Left To My Devices: Radio Your Way Is Radio My Way

We've been able to record television programs with VCRs for more than 25 years, but it's only recently that we've had comparable recording equipment for radio. Now, suddenly, a bunch of AM/FM recorders are showing up on store shelves. But of those, only one lets you program it to record shows in advance: PoGo Products' Radio Your Way. It truly lets you have radio your way.

In addition to being one of the first VCR-style AM/FM radio recorders, the cigarette-pack-sized RYW handles voice recording with a built-in microphone and plays MP3 tracks via a Secure Digital card expansion slot. While you can record to the SD card, the included 128MB of internal memory handles up to 16 hours of scheduled or on-the-fly recording. (I'm recommending the 128MB version for $200. The 32MB version is $150 and records only 4 hours of audio--not a great value.)

TiVo for Radio

Sure, there have been desktop radio recorders before this, but I can't recall one offering the kind of time-shift recording we've had for years with VCRs. Now I never have to miss Prairie Home Companion; I can program the RYW. When I get back home, I know my show will be waiting for me, just like Survivor has been on my VCR for the past few months. What's even better, the RYW can program up to ten separate events. Hey, that's six more than my VCR can handle! And its radio reception was surprisingly good, even before I inserted the included external antenna. With that tweak, my recordings came out static free.

The RYW gets about 13 hours of battery life on a pair of AAA batteries, but subtract maybe 25 percent from that if you are recording frequently or listening via the mono speaker exclusively. An optional $10 AC adapter helps save battery life.

A set of earbud headphones are included, though I didn't use them. I don't like sticking anything in my ears, so I'm thankful for the RYW's decent mono speaker. But I was able to use the headphone jack to play RYW recordings through my stereo system.

A Bit of a Learning Curve

Of course, nothing this good is ever really this good--there has to be a gotcha. The RYW's catch is its obtuse manual. With all the various functions that the RYW packs into a tiny case, buttons obviously marked for one task inevitably mean something else for another. Sure, you can figure it out; but it takes some doing. Let's face it: There's still a vast population of VCRs out there forever blinking 12:00. Why should the RYW be any different?

Actually, I did find it easy to set the RYW's clock, and to program timed events. But playing back the recordings threw me. It should be as simple as pushing the MODE button to toggle through the various functions; but when I did, there wasn't one for playback. Since the RYW is a voice recorder, too, PoGo lists all the recordings available for playback in the Voice mode--regardless of the source. I found that out by trial and error, not from the instruction manual, which seems intended for MENSA members.

But given all of the RYW's worthy functions, I am willing to put up with a steep learning curve. And left to my devices, I am only too happy that 25-plus years after the first VCR, we finally have a similar recorder for radio.

Gadget Shorts

Samsung Napster YP-910 Player: Promoted for its Apple IPod-like design and features, the Napster MP3 player does the IPod a couple better by building in an FM radio and an FM radio transmitter that lets you broadcast your music to your car radio. (You need a third-party transmitter to do that with the IPod and other MP3 players.) At $400, and equipped with a 20GB hard drive, the YP-910 is priced comparably to the 20GB IPod, but the convenient extras make it my pick.

Actiontec USB Bluetooth Adapter: Finally, Bluetooth for a song. Actiontec's plug-and-play $40 USB Bluetooth Adapter is an affordable thumb-size accessory that can make any PC or notebook with a USB port Bluetooth-ready for up to seven devices at once--printers, PDAs, mobile phones, and headsets, for example. Bluetooth range is about 33 feet and eliminates cable clutter. Until now, Bluetooth adapters have cost double the price of Actiontec's, part of the reason the technology hasn't taken off. Now, we're one less excuse away.

This story, "Left To My Devices: Radio Your Way Is Radio My Way" was originally published by PCWorld.

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