo has a point program where you earn points for every penny you spend, for writing reviews of programs, and for referring people to the site and points can be exchanged for products. I've earned over $20 worth of free stuff there. If you've never been to AudioGo before and do start buying things there, if you use this link to create your account or for your first purchase from the US version of the site, I can get points. :-)
Problems: The big problem is that the BBC just doesn't release everything to buy. Sometimes they don't have the right contract agreements with everyone involved, sometimes they don't think there's enough of a market, sometimes they are just stupid as far as I can tell. Even for things that do become available, sometimes it takes a very long time. The other problem here is that it is harder to try new things. Before, I could try something and buy it if I like it. Now, I have to invest the money without being able to give it a chance and I literally can't afford to try tons of things and risk not liking it.

Option: Record the Streaming
This is the closest you can get to downloading anything you want. Basically, you have to have a program that will record the sound being played on the sound card of your computer. You start the show you want playing on the BBC website and hit the record button on your recording program. I already have a music and video editing program that will do this and a whole lot more. If you are willing to invest in such an editing suite, it can be useful in many other ways, but all you need for this is a streaming audio recorder. You can search for your operating system (Windows 7; Windows 8; Mac OS X in all its Mt Lion, Lion, Snow Leopard, Leopard, and other cat varieties; various Linux and Android builds, whatever) and streaming audio recorder and you will find a program but here are a few options to give you the basic idea: an overview of how to do it using Audacity which is available in many formats, a Windows free program, a Windows program with free trial then I think is paid, a Mac program with a free trial then is paid.
Problems: In order to record a show, you have to play the full episode on your computer and literally record the audio file. Some recording programs, including what I have, will let you set a stop time so you can start playing and recording the audio file and then just leave it, but others require that you hit stop when done. Either way, you have to remember to start each individual episode and start the recording and let it play the entire episode before you can do anything else, so it is very time consuming. There is no set it and forget it, that's for sure. You also have to make sure no other sound will play on your computer, which means you can't purposefully do anything with sound and you can't let things like new email alerts ping, or else it will record that, too. You can pull the audio stream separate using iPlayer Converter and record that using this free program available for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and basically everything as near as I can tell. This is probably the way to go, I think. I am honestly not sure on the legality of this for BBC Radio. Since there is currently no DRM, I think it is OK but I can't promise that. It is definitely illegal to do something like this with services like Spotify, Pandora, etc., but I don't think so for BBC Radio. For programs not available to buy or programs you want to give a chance and will buy if you enjoy, I'd say this is morally OK at least until the new Radio iPlayer is available, but that is just my personal moral stance and I really must repeat that I don't know for sure about the legality.

Option: Torrents
For a torrent, you basically find someone who has put the file you want up online and you use a specific program to download it from them and the program will then have your computer act as a seed from which other people can download the same file. You can turn off acting as a seed and only take things, but this is regarded as rude or bad form in the torrent community. For any BBC program someone else already has and already offers as a torrent, this will work.
Problems: If you are careful, you can safely and I think legally torrent BBC radio programs. BUT, torrents are a bad idea if you aren't very careful and don't know what you are doing. They are often but not always illegal and sometimes you think you are getting a file you want but instead you get viruses, trojans, spamware, etc. You will always be limited to what people have provided and there is no guarantee every program will become available. Popular ones basically always will, but there really is no guarantee. In order to torrent BBC Radio programs, you first need a torrent program on your computer. BitTorrent is the most popular free torrenting program. Then you need to find the programs you want and drag-and-drop their downloaded files into BitTorrent or a similar program. For BBC Radio Programs that are almost certainly legal, I suggest RadioArchive. I've only used it a couple of times, but I know others who have used it more and never had any problems. My main reasons for saying this site are that they try very hard to be legal, only accepting "AUDIO MATERIAL WHICH HAS BEEN DERIVED FROM FREE-TO-AIR BROADCASTS VIA ANALOGUE RADIO / DIGITAL RADIO / DIGITAL TV / INTERNET STREAMING. DO NOT POST MATERIAL DERIVED FROM RETAIL PRODUCTS - IT WILL GET YOU AN IMMEDIATE AND PERMANENT BAN FROM THIS AND OTHER SITES" as they rather loudly proclaim it and because they are a niche community focused on something other than illegal uploads of Hollywood movies and the like so they are much less likely to get hit by viruses and spamware. The few files I've pulled have played perfectly fine and only been slightly problematic in that I couldn't edit any of the information like album, artist, etc. and I'm anal about organizing my files exactly as I want them so I had to run the files through another program to clean them so I could do with them as I pleased, but that worked and they are perfect for me now. If you aren't anal and therefore don't care about the organization stuff in the same way I do, you'll be good from that start. If you are anal like me, I can tell you how I cleaned the files and made them my own.

Option: Other Sources for Audio Entertainment
There is other stuff out there beyond BBC radio. US NPR has quite a few shows available as podcasts that are in similar styles to BBC non-fiction programs and some short stories readings. There is a podcast called Radio Drama Revival that just tells about various full-cast dramas, fiction readings, etc. available and is a great resource for finding new things in the realm of audio fiction. There are lots of independent podcasters doing things similar to BBC radio shows and there are other radio systems that also do things. There are also just audio books, some readings and some full-cast productions or dramatizations, and many of them are at the least available from public libraries for free.
Problems: But none of this is the BBC! The BBC is the best out there, in my opinion. If you are addicted to specific shows, nothing else will do at all. If you just like audio dramas and the like, there are other things that might work, but they are almost never on par with the Beeb in my opinion.

My Current Plan

Most of my listening to BBC radio fits into one of two categories: comedy panel shows or fiction/drama. I'm good on the comedy panel shows. I typically listen to them while sitting at my computer and only ever listen to each episode once. I enjoy them for background noise while working on something at my desk and that's it. I can continue to do that without downloading them. I can listen to them from the BBC website within the seven day window and be fine. If there is an episode I especially enjoy and think I might want to listen to again, many of my favorite panel shows are for sale at AudioGo soon after initial broadcast, so I'll buy those few scattered episodes and I really think I'll be fine on this front.

The problem for me is the fiction/drama stuff. I listen to lots of dramatizations, plays, sitcoms, fiction reading, etc. while working out. I need downloads that I can put on my iPhone and play while out running in the woods where there is no internet connection. This is the place where, for now, I'm basically screwed on official channels and am just going to have to muddle through as best I can until the new Radio iPlayer is working and I can figure out what I can do within that system. I have always bought things I've loved and wanted to listen to over-and-over and will continue to do so for things available for purchase, but the BBC doesn't make everything available to buy and certainly not immediately. I have a playlist in my iTunes called "BBC Won't Take My $," which is solely things I want to buy but can't because they just aren't available. This isn't my fault and I don't think I should have to lose out on re-listening to awesome programs just because the Beeb doesn't like making money (yes, I realize it is often more complicated than that).

I'll subscribe to the Drama of the Week, Comedy of the Week, and Friday Night Comedy podcasts and hope that whatever the Beeb picks for those is something that interests me. For other things on the schedule that I know I like but don't expect to be available for purchase anytime soon or things I strongly think I will like but want to try once before deciding where to spend my limited entertainment budget, I'm going to go with the RadioArchive torrent site as option one and recording the stream myself as option two.I'm going to try recording the audio streams using the iPlayer converter and VideoLAN programs mentioned above as option one and torrents as option two. This will let me still get things to try in a format I can put on my iPhone and I believe both of these are legal under both US and UK law until the new Radio iPlayer is up and running. Once the files are officially DRMed, recording the stream or downloading torrents from people who have circumvented the DRM is illegal under both US and UK law to the best of my knowledge. That is not a professional legal opinion, just my best guess based on my limited information and understanding, but I can't do any better than that.

Both downloading the torrents and recording myself will be way more time consuming and difficult than setting subscriptions with Radio Downloader so I'm going to have to become more picky. In the past, I've downloaded lots of things because they sounded vaguely interesting and there was no harm in having them sitting on my harddrive waiting for me to get around to them eventually. I'd listen to things I might or might not enjoy and if I really loved them, I'd buy them if available and if I didn't like them, the only thing I was out was my time. I feel like now I don't have the luxury of trying as many new and different things and will have to stick closer to what I know I like. I'll get some more random things from the podcasts, but otherwise when something really good sounding shows up on the schedule, I'll check to see if a torrent is already available for repeats, wait to see if one becomes available quickly for new things, and for things not available as torrents, record the stream myself at some point before the end of the 7 day online availability if I can and just not have it if I can't. If anyone else is interested in recording streaming programs and coordinating something like "We both are interested in A and B so I'll record A and you record B and we can share the files," let me know and we can give that a shot.

Depending on how well this works, and how quickly I run through the rather large backlog of "Things to Try" that I've already got thanks to Radio Downloader, I might also try branching out more into non-BBC territory. We'll see.


(Anonymous) at 4:39 pm on 30 June 2013 (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for the rather comprehensive list of options; Radio Archive is certainly a good torrent source for BBC content, another alternative is usenet, though you have to pay to access available files. It's unfortunate that RD is finally gone - thanks for this piece and many thanks to Matt Robinson also for putting up such a great little program in the first place.
bratty_jedi at 5:17 pm on 01 July 2013 (UTC) (Link)
Hope something on here is helpful. I'm still investigating other options so will keep posting if something better comes along.
(Anonymous) at 4:21 pm on 01 July 2013 (UTC) (Link)

A replacement for Radio Downloader

I have my alternative, and I think it's pretty spiffy!
Have a look at get_iplayer Web PVR,

It has a web based interface, opens in your browser.
Works as a PVR, you can search for programmes, schedule recordings (of whole series even)
bratty_jedi at 5:16 pm on 01 July 2013 (UTC) (Link)

Re: A replacement for Radio Downloader

Thanks for the heads up. I'll give it a try later today. I have two computers that sync over the internet and I've made a lot of changes on one so right now my wifi bandwidth is kind of getting swamped trying to get all the files over to the other machine.

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