Lesk Radio

Over the years I have put together and refined a system for automatically recording all programs from my two favorite radio stations- WNYC-FM, the main National Public Radio affliate in New York City, and WQXR, the lone remaining classical station.  It was originally based on a SPARCStation from Sun Microsystems and is now based on a PC running LinuxTM

Those who own TiVoTM or other types of personal video recorder (PVR) systems will have the least trouble understanding my motivation for putting this sytem together.  This system changes one's listening habits in many of the ways the TiVo changes one's viewing habits.  The main place where the comparison breaks down is that Lesk Radio captures two stations, but in my case those two stations supply over 98% of the material I listen to in home and car.

Yes, these programs are available via web streams that can be captured, but the audio streams sound inferior to the sound I obtain with my current system.  The off-air signal is also much more reliable than the web streams.  Some of the programming is available in archives on various web sites but often not for some amount of time - some hours later for Marketplace, two or three days for locally produced WNYC programming, and little if any WQXR programming is available.  In contrast I can play a program at any time after that program broadcast starts.  By default programs are retained for three weeks.  A very few are archived permanently.

The current hardware for the system consists of an AMD-based PC running Ubuntu 10.4 LTS Linux with two Sound Blaster audio boards along with a rooftop antenna, and two devoted external FM tuners.   The software section is based around an open-source mp3 encoder from the Lame Project, arecord for pulling raw digitized audio off the audio board, two small C programs, a script for Korn Shell, and one whopping big crontab with an entry invoking that shell script for each program to be captured.  In my home environment the recorded programs are played back with an Argosy media player.

If anyone out there is actually intrepid enough to attempt building a system like this please be aware that the software and programming is only a fraction of the total effort involved.  I encountered numerous problems in making the system sound decent and reasonably easy on the ear, problems that did not stem from using MPEG 1 layer 3 mp3 digital audio compression.  Most of these problems came in three areas: getting a clean FM signal out of the ether, delivering clean audio from the tuners into the line input of the sound cards at the proper level for optimum results, and artifacts from poor audio hardware in both the recording and playback PCs.

Coming someday is more detail and a history of how this system has evolved over the years.

Maintained by Daniel V. Wilson and last modified 9 October 2011.